Three Data Migration Options For a New Student Information System

When a higher education institution is implementing a new student information system, one of the biggest decisions is determining the best data migration process for the existing data. Porting all the legacy data into a new system usually requires time, money and resources. But there are different approaches depending on your school size, budget and data integration needs.

The first place to start when developing a data migration strategy is understanding how your data needs differ for each group (prospects, students, parents or organizations) in the database. The type of data can be separated by the following:

  • Biographical (name, email, phone, etc)
  • Admissions (application forms and activity history)
  • Student Record (transcript, billing, financial aid, student attendance)
  • Career Development (career tracking, gifts and contributions, activity history)

Each data type might require a different treatment. For instance, biographical data is something most vendors will import for no cost because it’s a relatively standard process. But for the other bits of information — relating to admissions, student records and alumni — there are multiple options to consider.

#1 Manual Data Entry

For small schools, with approximately 100 students, entering the information manually can be very manageable. This option generally works best when the historical data isn’t needed by the organization immediately. What usually happens is that the full records for current active students are put into the system before the system goes live and after go-live the older less critical information is entered piece by piece over time.

#2 Attach Files (.pdf, text or .jpg formats)

Another option that can be implemented in conjunction or in lieu of manual data entry is to upload individual files (like a transcript or resume) in a .pdf, Word or Excel format. These files can be attached to the student record so they can be downloaded or printed. The downside to this is the data isn’t accessible for reporting purposes but sometimes, like in the case of a alumni transcripts, all you might need is a copy filed in case there’s a document request in the future.

#3 Data Conversion

The third option to consider is data conversion, which is the data cleansing process of mapping, scrubbing, de-duping and porting the data into the new system. Schools with more than a few hundred students that matriculate over multiple years of study find this option to be the best return on investment.

Chances are, if you are looking for a new Student Information System, one of the main reasons is your data is not as accurate as it needs to be. The right SIS system should help fix the root causes going forward and the data clean-up process can eliminate errors, duplicates, inconsistent formatting, and missing information.

Conversion costs should be looked as an investment since it helps the bottom line. Strong data integrity is a benefit for making better decisions and greater accuracy and timeliness for government reporting. The latter of which can be a heavy burden to a higher education school.

The conversions costs mainly depend on the following factors:

  1. Volume: How many data fields need to be convert. (not to be confused with the number of records, which is less important)
  2. Type: Is it student biographical information, billing, student attendance, student grades, career placement etc.
  3. Cleanliness: How much duplicate data, mixed type fields, errors etc.

After evaluating the above factors, the data conversion process includes multiple steps.

Data Mapping

Every data field needs to be mapped so that the old database fields are placed in the corresponding fields in the new database. Data mapping usually requires a significant amount of time since it might involve hundreds or thousands of fields per student. Also, every organization structures their database differently and various fields can have different purposes based on their operational process.

For instance, one organization might use three different fields for a Phone Number: Direct Phone, Cell Phone and Company Phone. While another might just use just a single field called Phone. So sorting out what goes where is important.

But the great thing about the mapping process is it forces your organization to rethink its processes or change some bad habits. That’s where formatting comes into the equation.

Data Formatting and Data Structure

While algorithms and SQL database scripts are generally used to speed up the process, human decision-making is also a critical factor. It’s important that the SIS vendor understands the various intricacies of your workflow process and the purposes of any specialized fields. During these discussions, insight about substandard data formatting and the structure of your database is usually identified.

A good example of this is course registration data. Courses can be structured in terms, cohorts, semesters or individually with unlimited start and end dates. I’ve seen instances where schools put the course start date, in the course title. Essentially combining two fields into one. This is not an ideal structure for formatting courses, since the title and date should be in separate fields, which makes for more seamless reporting.

The time spent upfront re-formatting the fields so they are in the proper structure will save significant headaches and man hours in the long run.

Data Cleansing

Cleansing data is the process of removing inaccuracies, errors and ensuring that the data is consistent.

Sometimes data is accidentally entered differently, like a phone number with or without a parenthesis around the area code. This is a simple example, but if your database is structured with many free-form fields so there are unlimited options vs defined drop-down menus (limited options), the level of inconsistent data becomes greater and the ability to find what you need becomes more difficult.

De-duping

The final stage of the process s to identify duplicate records. If your existing database isn’t integrated and you have multiple databases for various departments, the likelihood of having multiple records for the same person is high. Those records will need to merged. A good SIS system will have an algorithm that can identify possible matches by cross referencing multiple fields. These records are then placed in a holding table to be evaluated manually before integration.

Conclusion

While implementing a new Student Information System, the data conversion process is a great opportunity to clean up your historical data and develop new processes to ensure it stays clean in the future. Although there are upfront costs associated with conversions, in the long run it’s worth it, since the process will save time and money with government reporting, audits and day-to-day management of your organization.

Any questions?Contact Us

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About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

5 Ways A Student Information System Saves You Money

Sometimes it can be hard to quantify the value of a Student Information System (SIS). You know you need one because it provides necessary user interfaces and critical data for strategic decision making, but does it really translate to the bottom line, and save the institution valuable costs and resources?

The answer is a definitive yes. Intuitively, it’s impossible to imagine running an organization effectively without one. The most obvious tangible benefit is the number of man-hours saved from an integrated student information system rather than tracking information in spreadsheets (or multiple databases that don’t talk to each other). But more specifically, I’ve outlined 5 instances where an integrated student softwarewill directly save your institution money or bring more revenue in the door.

