Replacing a legacy student information system is complex and expensive. The strategies described here offer the potential to eliminate many of the weaknesses of the legacy SIS at a fraction of the cost of system replacement.
Photo: Michael BermanNearly every higher education institution depends on a core administrative student information system (SIS), reports Michael Berman
, Chief Innovation Officer and Deputy CIO at California State University, Chancellor's Office.
Because the SIS sits at the center of so many of the day-to-day operations of managing students, courses, and grades, it becomes extremely important, expensive to operate, and hard to change. Every software system has limitations, of course, and system administrators soon find they need to either modify the way they work or modify the SIS. Because changing the way people work requires changing human behavior, changing the software is often simpler and more expedient.
Over time, these changes accumulate. Eventually, the resulting complicated and deeply embedded system can no longer support modern interfaces and new ways of doing business. At some point, campus leaders find themselves investing in the complex, risky, expensive, and politically fraught process of replacing their SIS in the hope of providing better service to students, improved access to data, and a more flexible technology environment for the future.
It's too soon to know whether or not the emerging generation of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) systems will meet the promise of better service and longer-lasting technology, since the long-term benefits are not yet proven. However, the decision to replace an SIS generates unavoidable costs—primarily financial, but also political—especially at a larger university or university system. Every higher education leader understands that financial and human resources will always be limited and that the money and energy needed to replace an SIS leave fewer resources to invest elsewhere. But eventually legacy software no longer matches campus need, and the drumbeat of "replace the SIS" becomes too loud to ignore.
The California State University (CSU) operates a complex and expensive SIS environment, with a single software system currently servicing 22 campuses (23 by the end of 2021)...
The last two issues noted above—Outdated Models
and Product End-of-Life
—are somewhat less amenable to the strategies described above. To the extent that higher education moves away from traditional models of terms, courses, and credits, the assumptions embedded in a 1990s model of higher education will become progressively obsolete and will not fit the evolving business model of our institutions. However, based on current trends, we don't see this change coming to our institutions in a substantial way in the near term. Product end-of-life could make the existing system too expensive and risky to maintain, so it's a real threat; but at this time we expect to have close to another decade before we hit this wall.
For many higher education institutions, replacing an SIS may become inevitable in the long run. In the meantime, using strategies to extend its life while eliminating many of its weaknesses can represent good stewardship of institutional resources.Read more...
Source: EDUCAUSE Review