Technology Publications

Ensuring a Successful Enrollment-Related Technology Implementation

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Introduction
Technology has become a necessary tool for enrollment-related activity. It is necessary to deliver effective student services as well as to provide actionable intelligence, such as the dashboard reports needed to inform strategic decision-making. This need exists in a dynamic environment where the technologies we use are constantly evolving, as are the expectations of service from students, faculty and staff.

Given these realities, decisions about whether to update or enhance current enrollment-related technology, or to implement new technology, are inherently part of an institution’s success. In fact, administrative/enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and their associated issues of cost, staff development, user training, business process modifications, and regulatory compliance were chosen as number two in importance for the strategic success of institutions among the issues ranked by information technology leaders for 2008 (Allison et al., 2008).

Key Concepts for Successful Implementation
When existing technology no longer enables the institution to meet its needs or to keep up with its peers then the implementation of new enrollment-related technology must take place. However, the idea of implementing new technology either an entirely new ERP or an add-on enrollment-related solution can be perceived by staff as a daunting and unpleasant task. This is especially true for those who are not part of the information technology unit or who currently use technology strictly as a tool to complete clerical functions. Even when staff supports the change in technology, finding time to complete the required steps, while keeping up with ongoing workload, is a major challenge.

In order to be successful, any technology implementation must be carefully planned to minimize any perceived negative impact on staff and/or daily operations. Successful implementation of enrollment-related technology hinges on factors similar to managing any significant organizational change, such as a clear vision of the end goals, a champion for the effort, systemic buy-in from cross functional areas and the development of a realistic timeline to name a few.

Phelps and Busby (2007) described implementing a new system as similar to remodeling a house in that there are typical questions such as, “Where can you upgrade or make things easier, or Why not put in new plumbing and electrical systems since you have already ripped down the walls?” Before making a enrollment-related technology purchase questions like those listed below should be thoughtfully addressed.

  • What is our budget for purchase, implementation, support and maintenance?
  • What functional areas are going to be impacted by this change in technology (e.g., admissions, records, registration, institutional research, finance)?
  • What business processes are we trying to change and improve with this new technology and why?
    What other business processes will be effected?
  • Do our current processes need to be reviewed for relevance to the end goal and the new technology?
  • What is our customization expectation?
  • How much training is needed for staff to use the new technology?
  • Will we be able to extract the data we need from the technology for our operational and regulatory purposes?
  • What is the timeline for the implementation and does that timeline conflict with operational business cycles?

Once you have answered the questions listed above and selected an enrollment-related technology, there are seven additional questions derived from Nah et al. (2006) which are critical not only to a successful implementation, but also to an institution’s overall enrollment efforts. These questions include:

  • How will this technology enhance the institution’s ability to fulfill its strategic plan?
  • Is the institution’s level of preparedness for the operational and cultural changes that will result from the implementation adequate?
  • Is there a clear communication plan regarding the implementation with all stakeholders?
  • Are those involved in the details representative of all of the business areas impacted by the new technology?
  • Are the institution’s governance structures supportive of the change and is the team leadership for the project given an appropriate level of authority and responsibility to get the job done?
  • Is there a clearly defined scope and timeline for the project?
  • Is there adequate technical expertise (both in the operational unit and in the information technology unit) and infrastructure to support the new technology?

Post-Implementation Considerations
Throughout the implementation phase the focus is primarily on “going live”. However, “going live’ is not the end of implementation. As in any planning process, the next step is to focus on honing the deployment. This can include; examining functionality that was not initially implemented, re-examining perceptions that drove the initial implementation decisions, re-examining the institution’s business processes and business paradigms, as well as sharing and collaborating with other institutions who have previously implemented similar systems.

The environment of higher education is constantly changing as a result of both internal and external factors and changes in technology. As a result, the honing process is not limited to the period immediately following implementation, but really represents a continuous cycle of activity. As such, successful enrollment-related technology implementation will continue to be best served by using a holistic approach from the selection of a product to the end of its lifecycle.

