A Case Study
Imagine a liberal arts college where a strategist is hired to evangelize and support a student information system (SIS) that was purchased three years earlier, but had gained little momentum. What they know is that people just aren’t interested in using it. What they need to discover is why.
Because, at the outset, IT met with the business offices (users) they needed buy-in from, and compared technical benefits, potential uses, and features for each solution. The all agreed on the one that seemed best. But three years later, it still wasn’t solving people’s day-to-day struggles.
But why? Well, because IT provided solutions (and bells and whistles), but never asked for a list of problems the SIS needed to solve.
Meanwhile, the Registrar’s office was using the SIS a lot, though not very efficiently. Student views were still being compiled manually, from spreadsheets, emails, and disparate systems. The line outside the office stretched down the hall daily as the staff slogged through paperwork and legacy systems.
How could that be? The product evangelist heard that the biggest roadblock to SIS adoption would be the Registrar—the hub of any school, the keeper of student information and academic processes. And, though there was somebody in that office who was intimately familiar with the ins-and-outs of the institution, they weren’t asked their opinion. And, who knows if they would’ve even known where to even begin when explaining these problems to IT.
The lesson here is that if you don’t know how your solution is relevant to your users’ fundamental problems, then you aren’t solving anything meaningful—you’re only adding more chaos to their day. In turn, this distracts them from focusing on what really matters (student success), and they simply don’t have time for that.
What the consultant knew was if she could get the registrar on board, then everyone else would follow suit. So she started there, by building an honest relationship with the Registrar, developing an understanding of their world through emails, coffee and meetings. She spent time with subject matter experts that intersected with their office and time in their current SIS and backend databases.
She facilitated discussions about their daily tasks, regulatory and other external demands, intersections with the rest of campus, and challenges in the ecosystem that nobody had time to improve.
In other words, she took the time to build relationships. A lot of time. With a lot of listening and evaluating. What she got out of it were valuable insights that advanced the goal of SIS adoption.
And, she uncovered an issue that is common in business analyses across verticals: systems and processes often seem a lot more complex and daunting than they really are. Once you clear the smoke (the bells and whistles), you see how easy it is to solve every day problems with the right solution.
In this case, a common day-to-day issue across campus was a tool that there was no easy way to get at the same data in different ways, in real-time.
Which meant the solution was a simplification of the Student Information and Academic Administrative processes—not just for the Registrar, but also the Accessibility Office, Advising, Student Development, Health Clinic, Admissions, Student Finances, Institutional Review Board, KPIs for Senior Staff, Career Services, and Curriculum.
The Registrar’s Office was able to cut their staff in half, and they went from long lines down the hall to being able to close early some days.
The student onboarding process in Admissions was moved online. It became easy for students to meet all requirements before they even showed up on campus, so offices that needed to prepare for specific student needs could do so ahead of time.
Most importantly, faculty and staff were able to proactively support student development, because they had insight into 360-degree engagement, academic, behavioral and risk data.
The consultant looked beyond the bells and whistles to get at the heart of institutional challenges. She gave end-users an investment in a solution that gave them agency in improvements.
The faculty developed close relationships with IT and with each other, all under the common goal of improvement. The SIS endeavor was successful across the board.
One last thing…
Data configuration, processes, and administrative duties are a necessary piece of academia. You can’t run a successful institution without them. What’s not necessary is inefficiency, inflation, and poor system usability that make work harder. Faculty and staff would much rather spend their time supporting and engaging students, for example. And for their part, students should not be wasting time waiting in line at the Registrar or making extra phone calls to get administrative paperwork done.
It’s up to all of us to fix this: Focus on real people, build relationships, and figure out the students’ ultimate goals—so that we can help them succeed instead of get in their way.