BPO: Managing Services & Association eLearning

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Associations love their members. Members love professional development opportunities. So, associations strive to provide those opportunities to their members. Sounds like a match made in heaven!

However, many associations are starting to recognize that while members are central to their functions, the deployment of professional development is not an association’s core business. This is particularly true for learning provided over the Internet. As such, associations are beginning to look outside their own organization for help with service management, or outsourcing the business process (BPO).

Companies such as Accenture, GP Strategies and Web Courseworks offer external consulting and implementation solutions to businesses with needs ranging from IT services, training, and recruitment. These companies help other organizations maximize processes in terms of efficiency and quality.

How does that work for associations?

Essentially, an association identifies a need that it lacks the expertise to fulfill in various ways. Let’s say they need to deliver eLearning to thousands of members. So, the association hires experts to provide the services to fill that need.  The key change is that associations are looking to hire external services for managing these processes rather than relying completely on internal resources.

This is BPO at work.  It allows companies and associations to “let go” of frustrating issues and organizational headaches and instead focus on more important matters such as marketing, building your brand, and growing revenue.

What service management needs might an association “outsource” for eLearning?

As noted previously, it is not the central function of an association to deliver online professional development. This is, instead, one of many services they provide to their members.  Many processes go into providing that service, processes that should not cause an association’s time or resources to spiral out of control. Which processes of eLearning, therefore, can and should be handed off to the experts to worry about?

The education side of professional development has always been relatively easy for associations to tackle. However, due to the explosion of eLearning in the past 15 years, education staff members need to have new areas of expertise, particularly in IT-related processes.

SCORM, Flash, HTML5, 508 compliance, etc… The rapid pace of change and innovation for eLearning is making the lack of synergy between education expertise and IT expertise more apparent. This is problematic for associations hoping to successfully and effectively provide quality online learning for their members while minimizing hiring costs and interdepartmental issues.

More associations will consider utilizing BPO to maximize their eLearning and IT processes in a variety of ways. Don’t think about it as giving up cold turkey on an entire eLearning, training, or support department. At its extreme, yes, an association could go that route. Most of the time, however, it would be more likely that management will strike a balance upon determining which functions and responsibilities should remain more internal and to what degree others can be transferred to or shared with highly capable external teams.

Examples of typical processes that can be successfully managed and streamlined by BPO.

An association with eLearning needs, for example, can hire an external company to administer a variety of functions necessary to create, host, deliver, and/or assess the eLearning and the systems that enable those processes. For instance, the external company takes over administration of the association’s learning management system. Compare this to the association itself spending months and money to find a qualified team who satisfy both the educational understanding and IT expertise needed for the job. The BPO company would still work with the association to ensure their needs for the system are met, and the association focuses on more important aspects like their brand and relationship with members. This is what we like to call a win-win situation!

Ranging from simple to more complex, these needs may include:

  • Hosting software (SAAS)
  • LMS administration
  • Support/help desk
  • Content management
  • Project management
  • Subject matter expertise
  • Live training workshops

What makes an association an ideal candidate for using BPO with eLearning?

In general, associations looking to minimize expenses and maximize revenue would benefit from considering this method of managing their services. However, the decision also depends on the capabilities of any departments involved, as well as the availability of resources to be able to make that success happen.

For associations, it is particularly important to assess your eLearning, training, and content development departments’ capabilities for delivering a successful product to members from start to finish. Associations that struggle, for various reasons, to provide high-quality, meaningful eLearning opportunities to their members may benefit from BPO. It’s likely that within any of the processes listed above, there is a need to be filled. Hiring a company that specializes in eLearning processes will bring capabilities to the table that an association may need, but does not necessarily have the resources or time to achieve currently.

BPO offers a route to holistically integrate various processes needed to successfully deliver eLearning to members of an association.

