How systems integration helps higher education
Integration of systems and information is one of the holy grails of higher education modernization. But why is it so important? How can it help colleges improve student outcomes, and how can it increase efficiency across campus? I hear questions like these often. Here’s how I explain the value that integration can bring to colleges and universities.
What is systems integration—and why does higher education need it?
Systems integration refers to the ability to share and access data among solutions. It’s important because you're going to get the most value out of solutions that share information with each other.
Institutions buy solutions that have functional jobs to do, and often, those jobs are department-specific. Take your admissions team: it probably has a recruiting and enrollment system. Imagine how much more value you’d get if it was integrated with your student system. When an applicant accepts and enrolls, their relevant personal information would be automatically shared with, and available through, the student system.
What are the top three benefits of integration?
1. Efficiency gains.
Your data is already in one of your systems. Your staff shouldn't have to re-enter it into other systems. That data should be shared programmatically in ways that are more efficient and less prone to errors from manual data entry.
2. increased value from your systems and solutions.
When solutions can access more data, those solutions can provide more value. A system focused on retention, for example, is going to be most effective when it is able to see an entire picture of the student’s involvement in campus life using data that lives in multiple systems.
3. Greater insights for your students, staff, and faculty.
When solutions are integrated, your users can access more data, get more complete views of their projects, and work at a higher level. It's really all about the people who are using these systems and what data they can access. If your systems aren’t integrated, then somebody using your student system might not be able to access complete information about, say, a student's admission for days or weeks. That person can’t do their job as effectively. Again, you're driving more value, because your users have real-time access to all the data they need—not just bits and pieces.
Why is real-time integration so important?
When it comes to data syncing, you want to get as close to real-time as possible, with all applications synced across campus.
Some outdated modes of integration, like batch processing, don’t achieve that goal. With batch processing, data gets shipped around at, say, two o'clock in the morning. And as the name suggests, it often only processes limited quantities at a time. So by the time the files are generated, they’re already out of date.
Having a real-time interface with synchronized data is key to being a modern institution today. Everyone should be on the same page with the same up-to-date information. Today’s students expect all their information to be up-to-date and readily available in all the relevant systems across campus. And your staff and faculty need that integration to provide a better student experience.
Can systems integration help increase completion and retention rates?
One of the biggest reasons that CIOs and other campus leaders care about integrations is that it enables more personalized, targeted student advising. Integration of student data lets advisors see the whole picture of the student. Without that integration, properly prepping for an advising session could take four to five hours per student. How's it going in class? What are their grades? Are their bills paid? Are they missing a lot of classes? You'd have to go in several different systems to get that kind of information.
Integration lets advisors and professors advise students in the right way. That's why it matters so much: to truly be able to advise students and help them reach their fullest potential.
Some institutions have also increased retention using technology that brings data together to help them with early identification of at-risk students. For example, based on data from the bursar’s office, an advisor or someone in financial aid can see that a student is unable to pay a $300 bill in the first semester of her senior year. Equipped with that information, the institution can intervene with timely assistance—and prevent a minor obstacle from pushing a student completely off-track.
Is integration a one-time project or a continuous process?
Think of an integration solution as a living, breathing entity. As your departments and other solutions mature, they’ll collect and share more information with each other. Integration and the data that it shares mature with them.
Integration isn’t a one-shot deal—it’s a mindset and a culture change. Your integrations are going to evolve with your solutions and with your institution.
Next up in the series: a quick guide to common integration terminology.