#1. Mastery of Government Funding & Federal Reporting

We don’t have to tell you, but a recent report by the GAO (1) found that the government requirements for student financial aid were the a�?most burdensomea�? on colleges and universities, costing hundreds of man-hours and untold dollars to compile. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators echoed this, saying that handling governance took so much time it left less opportunity for counselors to meet in person with students.

Given the immense sums involved it doesn’t appear these regulations are going anywhere, so it’s best for institutions of higher education to develop ways to minimize the burden. Paramount to this is a good student information system.

An SIS will help collect and compile the data for all the required reports for state and government agencies. These include IPEDS, Title IV/NSDLS, Graduate-to-Employment reports, as well as accreditation with some of the requirements outlined here.

IPEDS

The data collected by the Independent Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) covers seven areas: institutional characteristics, institutional prices, enrollment, student financial aid, degrees and certificates conferred, student persistence and success, institutional human and fiscal resources.

Some of the data that a student information system will have available in real-time for these reports is

  • enrollment by state, age, ethnicity
  • graduate completions by field of study
  • retention and graduation rates
  • faculty and staff demographic data
  • revenues and expenditures

Title IV

The process for administering student financial aid is defined under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. The regulations change annually and a school is responsible for understanding each student’s eligibility for the various grants and loans including, Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Federal Teacher Education Assistance for College & Higher Education Grant (TEACH), Federal Direct Stafford Loans ‘ Subsidized, Unsubsidized, Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS etc.

Federal regulations require all schools to apply Title IV financial aid funds to tuition, mandatory fees, housing charges and book deferments.

If these federal funds aren’t tracked and applied to student charges correctly it could be costly in terms of fines and lawsuits. A fully integratedschool managementsystem will either handle all the Title IV reporting or tightly integrate with Title IV specialty software.

The other area that a student information system becomes vital is for the calculations required for meeting Title IV eligibility. In recent years new regulations have been instituted for graduate to employment rates and now institutions must certify that each of their gainful employment programs meets the accreditation requirements.

#2. Increase Student Retention

In a prior post on student retention I describe in detail all the ways a student information system can help keep more students enrolled.

This is of great importance since upwards of 30% of students won’t reach completion. When a student drops out, additional funds must be expended to attract and enroll the next student, in addition to the opportunity cost of future revenue.

Without a strong retention program, cost and reputation become central issues. A good student information system with retention scoring, degree auditing, judicial tracking, student attendance and grade book can make all the difference.

For more on how these features help your retention program check out my post, An Integrated Student Information System is Your Best Friend for Retaining Students.

#3. Integrated Data for Better Decisions

Probably the most important way an SIS saves money for your institution is by giving users real-time access to student recordswithout requiring extra resources. Some small to mid-sized schools fall into a trap of purchasing separate school management systems for admissions or student retention and find they need additional man-hours for keeping the data in sync across all departments.

A bigger issue is schools who already have an SIS but purchase the latest new stand-alone software (admissions, for example) with a slick new user interface, hoping to integrate it with their existing SIS. Unfortunately, they realize afterwards the added costs required to maintain both systems outweigh the benefits, and often they plot a costly new course with additional software, training and implementation expenses.

For more details on why this can be a mistake check out, Student Management Software ‘ Integrated ERP or Best of Breed.

#4. More Effective Recruiting

The cost of recruiting a student who eventually enrolls is over $2,400 (2). So all the time and money planning, managing and measuring the recruiting and admissions programs shouldn’t be wasted. The distribution of texts, emails and letters that are well tracked in a workflow that triggers automatic follow up is essential to an efficient recruiting operation.

While efficiency of operations is beneficial, what’s more important is how effective the recruiting operation is at finding and attracting the right candidates. An SIS with a robust admissions module will offer key insights into outreach programs that bear the most fruit and provide the tools for admissions counselors to focus on the most receptive candidates to grow enrollments.

#5. Better Accountability and Fraud Prevention

When mistakes or errors occur, it can be difficult to determine the source. If it’s an honest mistake you want to identify it so it can be rectified. Schools are under increasing scrutiny to guard against unauthorized or malicious activity and need tools to quickly identify areas of concern.

In either case the goal is to hold people working in the system accountable for their actions. That’s why a robust student information system will have an in-depth audit trail and user permission system that allows granular access and records of all changes.

Mistakes can occur when individuals are given access to areas they don’t need, so they inadvertently make a change to something they don’t understand. Robust controls are the key to accountability. User awareness that the system keeps tabs on all activity is a strong incentive for good behavior and accurate recording of data.

Conclusion

Institutions should routinely examine their school administration systems to ensure that they are providing a strategic advantage. If the system is not providing a high level of service or does not provide accurate and easy to obtain reporting, then alternatives should be investigated. The costs associated with poor recruitment, retention, reporting, and accountability may outweigh the cost of replacement. Return on investment should always be measured against these costs to keep your organization running smoothly and efficiently.

Any questions?Contact Us

Sign up for a Free Online Demonstration of Campus Café

About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

Sources:

  1. The Hechinger Report
  2. NACAC Admission Trends Survey, 2012.

An Integrated Student Information System is Your Best Friend for Retaining Students

Student retention is a big challenge for any educational institution. On average, over 30% of college students will not complete their first year, which affects resource allocation and hurts a school’s bottom line. There are many contributing factors to these dropout rates including a student’s academic self-confidence, institutional support, social involvement, and socioeconomic status. Some are easier for a school to manage than others.

