By Lydia J. Hawkins, Director of Enrollment, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (Canada)
From The Yield, Fall 2014
So you’ve decided to reconsider your database. Maybe you’re frustrated you can’t generate relevant statistics; maybe it’s too cumbersome to enter data; maybe you don’t have a database, and it’s time you took the plunge. Here are a few questions to ask and items to consider before making a large investment:
Do you — or does anyone on your admission team — have the training or expertise to know if you’re maximizing your current system? If so, has he/she taken or been given the time to explore?
For better or worse, someone decided to purchase and implement your current database. Who made that decision and why? Once you understand the dream for your current database, you’ll be better equipped to either seek out the training and support to make it work or know that it’s time to move on and research new products.
What do you want your system to do? What do you need it to do?
Do you have a large team with officers responsible for different areas and need a system that will help track family assignments? Is your application process complex with supplementary assessments and the need to be flexible with waiving different requirements for your families? Do you have a small but personalized applicant pool and need the ability to track and communicate quickly? The answers to these questions will help guide the type of product you are looking for and quickly eliminate some options.
Once you’ve exhausted your current system and defined your goals for a new product, you’re ready to research!
Which databases and systems are currently used at your school (Advancement, Admissions, Academics, Student Records, Attendance, Report Cards, Facilities, etc.) and what resources does your school have to bring a new product online both in personnel and budget?
Scenario 1: Would your school/IT team prefer you use various products from the same brand in the hope that all systems will sync? As an example, one company may offer different products for admission, registrars, student accounts, reporting, attendance, and teacher comments, fundraising and alumni relations, general website integration including a school calendar, parent portal, and academic pages. If your school is already committed to one or two products of the same brand, you might be limited in your selection of a completely new system. Make sure your IT department understands the potential limitations of requiring a particular system that meets some but not all needs in your school. It can go very well, but you need the time and resources to set things up in a way that will work for your school and your office.
Scenario 2: Do any of your current databases or systems belong to an “ecosystem” with other brands? If so, focus your research on products from that ecosystem for greater integration success while allowing each office/department to utilize a product that is right for their needs. While this will allow you flexibility to ensure the needs of your office and school are being met, the potential downside can be the reliance on the relationship between the two companies to continue unchanged for years to come.
In either scenario, be sure to ask your potential new company about their experience integrating with products around your school.
What’s your budget?
Purchasing the database isn’t the only cost. What additional server capacity and security protocols need to be put in place? Is there a cost for annual support or supplemental training? Do you need to purchase a certain number of licenses, so that your team can access data at the same time? What if it breaks — can you fly a member of the support team to your school, and do you have to pay for that?
Who is providing immediate support or liaising with the product support team? What support will the company provide?
You need to know who is going to help you with technological challenges when your team needs to focus on filling the school. The particular product you select might also be outside the comfort zone for your IT team. If this is the case, how will you get the support you need?
Are there other potential or unexpected ways in which your data is used by other members of the community? Is your data moving directly to other offices on your campus (Student Records, Advancement, etc.) during the application process or once a family joins your school?
Before you raise the possibility of changing databases (change is hard!), get the players in a room for a conversation around data. Ask your colleagues how they are using data, what limitations they have experienced, and what they’re happy about. A few people to consider including: Advancement, Registrar, Finance, Student Records, IT, Academics, etc. Invite not only the directors of the departments but also those on the ground using the system every day.
Over the years, I have had experience working with five of the popular database companies. Each product had the potential to meet and exceed the needs of each office and school, but each also came with challenges. Know your goal before you research making a change. Without a goal in mind, you could find yourself in a costly committed relationship with a database that’s not meeting your needs. If you have done your ground work and have the proper support and training in place, you might be surprised by your newly-tapped data potential!