Choosing an LMS: Taking Architecture Into Account

When chief learning officers are making decisions around learning management systems, it is important to take the company’s existing technology into account.

When chief learning officers are making decisions around learning management systems, it is important to take the company’s existing technology into account. Companies that are already using an application server need to make sure that the vendor’s products are compatible with that application server. Many of the large servers, including IBM WebSphere and Sun ONE, have adopted a Java standard (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) in the past couple of years. The J2EE standard is known for its contribution to high performance, scalability and interoperability at the enterprise level.


“In the market right now, .NET (from Microsoft) is Java’s biggest competitor,” said Ed Cohen, chief technology officer for Plateau Systems. Plateau recently re-engineered its LMS to the J2EE standards after taking a look at the hardware used by large enterprises. Many large companies run on UNIX, IBM, Sun and HP, and they tend to run Oracle on the back end, said Cohen. Since Plateau was already running Oracle on the back end, the company was left looking to see what it could run on pre-existing hardware.


“The neat thing about Java for building the application the way we built it is that there’s a whole number of application servers that run on these different hardware environments, and we essentially only have to maintain one code base to run on HP, Sun, IBM, Intel, any of these hardware platforms, or any of the operating systems, meaning Microsoft, Sun Solaris, HP-UX, IBM’s AIX,” said Cohen.


But how does Java contribute to the success of an LMS implementation?


Cohen said that flexibility is one of the most important things to take into account when considering an LMS purchase and that it is important to understand what it means to implement a large enterprise system. “Anybody can stand their system up in a day or two, but truly implementing means tying all of these internal systems, being able to have it map to your company’s structure, have it look and feel the way you want it to,” said Cohen.


This time to implement the LMS adds up, which can be a real problem for organizations that are looking to solve immediate problems through their new LMS implementation. “A lot of times when companies go out and look for an LMS, they’re looking for it to solve some type of pain,” said Cohen. “It’s usually a very immediate pain—they’re going to be fined, they’re out of compliance, or they’re spanning a major growth effort. So the purchasing of an LMS was a reaction to that, so speed of implementing and then later on in the process, after the itch has been scratched, the scalability of it to grow and tie to all of these other systems is important.”


J2EE can ease implementation because of the scalability of software built on J2EE. Cohen said that after Plateau considered the various hardware platforms and operating systems large enterprises were using, the company turned to scalability issues. “We looked at actual scalability and found that of the technologies out there, J2EE was by far the most scalable,” said Cohen.


“To some degree, on a smaller scale, you have to start talking to other systems out there, and that’s an area where J2EE lets us integrate to HR systems,” Cohen added. “But as you get larger and larger, you see companies integrating with CRM systems, financial systems, different portal technologies for distributing content, typing into Web services hosted by companies external to those.” J2EE makes it easy for organizations to tie their learning management systems into all of these other systems, according to Cohen, bringing total cost of ownership down.


Cohen stressed that one of the biggest mistakes made by CLOs and CEOs considering an LMS is to skip over the IT department, which can offer valuable insight. “If there’s one thing I can’t stress enough, it’s get IT involved early,” said Cohen. He explained that many companies think they can purchase an LMS and host it in a single department, without ever letting IT in on it. “But LMSs are an enterprise-type application,” explained Cohen, “and whatever LMS you pick, the technology has to be something that plays well in your IT department.”


For the IT department, an LMS based on J2EE is easy to live with, said Cohen. It is less costly to maintain and easier for the IT department to work with.


Overall, then, when considering an LMS, chief learning officers should get the CIO on board and talk about how the system is going to work within the overall infrastructure of the organization. By getting all stakeholders involved early on, CLOs can ensure a successful implementation.

Emily Hollis is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer Magazine. She can be reached at

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