We're back with part 2 of Meredith Henson's questions to ask a potential LMS provider. If you missed part 1, it's available here. Part 2 was originally published on the eLearning Industry website here.
Contracts and support
Is there a minimum contract period? What is the contract renewal process? What does a typical contract look like? Obtaining a copy of a standard hosting contract or Service Level Agreement (SLA) and sending it to your legal team for review early on in the discussion process is strongly recommended. While most organisations are willing to negotiate from their standard agreement, it’s worth identifying these areas for review as soon as possible, so both parties have time to consider a suitable compromise.
Consider also your obligations as a customer. The best vendor/client partnerships are where expectations are managed effectively on both sides and the lines of communication are regular and open. What are the payment terms? What happens if an invoice is not paid before the due date? What sort of changes within your organisation does your hosting provider need to know about in order to continue to provide you with the best possible service?
Your Service Level Agreement will describe how your hosting provider will support your site and your users. What levels or type of hosting support can your partners offer? How are these support levels defined? What are the response, update and target resolution times for these levels? Is there a financial incentive for partners to meet these Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?
What are the hosting support hours offered? What are the costs associated with business hours supports versus 24/7 support. What are the costs associated with out of hours support for work such as upgrades and deployments?
Who will be your main contact points? When and how can you contact your provider? Who are your escalation points and what is the process for escalating issues?
What sort of reporting will you receive with regards to service levels, uptime, and unplanned downtime? How often is this reporting generated? What other reporting or statistics are available? Do these reports include all the information you need for your internal auditing and reporting?
Credentials and qualifications
Knowing your organisation will be working with a hosting provider who has the expertise and experience to support your business goals is vital. While credentials and qualifications such as ISO certifications indicate a level of robustness in processes, they don’t necessarily determine whether your supplier is a good fit for your hosting requirements and your organisation as a whole. What are the qualifications and experience of the staff involved in managing your site? Which customers are willing to provide a reference for your prospective provider?
If applicable, what will your hosting partner do to assist you with the migration of your site and associated data from another provider, to another provider, or to an internal environment? What is the cost and process of migration? How, when and in which format(s) will they send or receive your data? What are the estimated time lines for this process?
If you need your site linked to or integrated with another system, you will need to understand how your hosting provider will support data transfer, shared authentication and/or single sign on with other applications.
Where an issue between the integrated systems occurs, where does the responsibility sit in terms of support, communication and resolution? Where would error or data transfer failure reports be located?
What sort of system performance monitoring is in place? Does this monitoring cover both site uptime and page load times? What is the alert process where an issue is detected? How are important issues communicated to relevant parties? Knowing your hosting provider has robust, automated processes in place to proactively and reactively detect any issues adds a great level of protection and service to your end users.
Upgrades and updates
Factoring in the cost and time of updates and upgrades of the operating system, database, application, and any associated extensions/add ons is vital when comparing hosting provider costs. What is the process and schedule around both essential and non-essential upgrades and system updates? What time of day or night are updates and upgrades deployed? How soon before an update is required will you be notified? How will you be notified when an update or upgrade has been completed successfully? What is the roll-back plan should an update fail or cause unexpected problems? What are the associated costs?
What is the process and policy around installation of plugins, themes/designs or contributed code? Is there a review process prior to installation? If so, what are the costs and estimated timeframes associated with this review? What happens should an add-on fail a code quality or security review? Your hosting provider’s primary concern should be your site’s safety and security so checking any new code before implementing it on a production environment should be a standardised process.
What sort of penetration, performance and load testing will take place on the site prior to launch? If this is not standard, what would be the process and associated costs in performing this testing? Are the results fed into any sort of benchmarking? While knowing this information is certainly helpful, you should consider the cost and time of performing this testing versus the overall benefit of having this information - can you obtain this information elsewhere or from those who have already performed similar tests?
We hope you found this two-part series of questions useful. If you have any further questions about choosing the right LMS hosting provider, contact us today and we'll be happy to help you make the right decision.