Resources
Given the many inherent challenges, institutions often struggle with selecting and deploying enrollment-related technology or find that the implementation did not provide the desired results. In many cases, external consultants are brought in to address the issues. The best consultants are able to address both the business practice and technology aspects of the project. The consulting experience may include policy review, staff interviews, business process mapping, organizing technology demonstrations and follow-up training. One of the advantages of using an external consultant to help select, implement or refine enrollment-related technology is their objective, external perspective, which includes the benefit of observing best practices at other institutions. AACRAO Consulting is uniquely positioned to provide consultants with extensive functional experience and different institutional types as well as technical expertise.

References
Allison, D., DeBlois, P. & EDUCAUSE Current Issues Committee (2008). Current Issues Survey Report, 2008. Educause Quarterly 31(2): 14-30.

Fui-Hoon Nah, F. & Delgado, S. (2006). Critical Success Factors for Enterprise Resource Planning Implementation and Upgrade. The Journal of Computer Information Systems, 46(5): 99-113.

Phelps, Jim and Busby, Brian (2007) Service-Oriented Architecture: What is it, and how do we get one?

Educause Quarterly 30(3): 56-30.Swartz, D. & Orgill, K. (2001) Higher Education ERP: Lessons Learned. Educause Quarterly 24(2): 20-27.

Written by Wendy Kilgore, Director of Research and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download this paper here: Ensuring a Successful Enrollment-Related Technology Implementation

Managing Evolving Technology Needs

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Over the course of the life-cycle of an information system there are key points in time where it is essential to conduct a technology gap analysis to measure the ability of the system to support enrollment goals and prospective/current student expectations. In an ideal, mature information system analyses are completed on a routine and regular basis. However, more often the analysis is a reaction to an urgent issue, such as declining enrollment or change in a regulatory requirement. On the other hand, for new implementations the analysis should be part of the standard implementation protocol. The results of each analysis are vital to effective decision making regarding how to address the gaps in technology relative to the institution’s needs. Contextually, these technology gaps can be placed in the realm of strategic enrollment management with the following example:

We understand that prospective students who apply to more than one institution more often select the institution that responds to them first in the application process. With this understanding, let’s look at the impact of one institution having the ability to accept required documents as electronic application attachments vs. a competing institution processing the attachments through mail, email or fax. If attachments are processed manually rather than electronically there is often a comparative increase in the time required to respond to an applicant. This perhaps seemingly minor difference in technology can result in the applicant enrolling at the institution with the electronic attachment purely because of the difference in response time.

Further, according to EDUCAUSE’s Top-Ten IT Issues, 2011 it behooves institutions to be agile enough to adopt or change technology to meet the expectations of today’s prospects and students. Technology agility, adaptability, and responsiveness were listed as the sixth of ten issues, up from seventh in 2010. “More than ever before, students are expecting campus IT operations to accept and adopt the new and emerging technologies that have already made services and applications convenient for them.” (Ingerman, Yang, & 2011 EDUCAUSE Current Issues Committee, 2011)

Considerations
When faced with the need to close a technology gap which cannot be resolved through routine upgrades or enhancements to existing systems, institutions are currently faced with deciding between the following;

  1. acquiring an additional module or modules from the system vendor if available,
  2. buying a bolt-on solution,
  3. modifying existing technology,
  4. outsourcing the development and maintenance of the technology, and
  5. developing a home grown solution from scratch.

While one could assume that the first step is to examine what technology solutions are available, that starting point could lead to the availability of a product and its functionality influencing the institution’s needs rather than the institution’s needs driving the product selection. Additionally, the technology solution cannot be systematically evaluated without first establishing the context in which it will operate. This context includes current applicable policy, enrollment goals and business processes and the vision, mission, goals and values associated with the service unit and institution.