National First-to Second- Year Student Retention RatesCollege Student Retention Rates

Source: Act Institutional Data File 2014

Each school will need to craft their own retention programs and there is a lot of information out there to help, including best-of-breed software and retention consultants. But no matter how you approach retaining students, a good Student Information System (SIS) should be central to this process. SIS software can capture the vital data necessary for answering the most critical questions like…

  • What is your school’s historical retention and degree completion rate?
  • Which students are most at-risk and why?
  • Which programs are doing the best job of degree completion?
  • How effective are your current retention programs?
  • How do specific student indicators like campus involvement, class participation, and institutional support affect performance?
  • What are the trends by program, semester and year?

Answering these questions is one component to the overall process. Ultimately it comes down to how proactive your school is with identifying at risk-students and solving their needs. Below I’ve outlined what to expect from a well-integrated information system to help increase your student retention rates.

Timely Reports

A student information system serves little purpose if the information isn’t accessible when it’s needed. Real-time reports, dashboards or querying tools that are shareable and accessible throughout the organization is essential, since the responsibility for retention is distributed to many roles within the school. When examining student success factors, analyzing trends and determining what’s working, good reporting tools ensure that you’ll reach the best conclusions.

Retention Scoring

Central to any retention program is the baseline student assessment, which helps identify the high risk students before they even begin. A formula to calculate a dropout probability by looking at SAT/ACT scores, high school GPA and class rank, parent’s education and income will be a good predictor for the high-risk students worth paying added attention to.

As the student progresses, this score can be adjusted in real-time by incorporating new information like attendance, grades and % of degree completion.

Academic Alerts

A strong SIS system should have a robust communication system that triggers alerts via emails or text messages in real-time for teachers, academic advisers, administrators and students. A simple example of an alert would be to notify the teacher and adviser when a student misses a class, assignment, or isn’t meeting a certain grade.

Communication Management

Once an alert is generated it’s also important to keep track of the steps necessary to correct the issue, and that’s where communication management is essential. SIS software with a robust activity tracking system keeps tabs of all your interactions (by meeting, call, email or text ) with the student and enables future follow-up and/or next steps.

Part of the challenge for any teacher, advisor or administrator is managing the needs of so many students concurrently, so the ability to set individual reminders and record meeting notes, attach emails and text to their student record will just make the organization more proactive, efficient and smarter, which should increase overall student satisfaction.

Attendance Tracking

Attendance tracking can be as simple as marking present or absent, but many programs now base course completion on the amount of time spent in class, also referred to as clock hours attendance. Using clock hours can be a much more accurate depiction of the student’s attendance since it factors in tardiness or early exits which are further indicators of a student-at-risk.

Degree or Program Audits

It’s important for a student to set up a plan for completing their degree and an SIS should be a flexible planning tool that details the student’s degree requirements, how these requirements would be met and give them the ability to check their progress at any time.

Even more important is the ability for faculty and administrators to perform audits on the student population as a whole. This type of predictive audit is helpful to identify students who are falling behind in meeting their requirements on an institution-wide scale. This tool can also be used to proactively advise students in their scheduling process so that more at-risk students get the classes they need earlier in the process.

Financial Aid Module

Affordability is usually given by students as one of the top reasons they drop out. Although some studies show that finances are merely the tipping point, these need to be compared and measured against academic challenges or campus relationship issues, to further define the at-risk student. A fully integrated system that can correlate these factors and related issues is essential to a good retention program.

Student and Parent Portals

Giving students real-time access to their student profile will improve communication, save students time and improve their overall experience. The various online features for which students would expect real-time online access include course registration, grades, class schedules, academic audits, transcripts, billing statements and payments.

Involving parents can also be a critical piece to your school’s retention process, so a FERPA compliant system that allows parents or guardians access to certain records can help identify problems before they become critical retention issues.

Learning Management Integration

A major component to a student’s well-being is what happens in the classroom. While an SIS can handle all of your school’s administrative needs it is not designed to manage the requirements of teaching a class. For that, you’ll need a well-designed learning management system and one that provides the student with a seamless experience.

Ideally, you’ll want the LMS talking to the SIS system so the student profile is complete and transparent throughout the organization. There can be an overlap in functionality between the two systems so it’s important to determine the hand off and integration points. The data from an LMS is crucial for assessing a student’s academic well-being in real-time so appropriate measure can be applied to those students falling behind before it’s too late.

Conclusion

Increasing student retention levels is one of the most important initiatives for any educational organization. Given the many factors that contribute to student success and the volumes of data required to assess it, a robust, integrated, and fully utilized student information system should be a high priority at any institution.

Any questions?Contact Us

Sign up for a Free Online Demonstration of Campus Café

About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

Student Management Software – Integrated ERP or Best of Breed

Deciding on a single fully-integrated ERP system or multiple Best-of-Breeds?

For educational institutions, performing tasks like nurturing prospects, providing portals for students and faculty, maintaining ongoing relationships with graduates while managing financial operations and compliance regulations presents challenges that require a significant investment in student management software. Each task is part of a separate functional area with distinct processes and needs for collecting and utilizing data.

Selecting the best student information software to manage these disparate operations will involve a complex set of decisions. There is never a perfect solution, so prioritizing what’s most important is critical, since compromises must be made.

