Software Development

Setting the Standard for Automotive Training with new Learning Management System

The Virtual Forge was selected by Ford of Europe to deliver a new Learning Management System (LMS) that improved the training experience for its workforce and was more effective and transparent for the business.

The Virtual Forge was selected by Ford of Europe to deliver a new Learning Management System (LMS) that improved the training experience for its workforce and was more effective and transparent for the business. Our challenge was to deliver a LMS that was user friendly, responsive across all devices and had the ability to scale, all without disrupting existing training taking place across more than 7.000 dealers in Europe.

The Challenge

The story of Ford Motor Company begins in 1863, with Henry Ford realising his dream of producing an automobile that was reasonably priced, reliable, and efficient with the introduction of the Model T in 1908. Ford has a rich heritage, and is the world's fifth largest automotive company based on worldwide vehicle sales. They needed a technology partner to deliver a new bespoke LMS that personalised training, with new functionality, and a more engaging user interface than their existing system.

Ford asked us to tender for their new LMS, requiring a system that was user-friendly, intuitive, built on data and extremely robust. They also wanted to improve their reporting mechanisms, adding improved ways to visualise their training data, such as dashboards, KPIs, advanced filtering, and customisation.

says Ivo Rodrigues, The Virtual Forge’s CTO, who led the The Virtual Forge team to develop the solution,

With over 50,000 users accessing the legacy system, they needed to transition smoothly to the new platform, on a market by market basis, with the knowledge that any downtime would be minimal.

The Goals

The goals were to enhance the old system that was thought to be overly complex, uninspiring and generally out-of-date with modern UI and UX standards. The Virtual Forge development team worked alongside Ford to design an AWS cloud based infrastructure architecture that allows thousands of users to quickly access the learning content they require, with the benefit of a cost-effective way of scaling the infrastructure based on system load.

The success of the project was going to be judged on:

  1. Making it responsive across all devices.
  2. Enhance the focus on data and metrics, by implementing a set of custom made reports and dashboards.
  3. Implement a modern user interface (UI)  that is engaging and user-friendly. The aim was to design a pleasing UI that users want to go back to regularly. 
  4. Future-proof the system to incorporate extended reality (XR) and machine learning (ML).
  5. Integrate with other systems from FORD’s ecosystem
  6. Single Sign One - users can jump from the LMS to any other application in the FORD’s ecosystem without the need to re-authenticate
  7. To have a tailored, personalised dashboard for students where they can easily see their learning progress, outstanding actions (e.g. mandatory learning), notifications and news.
  8. To have customisable certification pathways, that enable users to have tailored certifications, and progress in them in an engaging way.
  9. To launch on budget and on time with minimal disruption and technical issues
  10. Successful data migration from legacy to the new platform
  11. Launching the new platform on 18 markets 
  12. Smooth transition from one system to another
  13. Positive market and user feedback - evidenced by completion metrics
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The Technical Solution

The Virtual Forge has been an Amazon Web Services (AWS) partner for 7 years, with extensive knowledge of their hosting services and ecosystem. The system is hosted on AWS, with all the benefits of hosting in the cloud, including cost, reliability, scalability and availability.

We had a lot of previous knowledge building LMS based solutions, so taking that into consideration, we decided that the best approach would be to use a micro service oriented architecture where we would basically divide and conquer.

says Ivo Rodrigues, CTO of The Virtual Forge.

Each microservice is implemented as a .NET application, and all microservices are shielded behind one API gateway.

The platform’s frontend is divided into two distinct React applications. The first one being the Admin Area, where system administrators can manage all the aspects of the LMS, such as, online learning courses, classrooms, webinars, assessments, certifications, users, dealers, and others. The second React application is a learning portal that students can access to take their learning, progress with their certifications, see lists of mandatory learning, see their course library, and other student specific functionalities. Managers also use the learning portal to manage their team (e.g. enrolling students or check their learning history).  

For the reports, we used AWS Quicksight. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, so we used Quicksight’s capabilities to implement a set of custom made reports, that feed data from a reporting database, that is a real-time replica of the operational databases. We integrated the AWS Quicksight reports into the Learning Portal, so users can easily access the reports they have access to.

A Design-Led Approach

Nothing at Ford happens independently, so working with their stakeholders and the 18 key European markets was crucial to the project's success.