Once the context has been clearly defined, the following activities and considerations should be part of the evaluation and selection of a solution:

  • Aim to select a solution which “off the shelf”:
    • most closely meets the operational needs of the institution;
    • retains or enables the ability of the institution to remain competitive with other institutions; and
    • limits the number of non-value added activities associated with the process.
  • Clearly differentiate and define needed vs. wanted functionality.
  • Examine all viable solutions in-depth including evaluating pros and cons such as:
    • identify the timeline for implementation and the opportunity cost associated with a longer implementation timeline;
    • detail the up-front costs including human resource internal/external and fiscal;
    • note the ongoing maintenance costs including human resource and fiscal;
    • ascertain the ability for the chosen solution to meet longer term goals regarding admissions functionality and enrollment goals.
  • Measure and document the gap between the solution and needed functionality and decide whether or not that gap is acceptable to the institution.
    • If not, also document what would need to be done to close the gap.
  • Invite stakeholders to provide their input on the options.

Pros and Cons in Brief

Each of the five solutions mentioned above inherently has pros and cons. In addition to the activities and considerations listed, the brief (not exhaustive) pros and cons included below should be part of the evaluation process.

Acquiring an Additional Module

Pros: Cons:
Tends to be pre-integrated with the existing system May not be available for the existing system
Usually less of a learning curve for users May not meet the needs without significant modification
Typically less of a learning curve for information technology staff May have limitations in agility and adaptability because of the ties to the main system
Upgrade/enhancement cycle often tied to the main system rather than on a separate cycle

Modification of Existing Technology

Pros: Cons:
Institution already “owns” the solution and it is currently in use operationally May need considerable modification to meet needs
Limits the number different solutions requiring ongoing support from information technology staff Annual product updates may take more time to support
No need to support a data interface between the solution and the existing system Can require a great deal of ongoing support from information technology staff and typically cannot be developed or executed by non-technical staff
Staff familiar with the basic interface Often a fairly long implementation timeline
Relatively easy to incorporate with other primary systems

Adding a “Bolt-on” Solution

Pros: Cons:
May be easier to support over time than modifications to the existing system Implementation and maintenance costs may be higher than other options
Subsequent system upgrades are often easier to manage with a bolt-on solution as compared to a modified primary system May have a steeper learning curve for end users and information technology staff
Often customizable through non-technical staff configuration A data interface may need to be created and maintained by the institution
May have a comparatively short implementation timeline

Outsourced Solution

Pros: Cons:
Can have a comparatively short implementation timeline May have comparatively higher ongoing maintenance costs
Typically has a reduced need for internal information technology support relative to other solutions Reliance on an external entity to support application and data exchange
Reduced if not eliminated need to ‘compete’ with other internal projects for information technology staff time to make changes or upgrades May have a steeper learning curve for end users and information technology staff
A data interface may need to be created and maintained by the institution

Home Grown Solution

Pros: Cons:
Results in a solution that perfectly fits needs of the institution Upfront costs are high in terms internal staff time
Ability to modify in-house as needed More typically has a long development and implementation timeline
May have comparatively lower ongoing maintenance costs Possibly a new platform for end users to learn and for information technology staff to support
May be difficult to support and maintain through primary system upgrades
A data interface with the primary system may also need to be created and maintained by the institution

Resources

As supported by the information provided here, this type of undertaking requires considerable effort and time. An external consultant can provide an institution with the additional dedicated resource and expertise to collaborate with staff to define the context, identify the best technology solution, outline business practice changes and develop an implementation plan. AACRAO Consulting provides institutions with this type of assistance by thoughtfully matching a consultant’s background and expertise with the institution’s type, culture and need. Additionally, when engaging a consultant from AACRAO you retain not just the experience of one consultant, but gain access to the resources and experiences of a network of higher education experts.

Reference

Ingerman, B., Yang, C., & 2011 EDUCAUSE Current Issues Committee. (2011). Top-Ten IT Issues, 2011. Educause.