The final decision always comes down to a choice between either one fully integrated system software or multiple niche’ software systems, a.k.a. Best of Breed (B.O.B.). Either choice offers positives and negatives that should be weighed against the goals of your organization and the available technology resources.

A Fully-Integrated Information System

The main distinguishing benefit of a fully-integrated student information system is that it utilizes a single database for the entire organization. If implemented correctly, each individual has a single file housing all their information, which means all the data about that person is typically accessible in real time. Since all information is entered into a single system, the back-end inner workings are relatively seamless and the data integrity is usually very good. But there is a downside.

A fully-integrated system is very broad in functionality, fulfilling a wide range of needs for the organization. But like any software, it’s difficult to do everything well and in order to maintain this seamlessness for the full scope of the organization (which is no small task) other aspects of the system are usually de-prioritized. In most cases what you’ll find lacking are the user experience and some specific features that are not critical or essential for the majority of their customers.

A Fully-integrated ERP System: The Pros and Cons

Below I’ve listed the most important benefits and drawbacks to consider when comparing a fully-integrated ERP with B.O.B. software.

Benefits

  1. More accurate and complete data.

  2. Consistent processes throughout the student lifecycle.

  3. Lower maintenance costs due to common architecture.

  4. A single user interface throughout the system.

  5. The overall Total Cost of Ownership is usually lower due to a unified business process.

  6. Single vendor is more accountable for solving issues.

  7. Fewer training costs due to common architecture.

  8. Subject-matter expertise levels are reached faster for the chosen technology.

  9. Single platform decreases evaluation, testing, proof of concept, and time to deployment.

  10. Economies of scale may afford opportunities for bundled (more price-competitive) license fees.

Drawbacks

  1. Risk of sole reliance on one vendor.

  2. Risk outdated technology and features.

  3. Less flexibility when adding new features and functionality.

  4. Downtime affects the entire system.

  5. Increased control and permissions required to ensure institutional data integrity.

Best-of-Breed Software

A best of breed system has the advantage of focus. These systems specialize in smaller functional areas like Admissions or Financial Aid and the features, user experience and look are built without much consideration for the other operational aspects of the organization. The features and functions are focused on user experience with added bells and whistles, but there is a significant downside: data integrity and accessibility.

Utilizing multiple database systems usually runs the high risk of information getting stuck in silos inaccessible to other parts of the organization when they need it, or the creation of multiple incomplete records for a single individual. For an organization to operate effectively it’s important that the information is complete, accurate and accessible and it can be a challenge getting multiple B.O.B software tools to operate together.

In an educational organization, there is no more dramatic example of this than the admissions department.

Best-of-Breed Software for Admissions

Admissions departments are under pressure to increase the pool of quality prospects. New marketing technologies seem to emerge every day with the promise of finding and attracting new prospects. The problem with adopting such new technology is the usual suspect: data integration.

Many inbound marketing technologies have two weaknesses, one they’re industry agnostic and don’t have all the specific admissions functionality like (application tracking, financial aid, transfer credit eval etc). Also these tools generally use implicit data with limited biographical information to find, track, and nurture prospective students. All student records should have a unique identifier (Name/DOB or SSN) to tie the data together. For many standalone marketing or admissions products, a cookie or email address is often used as the unique identifier. The problem is that cookies and email addresses change frequently based on who is performing the search or what computer/phone performs the request. Therefore the data does not lend itself to later integrating with the student information database because by its nature, it contains little actual biographical data about the person to match up.

Since this data cannot easily be integrated into the ERP system, the organization is faced with some difficult choices.

  1. Either, use the best of breed software for the entire admissions cycle which means specific functions like common application, Department of Ed integration, financial aid, transfer credit evaluation, and many other necessary functions are not available.

  2. Another choice is to manually enter, batch upload, de-dupe and correct the data. This can be very labor intensive and usually yields only an 80-90% accuracy rate.

  3. The third approach is to not integrate the best-of-breed software at all. Just import data into it and take advantage of its strengths and let it function in a silo.

Best-of-Breed Software for Financial Analysis

The Accounting/Finance department is the other place where B.O.B software is often found. This does not present a problem if the data from the ERP is only exported to the B.O.B tool for analysis and reporting.

However, there is often a temptation to create a shadow system where the financial package is maintained and synced manually with the ERP. This always presents a problem, since these departments usually require immediate access to real-time data for critical strategic decisions and there can be a lag between one system synchronizing with the other. There’s also the added man hours required to keep both up to date that should be factored in.

Best-of-Breed Software: The Pros and Cons

Below I’ve listed the most important benefits and drawbacks to consider when evaluating B.O.B software.

Benefits

  1. Ability to choose the most feature rich product and latest technology for each department.

  2. Industry familiarity.

  3. Greater flexibility for replacing software modules.

  4. Maintenance and upgrades can be performed module by module without disrupting the entire system.

  5. Easier to implement a smaller department more quickly.

  6. Avoids single vendor dependence.

  7. Allows each department to operate independently of a centrally administered system.

  8. Often involves lower initial costs through more competitive licensing fees.

Drawbacks

  1. Added complexity of multiple systems, multiple databases and multiple vendors.

  2. High potential for data integrity issues, duplicate data, missing data, incomplete records.

  3. Increased costs from data warehousing, complex networking.

  4. Integration points must be continuously updated and maintained.

  5. Increased difficulty troubleshooting due to added complexity and finger-pointing from multiple vendors.

  6. Multiple user interfaces increases training costs and confusion.

  7. Difficult to get a complete set of reports in a timely manner.

  8. Duplication of effort (e.g. address change must be entered into several databases).

  9. Architectural complexity creates high downstream costs to integrate and maintain diverse systems.

  10. Testing and running proof-of-concept trials involving disparate platforms and architectures increases time to deployment.

