eFront as a SumTotal alternative

boxing glovesThroughout last year we worked with an important Canadian customer on a transition project. The client was using SumTotal as its backbone LMS and was in need of a comprehensive and efficient alternative solution. After an exhaustive research process, the client chose eFront.

In this post I will describe the business needs that made it imperative for the client to make the transition, and why eFront was chosen. I will also describe the project and its challenges.

Why change from SumTotal

The decision to move away from SumTotal was not an easy one. SumTotal is one of the leaders in the LMS space for numeral reasons. Its products can be found in almost any vertical industry, spanning from mining to health.

Still, SumTotal produced a number of headaches for the customer which I will outline below:

  • Inflexibility: SumTotal comes as a closed source model. This means that any customization needs to come either as plugin or through SumTotal directly. No matter how extensive a system is, as the client size and needs grow the customization may span several system layers. Having the ability for “deep” customization is not something that any closed-source project can offer but “big” customization projects require it in order to produce a coherent result. Most importantly, big LMS players are indifferent when it comes to such customization projects as they do not justify the cost. They prefer to sell licenses where the margins are higher and there are fewer headaches.
  • Cost of ownership. This one is obvious. SumTotal is an expensive product with recurring annual fees. It is not only the license that costs more, every interaction with Sumtotal whether for support or training is expensive.

Why choose eFront

The client considered a number of solutions. A no-vendor lock approach was imperative for them as they would like to be able to customize the product in great depth. This “hard” requirement reduced the potential pool of LMS providers to those who offer the code source to clients and have robust enterprise functionality. At the end of the day, eFront was chosen for the following reasons:

  • Ease-of-use. From the beginning eFront emphasized a flat, icon-based interface. eFront, when compared to most “heavy”, “industrial” LMSs or open-source alternatives, looks fresh, modern and discrete.
  • Flexibility. This one is a no brainer. eFront comes with its source code unlocked and you can customize it directly to any depth. Still, in many cases, this is easier said than done.  The client asked our team to help them directly in customizing eFront to fit their needs (we made use of this opportunity to improve eFront in a number of ways as well – you will be able to check them when eFront4 is released later this year!)
  • Functionality & Maturity. eFront is a mature LMS, used by over 150,000 organizations around the globe. Its functionality is comparable, if not superior, to what high-end commercial LMSs offer.
  • Scalabity. eFront has been tested in real-life in some very demanding scenarios in recent years. We now have customers with more than 300,000 users. Through those challenges we had to adapt and optimize the system so it can support that load even with modest server infrastructure.
  • Low cost of ownership. This is also a no-brainer. eFront is cheaper than Sumtotal in a number of ways (initial and recurring costs, infrastructure, specialized support cost, training etc.)

The Project

This was a demanding project that consumed a lot of our man-power for a prolonged period of time. The project’s scope was, from the beginning, too wide to be able to estimate a precise cost and timing. Incorrect estimations are a common problem with complex customizations. Sometimes, an optimistic time-to-delivery may be a prerequisite in order to secure a contract. In this case the estimation we made was proven to be non-realistic.

Nevertheless, as we considered the project strategically important we decided to allocate the required resources for as long as needed to ensure the best outcome. What we initially considered to be a 4-month project turned out to be double that. Double-than-estimated-time seems to be the norm with these kinds of ambitious projects.

The Outcome

As I write this post the project is officially live and the customer is happy. They now have a solution tailor made to their needs that can grow together with their organization. Despite the prolonged deployment time, the total cost of ownership is only a fraction of what they were paying for SumTotal and the flexibility is limited only by their imagination. Moreover, the user experience is highly streamlined producing better retention and satisfaction ratings.

Do you own a very expensive, non-flexible LMS? Perhaps it is time to consider eFront as a viable alternative. Contact us for a free demo consultation.

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