This article was authored by AACRAO Director of Research and Managing Consultant Dr. Wendy Kilgore.

Download the paper here: Managing Evolving Technology Needs

Talk to Me: Communicating effectively with your prospects, applicants, students and alumni

logo2As higher education practitioners, a large part of our working lives revolves around communicating with people who want to be our students, who are our students and who were our students. There is a dizzying array of communication modes and technical platforms, from face-to-face to text messaging and everything in between. Prospective and current students are bombarded with messages from different service departments and faculty on a regular basis and through many communication channels. We are constantly challenged to determine how best to communicate with our prospects, students and alumni. It is infrequent that we have the time to take a step back and ask, “Are we communicating effectively?”

At its most basic, effective communication occurs when the message intent corresponds closely to how it is “perceived and responded by the receiver (Moss, 2007).” However, measuring that effectiveness and then implementing effective communication is not a simple matter. It involves the alignment of policy, practice and technology across the entire institution.

Selecting the appropriate communication platform is just part of the puzzle. We are aware of the decline in the regular use of email among the traditional aged student and young adults. According to a New York Times article, young people find that email “involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours” (Richtel, 2010). While texting is almost ubiquitous among young adults (63%), only a lowly 6% of 12-17 year olds use email (Lenhart, 2012); (Smith, 2012).

Although email remains a staple in the higher education communication portfolio, institutions have begun to engage in the process of finding new platforms to communicate with our traditional aged students: social media, text messaging, etc. Often the chosen solution involves a single communication platform for each type of message thus effectively implementing, a “one size fits all” model of student communication. By focusing on the communication trends for one part of our student population, we are likely not providing effective communication for other student demographics. Technology has evolved to support multiple communication platforms per message yet this often leaves out the question of student preference. Emerging technology allows the student to select which communication platform he/she wants based on “groups” such as student clubs, courses, messages from financial aid etc.

Not only is effective communication about picking the most appropriate platform or platforms, it also includes selecting the content, determining the intent and setting the proper tone which, in combination, will most likely achieve the desired result (e.g., applying for admission, paying bills, completing assignments on time, etc.). While it is easiest to think about aligning audience, content, intent, platform and tone in a linear manner, these variables are more accurately reflected in a communication matrix.

Communication Matrix

In an ideal setting with the resources to support it, a student communication matrix would outline how messages are delivered (platform) varying by the position of the student in the student lifecycle, the demographics of the student and the intent of the message (Figure 1).

Figure 1:


 
 
 
 
 
 

There are many message platforms to consider outside of the regular email, student portal and hardcopy and include, face-to-face, text messaging, social media, LMSs, phone calls, web pages, instant messaging/chat among others. Again based on the communication matrix the message platform or platforms vary. For example, a message to an undergraduate prospect with the intent of getting him to sign up for a campus tour may be sent hard copy, receive a telephone call and/or an electronic message via email or a prospective student portal. On the other hand a student life announcement to current students about a tailgate party may simply be posted to resident students through a portal or on digital information boards around campus and not posted to distance students who would not have the ability to attend the event. In the case of an emergency, the message should be broadcast to as many platforms as are appropriate for the nature of the emergency to help ensure that those who need the message will receive it.

Policy, Plans, Guidelines and Coordination

Development of a communication is only one aspect of creating a formal communication policy that sets the stage for student, faculty and staff expectations regarding how and who will communicate with students. All too often the lack of a clear communication policy or simply the lack of an understanding of the policy leads to “official” communications being delivered to students through a variety of platforms. Students are then confused about which platform they are required to monitor for official communications from the institution. Of equal concern is when policy is not clear about what can be communicated in accordance with FERPA and other regulations and across which platforms. For instance, if a communication policy is not specific enough or not widely understood; faculty and others may inadvertently communicate FERPA protected information to email accounts which are not issued by the institution without first confirming that the email account belongs to the intended student.

