IT Governance and the LMS – Who Owns Your LMS

IT Governance and the LMS – Who Owns Your LMS continues an explanation of IT Governance using a scenario involving an LMS. That scenario was presented in the first post IT Governance and the LMS – Principles of IT Governance. Here the explanation digs deep into the fundamental purpose for an LMS and how that influences issues of governance and ownership.

Return on Your LMS Investment

In order to properly respond to the scenario you really must address the question of why you have an LMS in the first place. There are two main reasons for an LMS representing very different measures of returns.

An LMS can function as a course management systems serving to reduce the administrative burden of delivering courses. In this way an LMS investment can free up faculty time to produce returns in the form of taking on additional load, expanding office hours, curriculum development, as well as increasing morale & job satisfaction. In other words, if an LMS saves faculty 2% of their time, the institutions should, in principle, be able to reallocate that capacity at no additional cost while promoting morale saving on faculty attrition.

An LMS can also function as a learning management system serving to reduce the overhead burden on students and improve learning. In this way student’s free up time and improve their learning outcomes. By direct extension an LMS should produce returns in improved customer (student) satisfaction and most academic measures – grades, competencies, retention, graduation which translate into revenue, lower costs and improved reputation.

The reality is the LMS should produce returns in both dimensions. One college might view it as a 50/50 proposition while another college might view it as 90/10.

Accountability for LMS Returns

When the LMS investment decision was made, there should have been a business case made to justify the investment. That business case likely changed over time but still requires monitoring to ensure the returns are being maximized. For some institutions there is a chance the LMS is still not producing enough value to offset the total investment (Ruh-Roh).

Boards should expect at least an annual report on the success/failure of the LMS and any adjustments going forward. This is the accountability part of governance that has nothing to do with IT and everything to do with an investment resulting in the expected administrative and academic benefits.

Now imagine explaining to the board why you are supporting multiple disparate LMS systems which are each under performing original claims. Imagine how you will answer questions into your plan to improve results and how having multiple LMS systems fits into that strategy.

Questions of Governance

You could just as easily have a similar scenario about ‘facilities governance’ over adding additional large lecture halls, collaboration rooms, music practice rooms and so on. But we don’t have facilities governance because we know instinctively it is not about the physical building so much as what you do with it. We do pay attention to aesthetics, costs, standardizing on a color palette, signage, durability, and maintainability. But course scheduling and what the faculty do in a classroom is never a facilities governance issue.

So the question of governance and multiple LMS systems occurs when considering the cost-benefits and the split on course vs learning management. Is the incremental cost of having multiple LMS systems, even the indirect costs from faculty self-administering it, offset by a sufficient return in administrative savings or increased academic outcomes? Is that demonstrable or anecdotal?

If two is good, or at least not bad, then why not three, four or five?  Usually because the incremental cost is hidden and thought to be negligible. But if faculty or departmental IT has capacity to administer their own LMS, why not put that capacity to work on something that has an incremental benefit – a net new benefit for the institution? This is institutional governance.

Does forcing students to have to learn and use multiple LMS platforms benefit or interfere with their learning?

More to the point, how does having multiple LMS systems reflect an institution that values the student as the customer?

As I have said before, if 80% of your incoming freshman already know Moodle, why would you use anything else? Unless you are not concerned about adding a barrier to their learning or believe that barrier to be inconsequential to the Course/Learning benefit ratio. This is governance and it has nothing to do with IT.

Cost-Benefit of Multiple LMS

The issue of two LMS for Central IT arises over if they have sufficient capacity to service and support the additional LMS or not or simply the right to decline running it. And what will that cost be in dollars and resources. But that is just one input into the cost benefit analysis that the governance model will rely on.

The real question, or issue at hand, is how does the education department justify the use of two or more LMS in terms of differential value (benefit). This is really two separate questions. First, is the incremental cost or detriment to student satisfaction and success, if any, offset by the incremental value of having two or more LMS, if any? If this is thought to be neutral, it likely means the analysis is not accounting for the opportunity costs.

Second, if the additional LMS has a better cost-benefit than the other(s), how does the institution justify withholding that benefit from all students and all faculty? That’s an ethical issue and a decision for governance which is not an IT issue.

Defining Ownership

One of the top three benefits of adopting ITIL according to studies going back many years is that is establishes a common vocabulary which you can find published in the ITIL v3 Glossary. That vocabulary includes definitions for Stakeholder, User, Customer and Owner as it relates to IT services.

I would recommend the CIO in this scenario begin a campaign to adopt the ITIL Glossary as the language of IT and promote its use in the college. Particularly in IT governance as it relates to the rights and responsibilities of service owners and customers.

Who Owns the LMS

Except where an LMS is used exclusively for employee training and development, where ownership may reside with HR, the LMS owner is the provost or equivalent. Just like Facilities owns the BAS/BMS, Finance the G/L and AP/AR, Security owns CCTV and so on.

Application ownership of the LMS includes directing the LMS Program strategy and priorities including developing and achieving the business case behind each project in the program’s portfolio.

In this regard, LMS ownership should be laser focused on increasing its utilization across the curriculum and into its features in order to achieve maximum benefit. Unfortunately, most institutions have not achieved criticality in terms of adoption, utilization, or capability. That is a function of the application owner for which they should be accountable to institutional governance by way of IT governance.

Final Answer

To get to what may be the heart of the scenario I think that when departmental IT groups or individuals build rogue systems or self-supported apps that snowball into a mess, they have to surrender some decision making if they turn to IT to bail them out.

Similarly, if IT offers and LMS service to the organization and you choose to not use it that is probably OK in most of higher ed. But when your home spun solution becomes a mess you can’t throw it over the wall to IT when they have a comparable solution. Just imagine what that would do to the cost of central IT.

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1 Response to IT Governance and the LMS – Who Owns Your LMS

  1. shalini says:

    Getting the return on investment is important in LMS maintenance. Here is a webinar on Getting the Best of Your LMS Investment – Going Beyond Technology. You may find useful this webinar. Have a look on it.

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