Before Your College Moves to a New ERP or SIS, Read this First

Is your college looking to migrate to a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Student Information System (SIS) system? You are in for quite some excitement. Why? SIS and ERP systems are the keystone for all of the student/customer data of your college.  Moving to the new system impacts the entire school; in this article, I will highlight some of the challenges and provide some strategies I have found to be helpful.

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Note: 75% of ERP projects fail.

Do you need a new ERP or SIS?

The reason has to be authentic, compelling, and necessary.  These migrations are often multi-year, multi-million-dollar projects for your institution.  It is not just an Information Technology problem; it is a college-wide problem.  Most managers and directors for your school will be involved at some point, some for a long time – such as records, billing, financial aid – and some for less time.  If your college is not prepared for most key personnel in critical offices to have at least half of their time divided between the project and their everyday responsibilities, STOP!

Your institution needs to be ready for a genuine time commitment. As such, it needs to have a commitment from the Board and senior management; they need to participate early and often actively.  I have witnessed executive leadership show up and voice their opinions only after the architecture phase was finished. In this respect, they are too late, and making those changes would cost additional money and delay the project.  Adding time to the project can lead to the burnout of employees. They need to be there for the meetings or actively engage with those taking their place in the design meetings.  This shows a lack of concern and lack of engagement from those leaders, which then impacts the morale of those who work under them and those who are essential to the project.

Meetings, meetings, and more meetings

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Depending on your role, be prepared for many meetings.  Some days, people will be involved in all-day meetings. This is not just Information Technology, but everyone throughout the organization that is in a leadership or expert role that deals with the current SIS or ERP.

The meetings at the beginning of the project are to set up the migration structure, such as the order of migration and milestones.  Then come the discovery meetings, where you meet with your consultants to identify all of the existing processes and data flows that currently happen.  This is a critical step in uncovering how most of your college operates today.

The meetings that will start to involve everyone will be the architecture or design phase meetings. These meetings provide the foundational set up and get the system configured in a way that will work best for your school. 

Then comes the onslaught of various testing phases involving multiple groups of people.  These testing phases are partly training in addition to the testing.  For many, this will be their first introduction to the new system, so the testing needs to be spelled out well.  Students will also need to be involved in this phase.  If they have issues using the system (without training), then you have problems.  Helper guides can be useful for students for some of the nuanced usage.  However, the system should be configured or set up to intuitively enable the students to use the system.

So, Where is the Advice?

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Here it is:

  1. EVERYONE needs to be on board and prepared for the change.  This means the culture has to be ready, as well as executive leadership.  This means people will need to be prepared through good change management.  Be prepared to lose staff.  Those who are not used to change will look elsewhere because it is a change they can control rather than one they cannot.
  2. Communication is key.  As with anything related to business, or marriage, communication will enable the success of the ERP/SIS migration.  A sentence you will never hear is: “I’m glad we didn’t communicate with other offices; it helped the project’s success.”
  3. The mythical idea of hiring replacement staff is great if you can afford it. This is great in theory; employ many people to replace the people working on the project.  The problem is that the positions would be hiring for are managers, directors, and experts in the current ERP/SIS and how your college does things.  If you were to hire replacements, they would need to be on Board for a year before the start of the project to get them to the point where they could be useful.  They would need to be on board for roughly 3 years (depending on your implementation plan).

The key comes back to number 1; the people involved need to be dedicated to the success of the college and the project.  People will do amazing things if they have the desire and tenacity to do so.  My advice to you is this: give them space and fuel to get it done.  This may mean giving them additional perks throughout the project and rewards after the project is done.  If they work better from home, let them as long as they don’t need to be onsite. 

Conclusion

There are many, many different things to consider when migrating to a new ERP/SIS.  A myriad of things needs to be in place for it to be successful.  Good business practices will help the project, but the people are the most critical aspect of the migration. 

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