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    Student Information System Buying Guide

    Last updated:
    August 16, 2023

    Your university’s student information system (SIS) should be your one-stop hub for student data management. As a centralized software system, it enables you to handle everything – from student enrollment and course registration to attendance tracking and class scheduling – in a single, easy-to-access and secure place.

    Without an SIS, you’ll find it difficult to streamline admin tasks and access information quickly. Disparate manual platforms – or software systems that fail to integrate – can lead to inaccuracies, compliance issues and data silos that impact visibility for stakeholders.

    A SIS, on the other hand, reduces the risk of costly mistakes and ensures your team’s time is used efficiently. In summary, an effective SIS can help your institution to:

    • Streamline operations
    • Meet or surpass enrollment goals
    • Make informed decisions
    • Improve compliance
    • Reduce student churn
    • Optimize cash flow

    Finding the ‘right fit’ for your university can prove challenging, especially when there are many options to choose from. The key is to align your own requirements – the academic, administrative and communication needs of your institution – with the solution’s capabilities. Demoing different SIS options is an important part of the research process.

    Whether you're evaluating your existing SIS platform to determine whether or not it’s fit for purpose, or if you’re looking for a replacement, we’re here to equip you with the knowledge you need to make an informed decision. Consider the following 9 factors when researching SIS platforms to ensure you match with the best solution for your needs.

    1. Cloud-based

    Although the majority of SIS platforms are cloud-based, some vendors and institutions still rely on legacy on-premise solutions.

    Cloud SIS solutions provide scalability, flexibility and resilience, all of which are critical for future-proofing your IT infrastructure. On-premise solutions often require large upfront expenditure, whereas cloud systems usually offer a pay-as-you-go model, which can make things easier for your institution from a cash flow perspective too.

    2. Features and functionality

    When comparing SIS platforms, pay close attention to the functionality: the different tasks the platform can perform. It is essential to map the features to the processes and tasks that the teams and students need. Instead of opting for a generic information system, explore those that have been designed for the higher education sector. Your SIS should enable you to handle student record management,  enrollment management, course scheduling, student registration, grade, attendance and student communication. When conducting research it’s important to get input from a representative of every key team.

    3. Integration and compatibility

    Large or small, the majority of higher education institutions utilize a variety of software platforms on a day-to-day basis, whether its learning management software (LMS), CRM, admissions and enrollment tool or even the accounting and finance system. With this in mind, it’s important to adopt an SIS solution that can integrate with the rest of your ecosystem.

    It is critical to map your integration requirements before the implementation.

    4. User-friendly interface

    Don’t underestimate the power of a user-friendly interface. It will enable your staff, faculty, students and other stakeholders to adopt the new system and become proficient at using it.

    Of course, you will still need to provide training so that users feel confident from day one (your vendor should offer training as part of their service). User-friendly interfaces optimize the experience, making it easier for users to access, navigate and perform tasks. In turn, this has a positive impact on adoption rates, productivity and satisfaction.

    The following aspects constitute a user-friendly interface:

    • Intuitive navigation – users should be able to easily find what they’re looking for
    • Simplicity – a clear and simple design
    • Clear language – plain, easy-to-understand language that is jargon-free
    • Visual hierarchy – important information comes first and stands out
    • Responsive design – an interface that adapts to different devices and screen sizes
    • Consistency – consistent design and content helps users understand and predict
    • Contrast and readability – colours and font sizes should be readable and accessible
    • Accessibility – compatible with screen readers and other assistive technology
    • Fast loading – quick load times help ensure a streamlined user experience
    • Minimal input – allow users to complete tasks in as few steps as possible

    5. Data security and privacy

    Data security and privacy is critical, so be sure to check the vendor’s credentials. It must have measures in place to protect student data and comply with the various data privacy regulations. Data integrity is vital for protecting students and your institution’s reputation. A cloud-based system should include regular security updates and upgrades.


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    6. Implementation and training

    Your implementation timeline is another factor to consider when deciding which SIS to buy. It’s important to find out how long the implementation will be, because the time it takes to get up and running varies from vendor to vendor. An off the shelf solution will get you results faster but ensure you allocate enough time for training all key users,  an important step that will set you up for a smooth transition.

    Implementation is a multifaceted process that covers data organization, cleaning and migration.

    Although this might seem like a lengthy or arduous process, the time and money saved through the streamlining operations can make it a worthwhile endeavour. After your demo, be sure to find out how long implementation could take so that you can plan ahead.

    7. Customisation and flexibility

    As part of your digital transformation strategy, you might want to prioritize education-specific tools over generic solutions that aren’t designed with a specific sector in mind. A good SIS should offer a proven track record of successful implementations with other HE clients but allow for customisation based on your needs and requirements.

    You may also want to weigh the ‘approach’ of the vendors you’re exploring. Some SIS vendors, for example, may err towards a one-size-fits-all self service approach, while others may offer a more premium personalised service with 1:1 customer support.

    As well as opting for a new digital tool, your new vendor will act as a technology partner. A good one will take the time to understand your needs and the capabilities you require, as well as your institution’s overall growth plans and success metrics.

    8. User reviews and references

    Like you’d do with any other product or service, check out what other users are saying. Getting feedback from the institutions that already use the SIS you’re considering buying can prove invaluable. Reviews and testimonials often provide an insight into how well the SIS operates in context. They reveal the pros and cons from a real user’s point of view.

    Reviews might also show how well the system integrates with other platforms and tools, as well as its propensity for customization and workflow creation. Look for reviews by institutions that are similar in size or specialism, and those with similar goals to yours.

    9. Scalability and size

    The SIS you choose should not only be able to accommodate the current size of your higher education institution, but be able to scale in line with its future growth. It should be capable of managing large numbers of students and data sets with ease. Fortunately, many cloud systems for higher ed can scale resources up or down in response to changing needs.

    Your SIS is a pivotal tool: one that can streamline university operations and the student lifecycle, while enabling you to make data-driven decisions about the future. By considering the factors we’ve explored above, you can make an informed decision about the best SIS fit for the needs of your students and staff, and ultimately boost your university’s performance.

    What should I do now?

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