  11. Higher training costs; team members rarely achieve subject-matter expertise levels across every technology.

  12. Higher risks, as incompatible product road maps may create unforeseen disruptions, such as one vendor opting to stop supporting another vendor’s products.

  13. Lack of coordinated effort at shaping vendor roadmap for organization-wide functionality.

Mapping a software’s strengths and weaknesses to your priorities

Like with any software decision, it’s good to determine whether the strengths of the vendor aligns with your organizational priorities. The a�?must havesa�? should map to the vendor strengths and the vendor’s weaknesses should be similar to the a�?can live withouta�?.

The major areas to consider for making these decisions can be broken down into:

  • Data accuracy – How correct is the information?

  • Efficient operations – How much time will be saved?

  • Data accessibility – Can I get the information when I need it?

  • User experience – How easy is the system to use?

  • Cost – What is the return on investment *?

The following chart compares the strengths and weaknesses of a fully integrated system or B.O.B. software by evaluating data accuracy, efficient operations, data accessibility, user experience and cost, as it relates to the entire organization and a specific department. This is not scientific and can vary by organization but it serves as a good rule of thumb.

Bob Chart.JPG

Conclusion

Even after all this assessment, there are other factors that can tend to add further complexity. Competing interests are usually at play where a department will favor a best-of-breed over an integrated system, even though it might not be the best choice when considering the bigger long-term picture.

It is important with any software choice that the organizational buys into the decision. A lack of buy-in may otherwise undermine any potential productivity gains.

The evaluation should always include an understanding of the level of integration that can be achieved especially from a technical standpoint since the other variables are subjective. The best way to do this is to look at other institutions and look at the support mechanism for user support, data integration, data warehousing needs, and institutional reporting. If all of these are being provided at a high level without large staff investments, then the solution should be considered.

Any questions?Contact Us

Sign up for a Free Online Demonstration of Campus Café

About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

Footnote

* It is extremely difficult to actually compare the return on investment and total cost of ownership of an integrated system vs a best-of-breed approach. But the variables to include are:

  • Staffing levels and/or savings based on ERP approach.

  • Productivity gains or losses based on which approach is chosen.

  • Cultural issues sometimes referred to as turf issues.

  • User bias and/or lack of buy in which can undermine the efficiency of any organization.

Evaluating a Student Information System (SIS) – Part 2

SaaS vs On-premise: What are the Costs?

In the first part of our series, Evaluating a Student Information System, I outlined the major risks to consider when selecting a SaaS or on-premise solution.

But now the big question, which goes hand-in-hand with the risks… what are the costs? Although the costs in the near-term can be relatively straightforward, a key component that can be easily overlooked is evaluating the cost implications over time. I would recommend a 5 year Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), since most on-premise vendors charge 20% of the license fee for annual maintenance which equates to a 5 year re-purchase of the license.

As with any projection, a 100% accurate TCO is unrealistic since technology and business needs are rapidly changing. But a TCO serves as a good benchmark for budgeting and an apples-to-apples comparison for potential vendors. Some vendors backload many costs of an SIS in the latter years which, without a TCO, would give the impression of a much more favorable return on investment.

Components: Total Cost of Ownership in SaaS vs On-Premise

License & Subscription Fees

Cost to purchase the software

The majority of on-premise solutions charge a licensing fee which grants the organization full ownership of the software in perpetuity. The software is priced by the number of users or in the higher education space by Full Time Equivalent Students (FTE) and the entire amount is required to be paid up-front. Often, major upgrades or new software releases generally require additional payments.

In comparison, SaaS solutions are sold as a subscription on either a monthly, annual or multi-year basis. As with on-premise, it is priced by the number of users but all upgrades are included and happen seamlessly with no new installation required.

SaaS subscription is usually charged monthly. On-premise license is an upfront lump-sum cost.

Hardware and Operating Systems Software

Cost of equipment to run the software

Another major cost difference between on-premise and SaaS is the hardware requirements. An on-premise solution usually requires a sizable upfront hardware cost that could include application servers, databases servers, and networking infrastructure. This hardware also must be maintained and upgraded to meet the needs of a growing organization.

With a SaaS solution all of these costs are shouldered by the vendor.

SaaS cost is 0$. On-premise, fully depreciate all the all hardware and operating software over 5 years.

Implementation

Cost of installing and configuring the software.

It is often assumed that there is no implementation cost with SaaS. This can be a false assumption. While the SaaS vendor will provide a a�?platforma�? with all software installed, the configuration of the system is a major effort that cannot typically be done without understanding the customer’s specific business processes and tailoring the new ERP system to the needs of the organization.

SaaS implementation costs usually run 60-80% of on-premise.

Customization

Cost of changes to meet specific needs outside the current software offering.

Customization costs are hard to estimate without the customer’s needs fully scoped. Most customization is about integrating third party systems and will require additional programming cost no matter which type of solution is chosen.

Customers often feel that there is more flexibility and availability of developer tools for on-premise, but customization comes at a price and will have ripple effect down the line in terms of maintaining continuity with any software upgrades.

