5 Reasons Why Now Is the Time to Evaluate Your Information Systems

In Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, Piscine Molitor, or “Pi” survives for months in a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, orangutan, and Bengal tiger. When Pi drifts ashore and tells his story, he’s confronted by doubters. How could a boy survive out at sea with wild animals? Pi’s response is simple – just because you’ve never seen a boy survive in a raft with a Bengal tiger doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Although Life of Pi is a work of fiction, many schools are currently operating in this paradigm – just because we’ve never done something before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

The 2020-21 academic year has brought out the best in schools. Schools have innovated, created, and completely reimagined themselves in the span of months. Administrators should do everything they can to harness these bursts of ingenuity in their strategic planning for the next one to five, or even ten, years.

After employee salaries and maintenance expenditures, school software is often one of the highest investments a school makes each year. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a technological revolution for schools, requiring them to rethink how their community interacts with and uses technology. Here are five reasons why now is the right time to evaluate your student information system (SIS).

1. “It’s not about us today. It’s about the school tomorrow.”

A few years back, I was talking to a Chief Information Officer whose school just switched their SIS. I asked why they made the change. He gave the usual answers about consolidating multiple databases into a single unified system and improving user experience. Then he paused, thought for a second and said, “You know the biggest reason? It’s not about us today. It’s about the school tomorrow. I know with 100% certainty that the decisions we make will have impact on the school for years, if not generations to come. I want to do everything I can to strengthen the foundation of my school.”

2. Your Head of School and CFO understand and appreciate the need for technology more than ever before.

Historically, school leadership may have had a hard time understanding the need to invest in new software; that is no longer the case. According to a recent NBOA article, 80% of schools have invested in new technology in preparation for the 2020-2021 academic year. More than ever, there is need for flexible, powerful, cloud-based software tools that help schools gain efficiency, and ideally, either generate additional revenue or protect current revenue streams — namely, tuition.

3. Enrollment is up – do you have the infrastructure to support, scale, and most importantly, retain?

NAIS reported that, on average, enrollment numbers are up 25% across independent schools. Schools must immediately focus on retention efforts. Are you able to easily pull data on student attendance, grades, teacher comments, extra-curricular participation, and financial aid information? All this data should be collected and analyzed to ensure all your students come back for the 2021-2022 school year.

3b. Enrollment is down – you need to either consolidate your systems or better leverage them to drive an increase in revenue.

NAIS also reported that many schools have experienced a significant decline in their enrollment. Now is the time to closely evaluate your software. Do current providers offer “add-ons” that would allow you to cut ties with other vendors? Does each platform directly contribute to revenue generation or student retention?

4. Change management in hyperdrive.

Innovation has always played a prominent role in independent schools. For years, teachers have experimented with novel and unconventional pedagogy. Now, each department is tasked with reimagining each aspect of their workflow. Although your community might still be apprehensive about switching major systems, schools are now asking the question, “Is there a new way we can do this?” Now is the time to ride that momentum.

5. It will still take time. Start now.

Most schools average between 10-18 months from the start of a new SIS search until implementation. Even if your institution isn’t quite ready, to be fully implemented by the next school year, it’s important to start talking to peer schools and getting demos today.

Ready to start your search for a new SIS? Here are some tips from Anne Sena of St. David's School and Jay Heath of Overlake School on evaluating a selecting a new system.

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