Case Study Details

The Importance of a Unified Technology Stack for Higher Education Institutions

Modern educational institutions are dealing with more complexity than ever when it comes to managing their student intake, recruiting, class management, payment processing, and more.  This is the backbone of an institution and when you aren’t able to build efficient systems to run these components, you can quickly end up with a bloated administrative staff complement that can struggle to keep the wheels rolling, especially during busy periods.

This is even more prevalent when your educational institution has different campuses and locations that operate independently.  How do you maintain a high-quality experience that is standardized and efficient across the board?

This is the challenge that we faced when we started working with the Rellis Campus at Texas A&M University.

What Challenges Were They Facing?

This research institution formed part of a wider academic alliance that spanned 10 independent campuses, each with its own unique quirks and ways of doing things.  Each campus had different stakeholders, used different technology, and collected data in slightly varied ways.  While this worked just fine on an individual level, the organization was struggling to unify these in a way that make sense from a group perspective.  It was nearly impossible to leverage the true power of the data they had at their fingertips because all the technology was siloed and that made it very difficult to gather wider-scale insights.

In addition, the client experience (whether as a student, or a potential staff member in the recruitment process) would vary widely depending on the specific workflows, processes, and technologies that were in place at that particular campus.  This meant that the group struggled to unify the intake – causing more complex issues further downstream.

These obstacles had been building up over years and it finally came to a point where they had to find a better, more scalable way to deal with things – especially as things continued to grow.

How Did We Set Out to Solve the Problem?

It was clear from the moment that the client came to us, that this would require a significant overhaul of the existing technology stack if we were going to make tractable progress towards a more efficient and robust overall system.  We had to go back to first principles and imagine what an ideal system might look like if we could start again from scratch.

The team started with a thorough investigative process that aimed to understand all the different data structures, systems, and objectives that were in play across each member campus.  By taking our time to understand what each stakeholder needed out of the system, we could identify potential synergies where disparate teams were looking for similar data, as well as anomalies that needed to be taken care of for specific use cases.

We assembled a broad team with a wide range of expertise so that we made sure we were covering all the bases that we needed to.  This team included specialists in Oracle, Banner, Salesforce CRM, Networking, and other technological infrastructure that was core to what we were trying to achieve.  That’s one of the key benefits of operating like we do in that we can pull together a multi-disciplinary team that can then be deployed to the client for maximum effectiveness.

After some thoughtful and nuanced planning, we were finally ready to overhaul the existing systems and implement one that would unify the different campuses for the very first time.

What Was the Solution?

We collaborated with the leaders at each campus and went to work creating data feeds at each institution that would then feed into a centralized Oracle database.  Our bird’s eye perspective which came as a result of our initial fact-finding missions really paid off here as we could create an intuitive and full-featured data structure that worked for all the campuses while eliminating a lot of the duplicated work that was previously necessary.

This centralized system allowed students to take courses from any of the member organizations through one single sign-in which significantly improved the overall customer experience.  In addition, this also allowed for a new payments system to be built and implemented which removed a lot of the administrative overwhelm that was being experienced and created a simple portal for all payments to go through – simplifying the process drastically.

On the enrollment side, we implemented a custom Salesforce CRM system that could serve as a standardized front end for all recruiting and marketing staff.  This intuitive interface unified an otherwise varied approach, allowing for better efficiency across the admissions process.  The system receives disparate data feeds from each member campus and transforms that information into a single data warehouse from which all further activities flow.  Advisors can manage the information coming in and enter advisory notes for each student which are then visible to all the relevant stakeholders.

The end result was a robust, efficient, and user-friendly system that didn’t compromise on the data that it was receiving, but created a unified system that could leverage it.  By getting this right, all stakeholders have the capacity for scaling and expanding their operations without degrading the student or the staff experience.  It sets the group up perfectly for the growth that they are projecting.

Mark Stone, the Chief Information Officer for the Texas University System, had this to say:

“CAG’s team of IT experts are accustomed to the aggressive timelines and rigorous and evolving demands that an innovative project of this type will naturally entail.  Their higher-ed focused IT services team will enable us to move quickly to provide integrated service to both our students and our member campuses.”

It’s this sentiment that has resonated throughout all of the clients that we’ve worked with.  Educational institutions of the future will need to take their data needs very seriously if they are to scale with the efficiency and quality control that makes for a smooth customer experience.  The only way to do this is by leveraging a centralized technology stack that allows larger organizations to benefit from economies of scale, even if the physical locations as disparate.

--

If you’re looking for assistance in moving towards this future, be sure to get in touch today.  We’d love to hear from you and see how we can help.

ABOUT CAG: CAG is a highly experienced IT consulting firm. With 100+ years of combined technology experience and business acumen, CAG’s team has assessed and helped improve the per formance of more than 300 technology organizations and IT depar tments. By focusing on simple, meaningful, and practical solutions combined with straight-for ward analysis and recommendations, C AG’s team has experience in many regulator y and economic environments with companies and organizations of all sizes. CAG not only offers a deep understanding of IT, but its solutions are sof t ware and hardware agnostic. Whether a client is high growth or economically challenged, CAG can adapt to the complexities and nuances of that business. Based in Dallas, Texas, C AG works extensively with clients throughout the U. S. For more information, visit columbiaadvisory.com