The customization costs for SaaS and on-premise is about the same.

Data Conversion

Cost to migrate historical data into the SIS system

Unless you’re starting a new school from scratch, there will be a data conversion cost and it should be about the same for both SaaS or on-premise. The cost is highly dependent on the volume of data, what format it’s in (paper, spreadsheet, database) and the quality of the data (does it require scrubbing for duplicates and bad entries).

The data conversion costs for SaaS and on-premise is about the same.

Training

Cost to train all relevant users of the system

A Student Information System can be a complex piece of software that does many things, so employee training should be expected. The cost will depend on whether the vendor needs to go on-site and if any customize training is required. Some organization attempt to train a small core that will then train the rest of the organization. Training costs will typically be less for SaaS since the IT department does not need to be trained in the ongoing infrastructure maintenance of the system.

SaaS training costs usually run 60-80% of on-premise.

Maintenance and Support

Cost to maintain and support the software on an ongoing base

In addition to the software development cost that vendors pass on through a license fee, there’s a cost for ongoing updates, bug fixes and e-mail, chat and phone support (help desk) to handle any issues. This is passed on via a maintenance and support fee which can be between 15-25% of the software license cost.

On-premise solutions charge the software license fee in one up-front lump sum and the maintenance fee separately on a monthly or annual basis. When purchasing SaaS, the software license and maintenance are bundled together in a monthly fee. Be aware that the maintenance might not cover the more involved help and troubleshooting in which case a premium maintenance contract is usually available that provides support over and above the standard level.

SaaS cost is $0. On-premise, is the accumulated maintenance fee over 5 years.

Personnel

Cost of people to run the system

The third major cost difference between a SaaS and on-premise s is the personnel necessary to run the system. For a large institution, this usually consists of network administrators, database administrators, help desk and software support staff, data analysts, institutional research and/or report development staff. Budgeting an average low six figures per person including health and benefits is a good idea.

A SaaS solution will require a lower headcount than on-premise because the infrastructure and security is hosted by the vendor. The degree of this headcount difference will be dependent on the specific needs of the organization. A SaaS solution will require many of the same internal skill sets (report writing for example) unless these services are bundled into the SaaS fee, which is not a standard practice.

SaaS personnel costs usually run 40-60 % of on-premise.

Security and Other Software

Cost of security software

Security is often overlooked when considering cost. With an on-premise solution, the organization bears these costs while the SaaS vendor will maintain security and bundle the cost in the subscription fee.

Also, additional software (server licensing, SQL licensing, reporting tools, office suite software) might be required to complement and effectively make use of the SIS system. This will be necessary regardless of whether a SaaS or on-premise solution is selected.

SaaS security costs usually run 25% of on-premise.

Backup and Disaster Recovery

Cost of backup hardware and software

Cost of backup and recovery can be difficult to assess since everyone has differing notions about what a good backup and recovery strategy consists of. The highest level of backup and recovery offers immediate access to data and very rapid recovery in case of a disaster scenario. This of course could be very costly upfront which must be weighed against the risks of not having adequate plans in place, which can be a much greater cost down the line.

Potential buyers sometimes erroneously assume that with SaaS, they have fully mitigated their risks and don’t have to worry about back. But a good backup plan means that critical data must be backed up in at least three locations: production data, cloud backup, and an on-premise backup. Good risk management dictates that the customer maintain control of and a copy of all mission critical data in the event that something happens to the vendor, or a decision is made to move the data to a new system.

SaaS backup and recovery costs usually run 25% of on-premise.

Additional Cost Considerations

Typically, hidden costs occur when the customer is not fully aware of its information technology needs, prior to purchase and implementation. If the research in the discovery process is insufficient, then post project costs will most likely increase in the form of additional system customization, training, reports and dashboard development.

Another factor that is often overlooked when considering a new SaaS solution is the age of the existing on-premise hardware and software licenses that are being replaced. It might seem obvious but the older the hardware and licenses, the better. SaaS vendors include a software investment component to their subscription fee so if an on-premise solution was recently purchased (within the past 2 years) the cost might not have been fully recouped. Infrastructure as a service (migrate the existing software to the cloud) is a good option to be considered in this case.

Conclusion

After all of the costs ( outlined above ) are determined for each vendor and plugged into a spreadsheet, the recommended next step is to calculate the Return on Investment (ROI). This would be necessary regardless of which option is chosen since the ROI will help evaluate the efficiency in labor and equipment savings that can be expected.

I will go over this in more detail in a future post. In the meantime feel free to contact me through our website if you wish to discuss your current needs.

 

Check out Part 1.Evaluating a Student Information System: What are the Risks?

Any questions? Contact Us

Sign up for a Free Online Demonstration of Campus Café

About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

Evaluating a Student Information System – Part 1

SaaS vs On-premise: What are the Risks?

Determining the best Student Information System (SIS) built to adequately meet the needs of your organization can be a daunting task. There are many factors to consider and choosing the right software solution is only the beginning. How the software should be delivered and the adequate infrastructure required to support it can be just as critical a decision. Knowing the risks and costs associated with these considerations can save you a lot of time and headaches in the long-run.

In this series, Evaluating a Student Information System, I’ll outline in detail the major factors in determining a SaaS vs on-premise solution. This series is broken into many parts, this post (the first) pertains to the risks, the next post will be focused on the costs, and also stay tuned for more timely posts to follow.

