University leaders who serve non-traditional students know the challenge of trying to deliver a seamless customer experience to this audience using technologies designed for main campuses.
While many leaders want best-of-breed tools designed specifically for this audience, the challenge of harnessing multiple technologies can be overwhelming. This concern has traditionally led to the adoption of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems designed to serve main campuses, but not flexible enough to address the specific needs of unique audiences.
“The promise of ERP was seamless integration of multiple functions into one streamlined system that would ultimately lead to efficiency, accuracy and related advantages,” said Rob Lowden, Associate Vice President of Enterprise Systems at Indiana University.
“However, the unfulfilled promise of ERP has resulted in complex integrations over time. Shadow systems emerged to atone for the sins of initial ERP implementations. Over time, the shadow systems created substantial integration complexity and a dismal user experience.”
Why This Approach Doesn’t Work for the Modern University
A modern university has to run like a well-oiled machine—a business designed to serve the needs of its highly discerning customers.
“Universities must do a better job of redesigning their business processes to be centered on the person that matters the most in a university: the student,” said Michael Hites, Chief Information Officer at Southern Methodist University. “By redefining the business process around the student, we can change the bureaucratic experience.”
Unfortunately, divisions can’t focus on students when staff are mired in the workarounds and manual data entry that has come to define administrative. To come close to delivering a good user experience, staff have to put in super human effort—an incredibly time-consuming process that is highly susceptible to human error.
Sandi Pershing, Assistant Vice President of Outreach and Engagement and Dean of Continuing Education at the University of Utah, pointed out that these outdated processes not only impact the customer experience, they affect the capacity for non-traditional divisions to develop and deliver programming.
“You might try to run a class within continuing education that’s outside normal semester timelines, so it doesn’t work with the traditional campus database,” she said. “In situations like this, you have to build outside systems to work around the traditional system, which can be cumbersome.”
Barriers to innovation can be technological. You might try to run a class within continuing education that’s outside normal semester timelines so it doesn’t work with the traditional campus database.
“We’ve had to create a shadow system that works behind the scenes to process these sorts of classes,” she continued. “We should provide a seamless experience, even if we’re working within a system that would not otherwise feel seamless. It creates extra work for us, certainly, but we want the student to feel that their enrollment process is as easy as buying a book off of Amazon.”
The truth is, for a modern university, the ERP environment is outdated—even for the main campus.
“Things are really shifting to a best-of-breed focus,” said Joanna Young, former Vice President for IT and Chief Information Officer at Michigan State University. “You can choose dashboarding and analytics solutions, you can choose finance and planning and budgeting solutions for higher education, you can select the right student or advancement or other CRM systems or whatever the case may be, and those can work together more effectively.”
For non-traditional divisions, having to make do with a campus ERP can significantly limit their capacity to serve learners.
So What’s the Solution for Divisions Serving Non-Traditional Audiences?
For divisions focused on non-traditional audiences, it’s essential to search for tools that not only specifically address the needs of your customers, but also integrate seamlessly into your main campus system.
This way, the main campus system can continue to serve as the system of record while letting the division serve its customers effectively and efficiently.
“Integration of systems allows for a seamless user experience,” said Paige Francis, Associate Chief Information Officer at the University of Arkansas. “Regardless of the number of wildly sporadic systems, when tied together, the ‘face’ of the business is empowered to look and feel consistent across the entire environment.”
At the University of Minnesota (UMN), they achieved this integration—and some significant additional benefits—by implementing a Student Lifecycle Management (SLM) system designed specifically for divisions serving non-traditional learners.
University of Minnesota saved $48,000 per year in just two of the operation units that deployed Destiny One.
Leveraging an Integrated SLM to Decommission Shadow and Overlapping Systems
“We had a number of homegrown and purchased systems from a variety of vendors all operating on our campus and doing effectively the same things for different units and divisions,” said Kristy Davis, Associate Director for Academic Support Resources-IT at UMN. “It created a number of redundancies and the impact was felt in the complexity of our environment, the inconsistency of the student experience and the challenges faced by staff in managing their offerings.
Of course, UMN had to create this array of shadow systems to overcome the capacity gap between their main campus ERP and the needs of their unique audiences. But by investing in an SLM to serve non-traditional learners—and by ensuring that SLM could integrate into their main campus system-of-record—they were able to reduce the financial burden of maintaining overlapping shadow systems.
“We have eliminated a huge number of overlapping accounts, significantly simplifying our accounting practices while also reducing costs from division to division,” Davis said. “One unit estimates that they’re saving at least $33,000 annually from administration activities and merchant account costs, while another unit eliminated two merchant accounts—with their associated monthly fees and time investments—and estimate savings in the range of $15,000 per year.”
These benefits were also realized at UC Berkeley Extension (UCBX), who also implemented the Destiny One SLM designed for non-traditional audiences.
“The systems that we were using before were very compartmentalized and departmentalized, so they wouldn’t speak to each other,” said Patty Maciel, a Business Analyst with UCBX. “Destiny One is more cohesive—it’s more of a Swiss Army knife that all of Extension can use. Additionally, the different parts of the system speak to each other within the SLM, making collaboration much easier.
Ultimately, by implementing a system tailor-made for their unique students, UCBX realized significant cost savings and efficiency improvements.
“We were able to decommission at least a hundred different applications, shadow systems and processes as Extension moved fully onto Destiny One,” said Robin Sease, a Business Analyst with UCBX.
University of Minnesota: Consolidating to Reduce Costs and Drive Operational Excellence
How Destiny One is helping reduce costs and improve productivity at numerous divisions across the University of Minnesota.
Leveraging an Integrated SLM to Improve Staff Efficiency
Additionally, UMN and UCBX have created significant benefits for staff as a result of the integration between their SLM and main campus system of record.
At UMN, staff can now focus on their unique audiences and divisions rather than having to enter data numerous times into numerous places to satisfy institutional policy demands.
“We’ve realized significant benefits of having the Destiny One system, which is integrated into our main campus enterprise financial system,” said Davis. “The system has a streamlined invoicing process going directly to the controller’s office so unit accountants can focus time on other value-adding activities rather than manual reconciliation activities.”
UCBX has realized similar benefits by taking advantage of an integrated system that brings all student information into a single, permissioned interface.
“The staff experience is very different now compared to before, because with Destiny One staff just go into the system and look for a student, as opposed to going back and looking for 16 entries for the same student,” said Maciel.
UC Berkeley Extension decommissioned 100+ applications, shadow systems and processes after implementing Destiny One.
Leveraging an Integrated SLM to Deliver a Modern Student Experience
Finally, the shift to an integrated SLM has led to the delivery of an enhanced customer experience for the multiple kinds of learners looking to non-traditional divisions for non-credit programming.
"We lacked consistency in our university and college branding, which impacted the registrants’ perception of the University of Minnesota and could well have prevented them from registering for courses and events," said Davis.
"We’re now able to deliver the kind of student—and customer—experience our constituents expect," Davis said. "We’re able to achieve consistency across our non-credit offerings that today’s learners—who are experienced customers—respond well to."