Articles about implementing cloud-based Student Information Systems (SIS) often focus on the benefits you can capture – including delivering a new level of experience for students, faculty and administrators alike. What those articles don’t always emphasize: the hard work it takes to deliver one of the most complex transformations at any higher education institution.
Our experience has taught us that maximizing measurable success of an SIS implementation requires going beyond standard activities like program management and requirements definition. In reality, it demands a redefinition of how your higher ed institution serves students – and a critical success factor is strategic alignment across all tiers of your organization around vision, priorities and sequencing of improvements.
Leaders should answer these and other questions before launching an implementation:
- What is the purpose and scope of our SIS implementation?
- How do we orchestrate an end-to-end experience from prospective student to alum?
- How will we ensure that all stakeholders, from operations to faculty to students, have a seat at the table before we embark on this journey?
- Are we willing to make hard decisions and compromises to ensure design decisions are centered on impacts to students first, faculty second and then administrative staff?
- What are the market trends or long-term initiatives for growth and services?
Underpinning these questions and answers is a thorough understanding of your institution’s strategic direction over the next three to five years. Using the promises and functionalities offered by SIS vendors to guide your vision may not result in your desired outcomes. Enabling these functions require substantial organizational and technological investments outside the core SIS.
Seeing this transformation as purely technological and/or operational in nature without an organizationally diverse group of supporters may result in turmoil and/or delayed progress. Academic stakeholders tend to be overlooked, and your strategic vision may not come to life without their buy-in. Prioritizing these collaborative discussions drives alignment on overarching goals and fosters a culture of honest dialogue and communication ahead of the transformation.
So where do you start? First, take inventory of all initiatives that are planned or underway (for example, Student Records, Advising, etc.) to avoid duplicative or contradictory efforts. Second, give yourself a reasonable runway to iron out your strategy and identify key stakeholders required for buy-in. Third, conduct workshops, using collaborative sessions to hear concerns, ideas and visions, tempering them with the realities of your operation. Using this information, define your purpose and scope and then your implementation objectives and framework.
As you start your journey, remember that an SIS is simply a technology that you use to enable your objectives. The time you spend up front defining your collaborative vision will pay dividends throughout your program lifecycle. Your student and faculty experience, coupled with your operational strategy, should guide your transformation.