Higher education is “hungry” for new SIS despite falling implementations

Posted by  Austin Laird

The recent fall in the number of student information system implementations is a temporary one; the market is hungrier than ever, writes Austin Laird, Unit4’s higher education product director.

There’s been a substantial drop in student information system (SIS) implementations over the last few years, according to recent research by Moran Technology Consulting. But the IT consulting firm says demands for outcomes-based systems are still growing, while the dip amounts to a “pause” in the market while institutions wait for the latest software to become viable.

This is insight supported by Gartner strategist, Bob Yanckello, who says the market is experiencing “hunger pangs” as it waits for the next generation of applications to mature.

“Plummeting” number of implementations

Moran Technology Consulting's blog about trends in the US and Canadian higher education student system market over the last eight years confirms what we have noted this year in most parts of the world — the decline in the number of SIS buying decisions overall, and thus a decline in announced implementations.

Moran’s research (in association with LISTedTECH) shows SIS implementations have been “plummeting” since 2011, especially among higher education institutions (HEIs) with more than 10,000 students. From 2011 to 2018, the number of announced implementations have dropped from more than 200 to fewer than 40. Since 2015, implementations have more than halved (from 120 to 40).

The blog’s author, senior partner and CEO, Charlie Moran, says: “While outside observers could view these data as a sign of a market in steep decline, we believe this is merely a market taking a pause. The market seems to be holding off on major SIS commitments until new products and major revisions of existing products become viable.

“The data set confirms what many in the industry have been sensing, that institutions of all sizes have been holding off on decisions to implement new SIS products. Overall, a strong, pattern of holding off until new software hits the scene remains firmly entrenched.”

“Hunger pangs”

Charlie adds that, despite the decline in announced implementations, demand for outcomes-based systems is growing and HEIs are researching capabilities while scoping out potential suppliers.

He says there’s been no let-up from institutions seeking advice about enterprise resource planning systems and SISs ahead of a decision. This is something we’ve noticed at Unit4, too.

During a recent Gartner strategy day, Bob Yanckello (senior director analyst covering administrative systems for higher education), described this same trend to us. Where Charlie Moran talks about the "pause" in the market, Bob talked about it in terms of “hunger pangs”.

In other words, he has HEIs telling him they are hungry to move forward with their SIS buying decisions but are waiting — waiting for the new generation of applications to be fully baked. 

This is reassurance from multiple angles and analysts that we're still on the right path with Unit4 Student Management in terms of market potential. (Plus, it’s good to know that all our competition is in the same position.)

Innovator or laggard?

So, who will move first? As Moran says, the willingness to take risks with new software products varies across institutions: “some like to be pioneers and be the first to install new products; others want to wait for the products to be installed and stable before moving to new products.”

The question is: which one are you? According to the diffusion of innovations theory, there are five types of technology adopters: innovators, early adopters, the early majority, late majority and laggards. The ‘pioneers’ Moran refers to are the innovators and early adopters.

The pragmatists, those who wait for proof of new application capabilities and system viability while the market settles down, are the early majority.

The skeptics are the late majority who wait until most of their competitors have adopted the technology. And those who wait until they have no choice but to adopt the system (often years after everyone else has been using it) are the laggards.

Fit for purpose in a commercial climate

So here’s the business case for the right SIS. By this I mean one that’s fit for purpose in today’s “competitive market for earned income”.

The capabilities are already here. The innovators, like are looking towards considerable benefits like:

  1. Increased enrollment of the best students — better recruitment, program provision and retention — as a result of treating them as valued customers.
  2. Higher retention and graduation rates from enhanced student centricity — includes a significant digital upgrade of the student experience and the tools and visibility to help them stay on track towards degree completion and employment.
  3. Improved productivity and lower costs from better managed people, finances and information, resulting from decisions informed by accurate, up-do-date data, sound financial management and real-time business intelligence.
  4. Increased research project effectiveness from streamlined program administration —maximized bid success rates, streamlined post-award management and minimized costs (from better project costs control).

The right solution in today’s commercial landscape is integrated, cloud-based and intelligent. It uses machine learning, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. Its user-friendly, regularly updated and can incorporate other new technologies as they emerge.

This is backed up by Charlie Moran: “We are hearing more and more from institutions that they need systems that help them address their critical needs of greater efficiency, mobility and self-service; assistance with improving student outcomes and stronger analytics to address strategic decision-making etc. Schools want SIS systems that are outcomes focused and not just data transaction/storage applications.”

The bottom line

We know it’s hard to implement new technologies. You need to consider the cost and risk of implementation and total cost of ownership. You need to think about your bottom line in this new consumer-led climate.

But, most importantly, as you strive to overcome today’s challenges, you need to contemplate how you can do something different that boosts student success. That is after all the bottom line.

If you’d like to learn more, visit our education page.

Austin Laird

Product Director Higher Education