Ohio State drops efforts to update student information system


Shock rippled through higher education tech circles last month when The Ohio State University announced it would be dropping a key facet of its partnership with software provider Workday, abandoning plans to become the an early, prominent user of the company’s cloud-based student information system product. , student in working day.

Outside analysts and university information directors have estimated the likely sunk costs to the state of Ohio to be in the tens of millions of dollars and described the broken partnership as the latest example of a difficult effort. and high-stakes to upgrade student information systems (SIS). While Ohio state officials declined to comment on the costs or specifics of the project, industry executives called it a closely watched experiment due to the inherent complexities of creating systems for generation cloud-based student information, especially for Tier 1 research institutes. as well as the critical need for more advanced cloud-based student information systems across the industry.

If Ohio State can’t do it, it is thought, then maybe no major top research institution can.

University leaders want to give every student cloud-based personalization at Amazon’s level, explaining which courses they should consider based on what they’ve already taken, for example, or managing dozens of iterations of course enrollment preferences based on prerequisites and year of graduation. But the road to erecting such a custom system is long and marked by costly potholes.

“When you set up a student system…it’s like having open-heart surgery, a brain transplant, and a liver transplant all at the same time,” said Nicole Engelbert, vice president of development higher education at Oracle, Workday’s main competitor. “The scale is daunting, even at the best of times.”

Tracy Schroeder, vice president of information services and technology at Boston University, said BU badly needed next-generation SIS capabilities, but couldn’t find what it was looking for in the market. She said SIS is vital because it is the platform that touches everything students do and defines their experience in many dimensions.

“We are at the service of students. This platform is the most important platform, the most strategic platform [and] …it’s the platform students interact with the most,” Schroeder said. She added that SIS can “shape a student’s impression of campus and make things smooth, easy, and user-friendly.”

But the next generation of SIS promises to do something even more ambitious and necessary, she said. It will mine and leverage the data to personalize student-to-student recommendations, services, and supports.

Schroeder said she hopes Workday will continue to move forward despite its recent setbacks in Ohio State. She worries that since the pool of major research institutes is not so large, companies might decide not to go ahead with investing in technology.

Workday isn’t alone in facing challenges. Oracle and Thesis (a standalone company spun off from Unit 4) also experienced significant delays in bringing their new SIS to market. The existing perception of the difficulty of building these next-generation SISs made the Ohio State and Workday shutdown particularly catching the attention of higher education leaders, CIOs and external experts.

While Sion Rogers, a spokesperson for Workday, declined to comment on the costs incurred by the State of Ohio or the details of the delays, he said in a statement that the higher education sector is unique by compared to other markets that Workday serves.

“The vast scope of the Workday Student product—compounded by the fact that all institutions go live at the same time of year—results in a unique situation that includes different pressures on products and deployment resources,” says the communicated. “Our customer community continues to grow with 18 customers going live in the past year alone…As we bring more customers into production, we expect a concurrent increase in deployment efficiency, as we’ve seen it with every other Workday product.”

Michael Berman, CIO of the California State University system, the nation’s largest, said his system enrolls about half a million students a year and keeps track of about six million student records at any time.

He said students today expect a high degree of online service, which is often difficult to achieve since the older SIS products used at most colleges and universities were designed in the 1990s.

“It was an IBM PC world in 1998 when we started implementing systems like this, and of course now we’re in a mobile phone world and smart AI [world]”, Berman said. “When they go to college, [students] expect to be able to get systems and services similar to what they are used to using online from so many other vendors. And we’re challenged to achieve that level of service – we often don’t.

Berman said “very few” campuses have achieved the level of sophistication with SIS products that students have come to expect. He said the reality is not so much that the technology doesn’t exist, but rather that it doesn’t exist in a form that universities can afford to pay for it. He said the costs can be huge. In his professional opinion, if Cal State, as the nation’s largest four-year system, were to replace its primary SIS with HR and finance, it would cost hundreds of millions and possibly over a billion dollars.

Instead, Berman will watch where the next five to 10 years of working with early adopters go and reevaluate the investment in a new SIS system once the market clears up and costs come down. It makes its existing technology work by adding several smaller, more specialized systems.

“Every dollar we invest in technology like [Workday Student] is $1 that does not go to the classroom. It doesn’t go to a faculty member, it doesn’t go to a field station where students do research, it doesn’t go to faculty training to make better online courses,” Berman said. “These are really not technological decisions. These are financial decisions or institutional decisions.

Vicki Tambellini, CEO of higher education research and consulting firm Tambellini Group, said Workday, Oracle and Unit 4 (now Thesis) all announced they would be developing their new SIS between 2013 and 2015, and all met significant delays. (Asked about the delays, Oracle executive Engelbert said the company was “incredibly cautious about when we bring a product fully to market.” A spokesperson for Thesis only acknowledged that “parties of his product had been delayed.)

Tambellini said the delays have been a pain point for university leaders.

“There are a lot of institutions that are using systems that were selected over 20 years ago, that are feeling the pain of those legacy environments, that are interested in replacing those old systems, and that are very eager to have something. new and modern”, says Tambellini. “There has been general frustration in the market that there aren’t a number of new competitive systems to evaluate.”

Tambellini estimates that Workday and Oracle have more than 100 developers working on their SIS products, which is emblematic of the difficulty of building next-generation SISs.

She said most higher education institutions still run student systems “on-premises,” which means every update must be handled by the local IT team and the customization that most universities seek. is harder to find. She noted that higher education lags behind other industries when it comes to technological change, as planning, budgeting and funding decisions in higher education tend to take longer. She said approximately $3 billion is spent annually on student systems and related services around the world.

“If it’s big enough for these companies to invest, it should be big enough to do well,” Tambellini said.


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