Put students in the middle of an ecosystem, and they'll feel like they're the center of the universe

Put students in the middle of an ecosystem, and they'll feel like they're the center of the universe

By Jackie Yeaney on Friday, January 26, 2018


When I was asked to lead consumer marketing for Delta Air Lines shortly after 9/11, I had never been a marketer before. But what I lacked in experience, I made up for with one big advantage. Because I hadn’t been intimately involved in building the Delta brand, it was easier to view that brand the way our customers did. What I learned was both enlightening and scary, but ultimately empowering – for I came to understand that the tools we needed to transform our travelers’ experience were under our nose all along.

What I realized was that we didn’t need entirely new people or processes, we just needed to marshal and deploy our resources in a different way. We inspired our workforce by reminding them of the values at Delta’s core. We asked executives to fly like customers and pass through the looking glass themselves. And based on these sobering exercises, we crafted “ten little things” for our flight attendants and airport agents to perform to help our passengers feel like we were truly focused on their needs. On their own, none of these “little things” was groundbreaking. But when combined, they created an experience that was far greater than the sum of its parts.

Fast-forward fifteen years…

A year ago, I took on the role of CMO at Ellucian, a higher education technology company. And this fall, I was again thrust into my customers’ world when my youngest son, Alec, started his first semester at college. Again, it was eye-opening. Again, it was a bit scary. And yet again, it resulted in an empowering realization: that higher education technology is actually a lot closer to revolutionizing student and institutional experiences than it might seem.

My initial reaction was astonishment at how difficult it was for Alec to accomplish simple administrative tasks. The shock settled in when Alec had to ask someone how to access his class schedule and the answer was to click the “Financial Aid” tab on his student dashboard. It got worse when spring registration rolled around and Alec had to access two completely walled-off systems to find and then enter his desired class codes. The process of establishing me and my husband as proxies who could view Alec’s bill was equally difficult. And when we were finally able to view and pay his tuition, I received a “Give Now” email from the advancement office just one day later.

These are just a few of the challenges that we faced in Alec’s first semester – many of which required him to abandon technology altogether and get the job done in person. Each instance added to his already high stress level. On top of soccer, classes, and adjusting to being away from home, 18-year-old Alec had a myriad of boxes to check to ensure his education would proceed as planned. None of them were easy to complete.

And Alec is born of a generation that expects this stuff to be effortless. For years, he’s been accessing information, connecting with friends and family, and transacting business with just a few taps on his phone. In this context, he is not just a student; he’s a consumer. And, as such, he’s just like the respondents to a recent study by DJS Research, which found that 40 percent of U.S. college students say dealing with administration is so complex that it cuts into study time; or the respondents to a fall 2017 Ellucian survey, which found that 58 percent of students say their institution lags behind every other business or organization they regularly encounter when it comes to delivering a personalized experience.

The “ah-ha” moment…

As a parent, and as the CMO of Ellucian, all of this amounted to a very tough pill to swallow. But it didn’t get really scary until Alec asked me a simple question: “Can’t you guys just build a piece of software to fix all this stuff?” At first, I didn’t have an answer. I racked my brain thinking of all our solutions and services and couldn’t identify one that was the silver bullet.

But then, I thought back to all the “little things” we implemented at Delta. There is, indeed, no single piece of Ellucian technology that can entirely ease the students’ administrative burden on its own. But there is a suite of Ellucian solutions that – when deployed together in a true ecosystem of innovation – can create yet another whole that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

How it all comes together…

At the foundation of this ecosystem is our higher education data model and the Ellucian Ethos Platform, which enable disparate systems all over campus to communicate without the cumbersome point-to-point integrations of the past. This means no more jumping from system to system to get things done. And because Ethos ties systems together even if they are not Ellucian applications, more and more administrative services are coming into the fold every day as partners such as TouchNet, VMware, and a host of others adopt the underlying data model.

At the next level up is Ellucian Analytics, which leverages the Ethos Platform to unlock the true potential of information. More and more, the answers students need don’t reside in any one particular application; they are hiding in a variety of applications that must work together to provide real insight. Ellucian Analytics’ integrated approach makes that kind of cooperation possible, and organizes information not in silos, but around the real-world questions that students, staff, faculty, and administrators ask every day.

The next piece of the puzzle is an Ellucian cloud delivery model that enables students to register for classes, connect with instructors, buy books, or track their progress toward completion in the mobile, on-demand way they’ve grown accustomed to. The fact that the Ellucian cloud now offers the flexibility, scalability, and security higher education needs means that this is already a reality on numerous campuses – and that it’s a vision within reach for others around the world.

And at the top of the stack are the Ellucian applications themselves, which have been transformed to perform in the world of Ethos integration, guided analytics, and private-cloud or SaaS delivery. From enterprise applications like Banner 9 and Colleague to a CRM capable of managing the full student lifecycle, our evolved solutions are not your average update or the mere introduction of new features and functionality. They are, in fact, new systems built for a new world.

Why all this matters…

So when we put all of this together, it seems we do have an answer for Alec after all. When our transformed solutions are delivered through the cloud; when they are integrated through Ethos; and when they feed next-generation analytics, we have the power to put the every campus constituent squarely in the middle of a technology ecosystem that makes him or her feel like center of the universe. Dashboards can become one-stop shops. Mobile devices can evolve into personal assistants. Simply put, no one will need to chase information or services, because the data is always just a click or two away, anywhere and anytime it is needed.

Most important, we can do all of this at a time when “consumerized” students like Alec will accept nothing less. And when we consider those students who don’t have Alec’s support structure or resources, or whose job or family obligations give them even less time to check those administrative boxes, the case for building this student-centric information architecture becomes all the more compelling in terms of retention, completion, and overall student success.

It’s not always fun or easy to see the experiences your industry is building from the customers’ point of view. But once you get past the stuff that makes you cringe, you often find the answer to your problems sitting in plain sight. For me, it took a few sobering encounters to recognize that Ellucian has built a lot of little things that can add up to something very, very big when they are deployed as they ought to be – and that we do, in fact, have the power to make Alec’s life as a busy freshman much easier to manage.

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About the Author

Speaker - Jackie Yeaney

Jackie Yeaney

Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer

Senior vice president and chief marketing officer responsible for the full breadth of Ellucian’s marketing efforts, including corporate, product, and field marketing.