Q&A: Systems, Growth, and Anxiety
Posted on February 25, 2009
We had on campus for the last two days a company called Top School. They were here to present their new student information and relationship management system, an alternative product to Datatel. Top School comes at the challenge of managing systems in a very different way than Datatel and is an interesting alternative should we some day decide to make a change. We are looking at systems as part of Goal II of our Strategic Plan, the goal having to do with changing policies, procedures, and systems to streamline, offer better service to students, and more effectively compete with the for-profits. We will soon be meeting with Datatel to hear about their next generation upgrades and plans for their product.
So here was the question I received:
Some of us are concerned that the plans to maybe change our SIS [student information system] to Top School and to expand the role of ESM in admissions means that there might be layoffs or staff reductions. Is Goal II about being more efficient with fewer people than we have? You can see why that would make me and others nervous.
I felt terrible reading this question because A) the times are so uncertain that any hint of change carries with it amplified anxiety and B) I’ve tried to be clear about the strategic planning goals in various fora (or forums, if you prefer).
First, Goal II has to be understood in alliance with Goal III, the aggressive expansion of our programs for non-traditional students: Graduate, Continuing Education (or SPACE), and Online. We know that for those students the presence of for-profit competitors looms large and while we think we offer better quality, we know we lag behind in operations and service. So the Goal II work is intended to improve our operations AND build capacity to handle growth.
The second point is the key. With growth, we will need more people, not fewer. The best example of this is in Online. When we retained ESM, the Denver-based call center alluded to in the question, we did so to increase enrollments. With our success in that effort we were able to move the admissions people into higher level positions and we added more of them.
Success with Goals II and III will create more jobs, more opportunities for growth and movement within SNHU, and perhaps new kinds of jobs. It might mean that some current jobs get redefined or move elsewhere in the organization (if we merge CE and Online, for example), but that is simply part of normal life in organizations today. But let me reassure everyone: there is no desire in Goal II to use systems to downsize. We want systems that allow us to aggressively grow.
I absolutely understand the concern raised by the questioner, but as hard as this economic situation is right now, there are opportunities for us to expand in exciting ways. I think the people serving on the Strategic Planning task forces are feeling that excitement as they start to see what is possible for this institution.
In searching for a Datael replacement, would we be considering a program that would allow access/use from each of the departments? Datatel forces us to work in silos. For example, the programs currently used by CDC (Experience) and IA (Razor’s Edge) do not “speak ” to Datatel so there is no way to share information amongst departments. Selfishly speaking….are we considering a product that would allow CDC to document student/alumni placements?
Hesser’s program (CampusVUe), although far from perfect, houses information from each of the schools’ key areas: Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Accounts, Career Services, Registrar, Advising, Academics… Beyond all the academic information, it serves as a comprehensive database for leads, current students, alumni and businesses.
Not sure we are searching for a Datatel replacement yet. In fact, Datatel will be coming to campus to present their next iterations of the system and what they promise will be big improvements. Changing systems as complex as this one is no small task, so are moving slowly and with care and may yet reaffirm our commitment to Datatel.
That said, whether Datatel or TopSchool, we want the next generation of our SIS to address the silo issues you so rightly identify. Far too many data silos at work at SNHU.