A preliminary analysis of the old learning platform was the first step, the 18 markets were surveyed and asked how they used the existing platform, what worked well for them, what needed improving and what features they would like to see. The Virtual Forge used a design-led approach to develop an early prototype delivered in Adobe XD, based on the brief of “modern, simple and intuitive design”. The Virtual Forge has been an Adobe partner for 10 years.

As an Adobe partner, The Virtual Forge uses the prototyping features that Adobe XD has to create eye-catching wireframes that resemble as closely as possible the platform we were scoping. This was very important to the success of the project as having a visual prototype engaged the markets, as users could see the proposed solution for themselves, understand how it would look and how it would behave. It also meant that Ford only committed to extensive development work once all feedback had been obtained.

Some screens from the prototypes can be seen here:

Ford Prototype

The central Ford team took the prototype to 5 markets and ran 2-3 day workshops. Activities included carrying out tasks on the existing LMS and the new prototype, timing these and analysing the time savings, as well as gathering qualitative feedback.

The results from the user testing can be seen below:

Throughout the project all the markets were updated via monthly meetings and regular email communications. They were shown project timings and knew when feedback windows were. The project timeline was very transparent so all markets knew what was going on and when it was happening. This contributed to the team environment that Ford always wanted, and created a very trustworthy and diverse environment where everyone felt part of the team.

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Why The Virtual Forge?

Heather Read, the Ford Project Lead who worked closely with The Virtual Forge delivering the project, puts the success down to

The amazing collaboration between the Ford and The Virtual Forge team. We use the phrase ‘One Team’ and were blown away by The Virtual Forge’s willingness to achieve with us. We felt they were accountable and responsible and wanted the system to be a success, just as much as we did. The Virtual Forge had a good understanding of what was required and a good relationship with Ford already. The Virtual Forge pitched for the project and won on the financial plan, technical capabilities and timings.

She goes on to say

The project has been a huge success, it was delivered on time and on budget, almost unheard of for a project of this size. At times the project felt challenging and being in it together with good spirit, transparency, camaraderie and patience was key.

With a delivery team that spans the EU and US the variety of skills involved in delivering this project are vast and include UI/UX designers, frontend developers, backend developers, testers, devops engineers, data engineers, project managers, and solution architects.

Ivo Rodrigues adds:

Everyone at The Virtual Forge specialises in what they do, we’re a team of experts in our own right. We took a very structured approach to this project, and Ford had realistic expectations. We made the plans together, and implemented a hybrid development methodology with milestones set in time, scoping before coding, but executed using agile principles. This approach allowed us to bring the client closer to the development team and to have short 2 week development cycles with client reviews at the end. We wanted to ensure that each development cycle was aligned with FORD’s expectations, so that no resources were spent on developing anything that is not 100% aligned with the client’s business needs.

The Benefits

The project was delivered on time and on budget! The benefits since developing the new LMS have been widely felt, including:

  1. On the first day after the system launch Ford had 13 completions of training from the first market going live - Norway. This means that on that first day 13 people successfully logged into the system, launched a course, and completed it.
  2. By the end of the first month, more than 2,300 e-learning course completions had been achieved. By the end of the year that number increased to 208,000.  
  3. Users didn’t have any disruption to their training.
  4. The platform was easy to use, training materials were made available to all targeted markets, and  students were able to progress with their training with success .
  5.  Training became personalised,  depending on the market, job role and department. Different training was made available to the students, like mandatory learning, courses from the catalogue, or learning objects from their certifications
  6. Courses, classrooms and assessments became easy to create and configure, with version control that allows admins to keep track of how learning objects evolve
  7. The overall quality of training improved
  8. Users can now access training on their mobile devices, from any location
  9. Users now have an integrated notification engine that allows them to receive notifications about what they need to do, and when to do it
  10. Completely new features were added, such as  due dates for training, student calendar, a training reference library containing images, videos and documents, daily tips, newsfeed, and many others.
  11. A personalised dashboard containing notifications, mandatory learning, key learning progress indicators and the newsfeed
  12. A calendar view  containing the student’s classroom session bookings and course due dates
  13. A dedicated area for managers,  where they can see their staff list, staff calendar, manage classroom session enrolments, and check the staff’s mandatory learning progress 
  14. Enhanced reporting capabilities
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