Published on 2015/02/18

Next-Generation Management Systems: Cloud-Based and User-Centered

The EvoLLLution | Next-Generation Management Systems: Cloud-Based and User-Centered
Next-generation management systems, designed from the user experience out, will allow stakeholders across the institution to focus on innovation and growth.

In recent years, higher education leaders have become acutely aware of the importance of management efficiency, and have started to notice the effects of aging legacy ERP systems on their effectiveness and bottom line. These decades-old systems are difficult for institutions to manage and expensive to sustain, leading institutional IT leaders to look to the future. In the first installment of this two-part series, Tracy Schroeder will discuss some of the features and functionalities she hopes to see in the next generation of student management solutions, and shares her thoughts on the impact of these systems on the student experience and on the institution.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How are next-generation systems going to offer a different end-user experience than the legacy systems of the past?

Tracy Schroeder (TS): Next generation systems should be designed from the student and faculty experience, and then worked backwards to the code and the infrastructure. Academic and administrative leaders want to see things that speak not only to their needs but also to their constituents’ direct needs.

They also need to deliver flexible and configurable functions and workflows. Faculty and administrators need to be able to offer a course on a semester basis, a weekly basis or a daily basis. They need to be able to give credit for a course or a competency, or a badge for an experience. These configurations shouldn’t require a developer or a code to be written or a script; the power should be in the hands of the administrative office, college, or department user.

The notion that IT has the ability to go in and write a custom script to enable something is not the type of flexibility that we are looking for. Vendors working on those next-generation systems need to understand that.

Evo: The complexity of many systems can be attributed to companies using a Frankencode approach to product development, where companies will meet the demand for a particular function by purchasing an existing solution and bolting it on. From your experience, what are some of the biggest issues with companies taking this Frankencode approach to building their product?

TS: This approach requires your local IT team to sustain a diverse group of skill sets. They’ve got to be able to troubleshoot, they have to know people, they have to know the primary code and any other integration code that has been used. It’s just not a single set of IT skills that you need to support it on the back-end. As you layer on product over product, you continue to diversify the technical skill sets that you need. Then, all those folks need to talk to each other and translate for each other and go through layers of testing, which is generally not automated.

All of this slows the time to market for enhancements or changes that are requested of the IT department. This Frankencode approach makes us less agile.

Evo: What impact can evolved IT systems have on the success and growth of universities?

TS: When you keep in mind that student tuition is the principle source of revenue for the vast majority of institutions, it’s pretty important.

Granted, students choose institutions principally based on the quality of academic programs and the fit of those academic programs with their interests. But to the extent that Student Information Systems (SIS) can enable or at least support new delivery models of academic programs, or help demonstrate the value and impact of academic programs through better analytics around student success, I think they play a critical role. The conversation is about creating a positive feedback loop between the SIS and academic program development and design.

I don’t think students are going to start choosing an institution based on the quality of their registration app. But if a core student administrative system encourages faculty and administrators to rethink how a program might be delivered, and transition from a standard semester-delivery format to a more flexible cohort system or personalized learning approach, for example, that might make a difference.

Amongst the most innovative institutions, this conversation is already happening.  

Evo: What are you hoping to see from the next generation of management systems?

TS: What I’m hoping to see in the future is highly affordable cloud delivery. With this, I’m not trying to sustain the technical skill sets to support the codebase, whatever it is; I’m trying to sustain skill sets to do the integration.

I don’t want to be worrying about the database, the operating system or the software-application code itself because theoretically I’m not writing any of that. I’m just worrying about how I’m going to integrate it with other systems that relate to it or augment its functionality. That would make these solutions much more sustainable, although it certainly creates a larger dependence on the vendor. From a technical perspective, that type of sustainability, affordability and agility is the promise of the next generation of systems that a vendor with the right infrastructure is better positioned to provide.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the features and functionality of next-generation student information systems?

TS: There are a few things that I am personally hoping to see in the new systems in the coming years. First of all, highly usable, seamless faculty and student experiences designed from the perspective of those campus stakeholders, as well as best practice functions and workflows with flexible configuration options. End-to-end advising and relationship management functions are also really important, as are real-time data analytics and longitudinal analysis capabilities—the ability to leverage data that’s both native to the SIS itself as well as external to that system.

Modularity and affordability, hopefully enabled by the cloud, may help us actually reduce the cost of ownership of these systems because we can’t just raise tuition to pay for them.

This interview has been edited for length.

This is the first installment of a two-part series with Tracy Schroeder on next-generation student management systems. In the second part, she will share her thoughts on how these systems will change the role of central IT units. To see the next part of this series, please click here.

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Key Takeaways

  • End-user experience and configurability should be extremely important functions of next-generation systems.
  • Modularity and affordability enabled by cloud delivery are also on the IT leader wish list.
  • While the efficiencies created by next-generation systems will not themselves serve as differentiators, they should create an environment in which administrators and faculty can innovate the educational experience, which is a differentiator.

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