An institution’s communication policy should be reviewed every two years and the review should include the following important elements:

  • Involvement in the review from representatives of faculty and administration, including information technology personnel.
  • Current students should be consulted about their perceptions of communication practice/policy and surveyed on their communication preferences. This should include both content students find most valuable and preferred communication modalities.
  • An assessment of the regular and ongoing training made available to faculty and staff.
  • An assessment of the way new and continuing students are regularly and overtly made aware of the policy to avoid misunderstanding and violations of the policy. For example, if the policy is that official communication is only sent to the college issued student email, including billing information, students must be made aware that they may incur a late fee if they do not read their college issued email on a regular basis.

Communication plans are an important component of a comprehensive institutional communication policy. For example, admissions funnel communication plans are commonplace and well-understood. Less so are master communication plans for the remainder of the student lifecycle even though this type of plan is equally important. A comprehensive communication plan includes calendars, message frequency, templates and guidelines for developing message intent, new messages and revising existing communications.

The model where an institution maintains a single point of coordination (unit or person) for all student communication is not new. However the increasingly complex nature of a comprehensive student communication effort reinforces the need for this model. More often operationally this model only has responsibility for the co-curricular portion of student communication (e.g., recruiting, admissions, financial aid, etc.). Allowing a single unit or person to have the authority and responsibility the oversight of all student communication requires the agreement and trust across academic and co-curricular services. To be effective, this model does not include monitoring and “policing” all communication between the institution and students but rather the unit or person serves as a consultant and trainer to the various institutional constituents with some reviewing and approval authority based on the message intent, audience and source. The added value to an institution for this comprehensive oversight model is one where the overall level of effectiveness of student communication is increased which can positively impact recruitment and retention and provide a more positive experience for students.

Importance of Setting the Proper Tone

Guidelines may also include assistance with developing the proper message tone. The examples below from Betts (2009) indicate how much the tone of a simple communication can be impacted by the choice of words, word order and structure.

  • DO NOT INCLUDE A COVER PAGE IN YOUR NEXT PAPER!!!
  • Do not include a cover page on your next paper :(
  • Do not include a cover page on your next paper.
  • Remember, do not include a cover page on your next paper :) (Betts, 2009)”

It is not an uncommon practice for student communications to use bold and capitalized lettering as an attempt to highlight important parts of the message. As these examples demonstrate, careful consideration must be given when constructing messages to ensure that the tone is as intended.

“Communication – simple, yet complex, easy to do and easy to blunder” (Cyr, Effective Communication , 2004)

Resources

Given the complex and time consuming nature of developing, implementing and maintaining all of the components of effective student communication there is often value to inviting an external expert to assist in that process. The best consultants are able to assist with everything from policy development/review to communication plan development and the optimization of supporting technology. AACRAO Consulting is uniquely positioned to provide consultants with extensive functional and technical experience to help your institution provide effective student communication is support of enrollment goals.

Works Cited

Betts, K. (2009, Summer). Lost in Translation: Importance of Effective Communication in Online Education. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration: http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer122/betts122.html

Cyr, L. F. (2004). Effective Communication . Retrieved September 25, 2012, from The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Group Works Bulletin #6103: http://www.umext.maine.edu/onlinepubs/pdfpubs/6103.pdf

Lenhart, A. (2012, March 19). Teens, Smartphones & Texting. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Teens-and-smartphones.aspx

Moss, S. T. (2007). Human Communication: Principles and contexts. New York: McGraw Hill.

Richtel, M. (2010, December 20). E-mail Gets and Instance Makeover. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/technology/21email.html?_r=0

Smith, K. Z. (2012, April 13). Digital Differences. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Digital-differences.aspx

Written by Wendy Kilgore, Director of Research and Managing Consultant for AACRAO Consulting.

Download the paper here: Talk to Me: Communicating effectively with your prospects, applicants, students and alumni