Applying a Continuous Improvement Model

Picture this scenario: Your association finds out about new compliance rules that your members will need to learn in the next year.  You tap your eLearning and Training department(s) to produce the required courses or professional development materials to educate your members. The final product is beautiful, wondrous, a source of eternal pride. It is consumed by thousands of members online, without a hitch! It’s so amazing! So inspiring! So flawless!


It’s never that easy. Producing quality eLearning and delivering it to members is never a perfect process.  A variety of frustrations and issues can and do occur getting from point A to point B in this scenario. How capable is your association of optimizing this process? And, how long will it take your association to improve to the necessary level of capability? Understanding the limits and potential of your association’s resources will assist you in determining whether BPO is an option to explore.

The continuum of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) measures the “maturity,” or capability, of an organization to be continuously successful in a particular process.  It was originally created to assess software development processes, but can be used for assessing other processes. At each higher level, the capability increases.

The basic five levels of an organization’s maturity and capability in handling processes.

Do your departments have difficulty establishing, documenting, and following consistent procedures for eLearning creation or IT troubleshooting?  Does management rely on individual contributions rather than team efforts and standardization?  Does your association lack a means of measuring success with eLearning efforts? Are you able to clearly identify how to repeat and further improve past successes?

Consider the following characteristics and if they apply to your association’s capability to develop eLearning and implement it for your members. Are your processes:

  • Unpredictable and uncontrolled?
  • Reactive and unstable?
  • Informal and immeasurable?
  • Inconsistent and undefined?
  • Chaotic?

These characteristics are indicators of a Level 1 or Level 2 organization along the CCM model. It is difficult and nearly impossible to achieve replicable success with eLearning at these levels. Even at Level 3, though better managed, a department may face frustrations periodically during high-pressure periods or with a particularly demanding project.

Of course, associations want to move up on the CMM model—essentially, improve capability. However, it may take years for an association to effectively move to a Level 4 or 5. Meanwhile, there are expert companies who are already specialized and experienced enough to provide Level 4 or 5 services to associations now! Let go of these trouble areas and allow a BPO company to expertly handle them, if that would be more beneficial.

What’s the payoff for using BPO?

When faced with limited time and resources for moving an entire department up on the CCM model, BPO provides relief for associations. In general, we predict that more associations will see the advantages of hiring an external company to help maximize and streamline efforts providing professional development for members. Our top three reasons why we predict associations will be tempted to “let go through BPO” are:

1. Save on infrastructure costs.

Maintaining departments and their personnel can heavily draw on an association’s budget and human resources time. E-Learning requires staff members who are capable of understanding and using the technology to create the product, to host and deliver the product, support people using the product, and so on.

Consider how BPO could help save the costs of a ballooning staff, helping your association streamline responsibilities more efficiently. Onshore (local/domestic), nearshore (continental), and offshore (international) vendors provide varying levels of financial and hiring relief.  There are pros and cons to each, depending on your association’s needs.

2. Rely on the experts.

Companies that offer BPO solutions are experts in their fields, and eLearning outsourcing could allow associations to tap into that expertise as needed. Proven processes with multiple clients demonstrate the capability of the BPO vendor. Compare the efficiency of a trained LMS administrator with the vendor company to an in-company employee who faces a more “trial by fire” experience to be brought up to speed on the latest technology and best practices for eLearning management.

3. Maintain sanity and focus.

Bringing a BPO vendor in does present a certain degree of risk, like any other business decision. However, partnering with a qualified vendor can lessen the amount of frustrations and busy work experienced by a department immensely. An association would be able to re-focus on building teamwork and collaboration by eliminating potential silos undermining a department’s productivity.

Management is also relieved of many issues that would occur with employee turnover, such as in the middle of an important training delivery.  Additionally, rather than getting bogged down in the details of taking an eLearning project from start to finish, the association would step in only at important junctures to ensure product and service quality. The vendor should also be able to provide useful metrics for an association to use in assessing the effectiveness of the eLearning content with their members.

Managing e-learning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Meri Tunison. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.

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