Today’s colleges and universities require comprehensive data communication to be successful in supporting the needs of students, faculty, and other stakeholders. In an ideal situation, applications connect seamlessly with one another, but in reality, different software solutions were built to solve for different needs. As a result, they weren’t necessarily designed to share data. Yet, for innovative campus IT teams, achieving harmony among all these systems can be achieved with a smart digital integration strategy.
When applications and technology systems operate together as a functioning, cohesive machine, colleges achieve optimal outcomes with their technology investments, and they’re also better equipped to meet their goals as academic institutions. Achieving that level of interoperability requires a focused effort to align tools and strategies. This includes the processes built around those applications, the methodologies for applying them, and systems and the people managing those processes. As digital transformation changes the way that academic organizations stay innovative, it’s important to know how each can advance their enterprise integration management strategies.
Preparing for Higher Education Digital Integration
Integrating digital systems is an ongoing challenge for colleges and universities because they require such a diverse set of systems, from ERP to SIS to HRIS. Some are centrally-run systems while others are spun up at the departmental level. Campus IT teams are constantly trying to meet new technology needs that come from things like compliance mandates, the creation of new student services, developments in academic departments, and a host of other changes.
The best way to optimize a school’s technology investments and maximize the potential of its systems is to integrate applications so data can be shared. Doing so requires a foundation, one that is process-based, that will provide the framework for building new applications and connectors between and among applications.
To get started with an integration plan, schools must first identify the outcomes they desire and then map the applications that will provide the necessary data and functionality to meet those outcomes. For example, the registrar’s office could schedule classes faster if it could integrate data about facilities availability, enrollment numbers, and course requirements. In many cases, that information has to be retrieved in separate and disparate formats. A single view, delivered through integration, helps expedite scheduling.
Build Process and Workflow into Integration Requirements
Requirements can then be built, and on top of those requirements, teams can start to build processes. These processes must deliver, at a minimum, these things:
- Workflow automation: most applications will have some level of built-in workflow. The goal of processes is to ensure that workflows are connected so that real-time updates in one application are correspondingly made in applications to which it is connected. Consider how convenient it is for financial aid information to automatically populate with a students’ tuition bill so she knows, in real-time, precisely what her financial responsibility is.
- Connector flexibility: applications are upgraded from time to time, and they deploy new functionality. Make sure that processes are flexible enough to adapt to changes in existing systems, and can be applied to new technologies.
- Productivity gains: the whole point to an integration strategy is to be more productive with the technology that’s available to you. Make sure that stakeholders are actually getting better visibility into data and then able to apply that, through automation, to improving performance.
Deploying a Sustainable Digital Integration Strategy
Once goals have been identified and processes begin to be built, IT teams need to perform some important steps as part of their strategy as the initiate integration efforts:
- Develop a set of proven best practices from process thought leaders. Familiarize yourself with case studies of colleges who have done this kind of work.
- Partner with stakeholders (others in IT, department heads, users, executive sponsors, and others) to determine what their specific needs are. Learn their pain points and understand what constitutes “integration nirvana” for them.
- Establish a content governance framework so that processes adhere to a specific, but flexible, set of requirements.
- Ensure compliance for industry and institutional compliance frameworks.
A Continuous Integration Roadmap
At this point, you will have a vision and an actionable roadmap. With a tool like Process Director, you can initiate the integration process. This can be done by identifying which inputs will inform your integrations, and how that data will be incorporated into it. Typical integrations come from applications like these:
- LDAP or directory servers
- Standard enterprise applications like CRM, marketing automation, HR systems, and others
- Specific higher education tools like student lifecycle management, financial services apps for financial aid, scheduling and logistics apps, and others
- Document Imaging Software / Scanners
- File System Monitor Application Integration
- Email Servers
- Social BPM Application and Workflow Application Integration
- SharePoint or other file-related applications
With a process-driven approach, campus IT teams will be able to dramatically reduce cost and improve efficiency. Processes allow them to handle connections among the applications and systems listed above, as well as others so there are repeatability and consistency. Insight and visibility into all aspects of processes.
With integrated applications, the entire student lifecycle can become far more streamlined, and university operations can be more efficient. Academic organizations can realize significant cost savings and better deployment of resources. By sharing data and functionality, colleges and universities will be able to emphasize their strengths to their stakeholders as they provide the best possible college experience for all stakeholders.