The U.S. Army's ambitious e-learning systems integration project, eArmyU, which lets soldiers take college classes online from nearly anywhere in the world, is no longer an army of one. These days many corporations are enlisting the help of systems integrators for massive e-learning projects that are aligned with new business initiatives.
For corporations interested in e-learning, this is both good and bad news. It's good because systems integrators have larger, skilled workforces to handle enterprisewide projects—something small e-learning vendors typically lack. But it's bad because systems integrators are consultants who, right or wrong, have acquired a reputation as expensive guests who overstay their welcome.
Still, using a systems integrator for a big e-learning project is the right thing to do, even though corporate customers often wish it were otherwise, says Jennifer Vollmer, an e-learning analyst for META Group, Stamford, Conn.
"My clients don't want to spend the money on a systems integrator, and they assume the integrator will never leave because they'll find other projects to do—sort of like relatives that come for a visit and don't leave," Vollmer says. "My clients would rather hear that they could do an enterprisewide e-learning project themselves. But my message is that they can't do it themselves, and that systems integrators make a big difference in the success of a project. They are absolutely a necessary evil."
Vollmer says systems integrators can adapt e-learning content to make it more useable and help different e-learning systems and content play together in the absence of hard-and-fast universal standards. (Despite the availability of budding standards such as SCORM, universal compatibility remains a goal rather than a reality.) Integrators also encourage corporate employees to embrace e-learning, using change management techniques that consultants have employed for decades.
E-Learning Over There