Defining Cloud and SaaS

Part of the problem in assessing cost and risk associated with SaaS vs an on-premise solution is defining just what the terms mean. Without a high level of IT expertise, it is a challenge. Clear definitions are key to avoiding hidden costs and risks.

The a�?clouda�?, we hear that term alot. It’s essentially a remote network of servers (the utility of which is to provide/purchase only the necessary computing resources to meet the business requirement). SaaS is typically defined as a software delivery model that uses a cloud remotely hosted from the client. The other major characteristic of a SaaS-based approach is the software is provided on a subscription basis (monthly, quarterly or annually). There are many combinations of cloud-based storage and SaaS delivery models that make it difficult to assess total cost of ownership (TCO) and risk over time. For example, a provider might deliver a software product where the service and the data are stored at a specific location (colocation or colo), while another might deliver the same type of service where the data is stored in an undefined location.

Main Components in a Student Information System

Hardware

Consists primarily of servers and ancillary equipment that the software runs on.

The Network

The network includes all the services and hardware components that allow the server to communicate with other computers. This includes services like internet access, bandwidth, throughput and physical layers such as cabling, fiber, power, security, switches and routers.

Operating System and Upgrades

The student information system isn’t the only software that will be running on the hardware environment. The server will require an operating system which involves various functions in maintenance and upkeep which includes: installations, configurations, change control, updates and patches, anti-virus protection, and security.

Licensed software and upgrades

Licensed software includes many third party applications that work with the student information system including: server licensing, SQL Licensing, Reporting Tools, Office software (email, communications, etc.). Other recommended services like anti-virus, backups and storage for your SIS system require licenses.

Security

Security encompasses many different aspects of the operation in both the physical and virtual world. A complete information security policy includes, but is not limited to, protection from external and internal threats, data integrity, information assurance (the availability of the business information when you need it), disaster recovery and business continuity.

Personnel

A student information system is a complex piece of software that generally requires many levels of human resource support. The most common of which are network administrators, database administrators, help desk and software support staff, data analysts, institutional research and/or report development staff.

Risk Considerations: On-premise vs SaaS

Software Availability

With an on-premise solution, software availability might seem to be a lesser risk compared to SaaS, assuming you have a stable installation running locally. However, many organizations that select on-premise overlook the creation of an adequate disaster recovery and reimplementation plan in the event of a local outage. The other main risk involves keeping up to date with upgrades and the resource cost to maintain them. In any case, your institution should have a plan for business continuity regardless of where the solution is hosted.

Data Loss

Backups and offsite storage of data is critical to any disaster recovery or business continuity plan. On-premise backups are essential for quick recovery due to many factors. The most common are user error, hardware failure, and power loss. For short-term business continuity, battery backups should be employed and local backups to storage area networks are another critical consideration that needs to be factored into the equation. If your policies are properly planned and executed there should almost never be a time where data is completely lost. With a SaaS implementation, the general assumption is that the vendor is completely responsible for the data. This would be a mistake. The type of storage used, its availability, and backup/recovery strategies of the vendor should be made clear. Where the data resides, who owns it, and the level of accessibility to the data, should also be well documented. Critical data should exist in three locations 1.) the primary data storage 2.) another data storage facility housing a regular back-up, and 3.) locally within the organization. This ensures that if the software service or computing capability becomes unavailable for any reason, the data that is owned by the organization is under its control.

Up-time

In today’s rapid business cycles, loss of access to your information can have a major impact on your success. The system availability is dependent on the working effectiveness of all components listed prior (hardware, network, virtualization, operating system etc.) and will be adversely affected by oversight in any one of the supporting layers. Since today’s internal networks are dependent on the external network for day-to-day operations (email etc.), the risk of moving to a SaaS is relatively small when compared with staying on-premise. One risk to consider with SaaS is that while the vendor guarantees 99+ percent uptime, you do not have control over when the scheduled downtime occurs. While vendors usually perform scheduled downtime tasks in off-hours, this might be an issue if you are in a different time zone, or have global operations.

Response time

Response time is affected by many variables including physical computer hardware (disks and memory, internal bandwidth, switches, and external bandwidth). It is often assumed that moving to SaaS will increase bandwidth. While your organization can eliminate many of the internal response time issues with SaaS, maintaining adequate upload and download speeds is still the organization’s responsibility.

Issue Resolution

Irrespective of SaaS or on-premise, how quickly an issue is resolved will vary based on many factors including: internal staffing levels, partnership agreements, vendor availability, vendor access to 3rd party systems, the timing of an issue (i.e. business hours, weekends, evening) and the availability of the proper information (access to trained staff, documentation etc…). Service level agreements should have a clear indication of expected call back time when an issue is reported and how these variables will affect issue reporting and resolution.

IT Core Competency

One of the greatest risks with an on-premise solution is ensuring all IT staff members are continuously trained to effectively manage all of the technical components of an student information system. If information technology is an organizational core competency then this is a minor concern. If not, then the advantage of going with SaaS is paying for resources that will stay on-top of the changing technology landscape while maintaining and sustaining the software infrastructure with a high level of proficiency.

Security

SaaS security has the advantage of ensuring adequate bandwidth to systems servers, firewalls, intrusion detection systems and other security appliances. Managed Access Control, encryption, physical security of the state-of-art data center are all components of the SaaS solution. On-premise is dependent on the competency of the human resources and the physical infrastructure of the organization. There are also certainly security risks with a SaaS solution that must be weighed including breaches outside of the control of the SaaS vendor.

