- Tambellini Executive Advisory Council
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The Case for SIS Prudence and Balanced Expectations

Getting the Most from Campus Technology

It has been about 20 years since the heyday of campus leaders getting excited about student information systems (SIS) on campus. Over this same period of time, enrollments reached their peak, leveled out, and even dropped off this past year for about 70 percent of all campuses.

When the times were good, the perceived return on investment (ROI) of a student information system was simple. It was completely normal to make a case that a new information system would give a college or university the same kind of enrollment that the institution down the road had. This worked well and allowed many SIS vendors to claim they were responsible for the growth in enrollment. Needless to say, this all seemed to make sense and helped sell many systems, while allowing annual maintenance fees to escalate.

After years of flat and declining enrollment growth, I have heard presidents ask the question “Now that we are in decline, shouldn’t the SIS vendor share in the declines? If their system were supposedly responsible for the growth, it is only obvious they are responsible for the decline.” After they get through the first question they begin on the second question which is “For years the SIS vendors wanted to earn the privilege of being called a ‘partner.’ Now that they are partners, we both need to share in the bad times as well as the good times.”

I have been fortunate for many years to advise presidents that they should never believe software by itself will in some magical way grow enrollment. The real growth comes from recruitment and admissions strategies, the fluidity of the economy, reputation, and great student and parent care. The great student and parent care is probably as close as the SIS system comes to helping the processes that make the enrollment and student care cycle easier and more productive.

In no way do the sentiments above negate the need for a SIS system. Rather, they help validate and place the right value on the system without having unwarranted hype or great disappointment in the systems. Many a CIO has exhausted their reputation, or taken a few years off their career by putting too much expectation on the SIS system. To date, I have not seen any data that proves students choose a college or university based on their SIS system. The SIS system is truly in the background doing phenomenal transactions to ensure student records are processed. Now, before anyone takes offense to this reality, let me ask two questions:

  1. Do the majority of bank customers choose a bank based on their bank information system?
  2. Do the majority of people choose a lawyer or law firm based on their legal information system?

We know the answer to the above questions is no. Does this mean that the banking information systems and legal information systems are not needed? They are absolutely needed, but must be kept in perspective. It is the credibility, customer service, customer care, and customer plans that help these entities recruit and maintain their customers.

Whether it is a law firm, bank, or educational institution, the information systems will always be needed. However, with 65 percent of the higher education IT staff wages, equipment, and maintenance plans being spent on the student information system, we must learn to be prudent and get the correct advice.

Now that the secret is out that the SIS never really grew enrollment, we can move beyond holding it accountable for losing enrollment. Great CIOs who have learned to align with the business, as well as the mission of their educational institution, can work toward many other means of assisting the enrollment and student care process. More importantly, they can add tremendous value while shoring up their SIS expenses and IT decisions through leading experts such as The Tambellini Group. I estimate that the Tambellini Group’s advice and research on Student Information Systems has saved Oral Roberts University 10% of our SIS spend over the last two years, yet allowed us to get the greatest value of our partnership with our SIS vendor. No gimmicks, no false hopes or expectations … just good decision-making data and research.

Lest anyone believe that I am anti-student information systems or the improvement thereof, I would encourage you to read Ellucian’s October customer case study on Oral Roberts University. ORU has learned to balance getting the value of the SIS, yet not overexpect the system to produce things it never has, nor ever will. We are blessed that ORU has nine consecutive years of growth and record high retention rates. We attribute this to all the great departments working on recruitment, admissions, student success and IT. A portion of the success has to do with IT being done in a ‘prudent’ and ‘correct’ fashion, while having it work flawlessly for students. The ability to do IT in a prudent and correct fashion has to do with garnering the best research and advice on what vendors are doing as well as the experiences of our colleagues at other colleges and universities.

I also continue to actively monitor the changing state of the SIS market through Tambellini research and look forward to how this space evolves over the coming years. As an example you may want to start viewing these changes (see Tambellini’s report Bridging Higher Education ERP and SIS Gaps with Salesforce), and vendors are beginning to build Salesforce SIS apps. See this up and coming SIS vendor as an example.

ORU will continue to support our SIS system with a proper balance, yet rely on the expertise of The Tambellini Group to ensure we use prudence and a balanced approach to combine all things technical with all things educational—for the greatest good.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tambellini Group. To express your views in this forum, please contact Katelyn Ilkani, Vice President, Client Services and Cybersecurity Research, The Tambellini Group.

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Columnist: Michael Mathews - Tambellini Executive Advisory Council
Mr. Mathews serves Oral Roberts University (ORU) as CIO and AVP for Technology and Innovation. He has successfully led a 2-year initiative to transform “Information Technology” toward “Innovation and Technology.” This transformation has allowed ORU to enjoy global attention through digitizing the entire campus experience. Prior to joining ORU, Mr. Mathews invested eleven years as a CIO, Business Development Officer, and VP of Academic Technology for Ellucian.
CATEGORIES: Technology Leadership