Conclusion

Many organizations (especially smaller ones) have been moving to SaaS over the years as technology advances have helped alleviate the fear of trusting a third party with such critical business operations. Of all the risk factors, IT core competency and staying current with technology are probably the two driving forces that make SaaS an attractive option. These factors must be weighed against risks associated with moving your data and software to the cloud. For some, a SaaS solution isn’t viable or a hybrid approach is the best option. In each case it’s important to find a trustworthy vendor that will evaluate your particular business process and needs and then work with you to find the best solution for your organization.

Finding a good vendor can be challenging so please subscribe for helpful tips and industry trends so you’re able to manage your vendor relationship with confidence.

Check out Part 2: Evaluating a Student Information System: What are the Costs?

Any questions? Contact Us

Sign up for a Free Online Demonstration of Campus Café

 

About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

 

 

 

Why is good information so hard to find in an educational institution?

I have been involved in developing student information software, customization, consulting, training and mentoring in small to medium sized schools and colleges for over 30 years. Here are some basic observations on information gathering and dissemination based on my experiences.

The Problem

The technology in educational institutions is generally quite good, but the information available through the student information systems (ERP) is not always on par with the technological capabilities. There are many reasons for this information gap.

We often hear from presidents and high-level executives that they cannot obtain meaningful or consistent information. Our company has received a number of RFI or RFPs where the central theme is a variety of information islands with minimal communication between them. This is typically despite the fact that the data has been appropriately captured on their software systems. There can be a presumption that once expensive technology and ERP systems have been installed, cohesive and meaningful data will automatically follow. As business requirements are fluid, information gathering needs to be closely monitored to ensure that it reflects changes due to shifts in organizational practices and changing regulatory requirements.

As there are many levels of data, it is important for requests to be quite specific. For example, you might ask the question a�?how many students were enrolled for fall 2013a�?. You would get a different answer if withdrawals were included or not. It might seem obvious not to include withdrawals, but they are generally included when analyzing data for financial aid and other purposes. So it is very important to ask the question in away that will not create the possibility of multiple a�?correcta�? answers; otherwise a tolerance for reasonable variations must be expected.

The Reasons

Yearly ongoing ERP budgets should average a minimum of at least 1.5% ‘ 2% of the annual operating budget of the institution. A school with a 50m annual budget would thus ideally have a budget of about 750k-1M strictly for ERP support and no other IT related items. This would include internal salaries, vendor software upgrades, support and training. The initial capital outlay for the ERP software would be a separate budget item.

Technology infrastructure at a school is typically a strategic top down approach.

  • Networking
  • Security
  • Wiring/Wireless
  • Hardware
  • Operating Systems
  • Software
  • Access for students, faculty, administrators for email, texting, LMS.

This is in direct contrast to information creation which is typically a bottom up approach. Often a strategic plan is not in place for providing information, but rather data is analyzed after the fact and attempts are made to correct the process for gathering the information. An executive might say a�?I need a report that gives me a breakdown of students by criteria A, B, and Ca�?. In some cases, the information for the report criteria is not in the system or is only available in a way that is difficult to collate.

In essence, the reporting requirement was an afterthought, rather than a requirement that was clearly outlined when the system was configured. It would be analogous to asking for an old building to be networked for fiber optic capability after it had already been trenched and wired for telephones. It can be done, but requires a lot of redundant and unnecessary labor.

While information is critical to the mission of an institution, the reality is that it is not considered part of the mission itself. Persons responsible for the information typically report to a technology person. This can be inappropriate for a variety of reasons including:

  • The technology director’s expertise is in managing technology, not information. They are not the same!
  • Technology is a tool for gathering and providing information.
  • Information itself is an entirely different entity.
  • Having the information personnel report to a technology person without the right skill set is somewhat analogous to the CFO reporting to the facilities department because they use office space. Stated another way, an IT and an IS professional are as different as a CFO and a Human Resources Director.

The Solution

Organizational changes may be needed so that the information systems director is aligned with the mission of the organization. If information is a paramount concern, then the information director might report directly to the president rather than the CFO or IT director. Times have changed, and a case can easily be made that while information itself is not part of the mission, the institution can falter due to inaccurate or unavailable information. This is especially true with new regulations that surround financial aid availability and is even more significant in the for-profit sector.

The skill set of an information person should include:

  • Advocacy for process, software utilization, and resolution.
  • Consensus building so that data decisions are made cohesively for the entire institution.
  • Superior interpersonal skills that help to promote departmental confidence with the system.
  • Excellent verbal and communications skills.
  • Analytical skills.
  • Management skills that include minimizing the emotional reaction to change and encouraging cross department cooperation.
  • Executive authority that allows the ability to challenge managers to create new processes.

This person will not come cheaply and an appropriate budget must be maintained for this position. It can be risky to hire someone with a skill set involving phones, wires, computers, or networks. They can easily be drawn into the demands of students, faculty, and administrators for improved networking, email capability, and bandwidth. Although that role is also important, the informational role should definitely be separate and well defined.

Finally, the institution must look at the organizational chart and place the information person on at least the same level as the technology person if the desire is to have information on par with the technological capabilities. With the increased demand and complexity of data, the smooth flow of information throughout the institution can empower management, increase departmental efficiency and identify opportunities that contribute to the success of the school.

Any questions? Contact Us

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