In many higher education institutions, the first people to find out about broken system integrations are the students themselves.
We mentioned this in our post on outsourcing your data integration vs. bringing it in house.
When students are the lifeblood of your institution the reputational damage this causes can be costly. As such it’s worth putting a high value on making sure the integrations between systems, programs and databases are maintained and well structured.
When they aren’t it can create problems. After decades in the industry, we know this all too well. In this post we look at how integration affects the student experience and what can happen if it goes wrong.
Technology is in many areas of education including door access for teaching rooms, buildings, and labs.
You don’t want students getting locked out, so it’s imperative that their ID is regularly updated. If there’s been changes to course data, this needs to be changed in the access code.
A problem may arise when a variation of a course is created but the new code doesn’t communicate with the door system, resulting in access not being granted to those who should have it.
Whilst you may be able to provide a one-time fix for these issues, you end up fighting fires rather than avoiding the problem in the first place.
This issue could also pop up in campus accommodation. If an integration has failed between a student’s ID card and the door system to their accommodation block, guess who’s going to realise first? The student, and often on the day they move in.
It’s an unfortunate first impression that could be avoided if that small but pivotal integration is monitored.
When integrations fail, you ideally want your in house IT team to solve the issue. The sticking point for HE institutions is that the IT team’s ability to fix the issue usually depends on whether it occurs during office hours. Very few universities offer IT support outside 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Amongst larger organisations with hundreds to thousands of IT users, this is uncommon. Integration breaks and data spills can happen at any time. But even if something goes wrong during the week, it may not be discovered until after Uni has finished for the week when students are planning their schedule or checking details of an upcoming assessment.
Having to wait until everything resumes on a Monday morning to get the issues resolved, is highly inconvenient and can have a knock-on effect for individual students.
The building access example above assumes the student has an ID card with the right credentials on, but we’ve also seen students have issues getting the ID card in the first place.
Whether enrollment happens on the day students move in or afterwards, you want that process to be as seamless as possible. After all, there are a lot of students to get through.
A key integration here is the one between the student information system and the one which produces and prints ID cards. You don’t want this to break on the day when students are turning up in their droves ready to begin their HE experience.
This is particularly true for international students who are coming to the UK to study in greater numbers each year. Many will pay their fees on the day they enrol, so you’re also dealing with large cash transactions, it is far simpler with integration to online payment systems. This needs to be a pain free process for both parties.
One of the most common issues we’re aware of is when timetabling and room allocation integrations fail.
Imagine you’re a student turning up for your first lecture, only to find that the room is bursting at the seams with students, and some have to sit on the floor because the room is way over capacity.
Of course rooms and lecture theatres are allocated based on how many students are on the course. But this information changes, and those changes are not always free flowing.
Timetabling integration is often a one-off feed with course data transferred manually. Earlier in the year, after looking at things like prospective students and previous course numbers, a room will be allocated. The timetable is ready to go. Or is it?
What many institutions don’t account for is how clearing can affect this process. In 2022, 53,000 students obtained university places through clearing, which is the largest amount in a decade. With more students being added to courses they didn’t apply for, after A Level Results are released, those numbers can completely change.
If the feedback loop for this information is not fast enough, you get a situation like the above. With clearing being a big part of many universities’ business process, timetabling data needs to be sent more frequently, before the start of term.
The core problem is often down to two different teams, with different tasks, not communicating. A bird’s eye view is needed and a team who knows both systems inside and out.
Another reason why integration for the above areas is so important is the various demographics studying at university today. It’s not just young people on the cusp of their twenties.
We mentioned international students above but there has also been a surge in mature students enrolling. With Covid 19 proving to be a catalyst for changing careers, there will be mature students at your institution who have different needs and requirements outside of education.
One basic need is for timetabling to be clear. Many mature students are organising childcare and travel around their studies, with far busier schedules than many younger students.
When rooms and lectures change at the last minute or information is not communicated far enough in advance, it can mean these students miss out on tuition they are paying for.
Ultimately a negative student experience reflects badly on the university’s reputation.
Other slip-ups that result from failures in manual data transfer include graduation invitations being sent to a student the day after their enrolment. Yes, this has happened! Not only that, but when the student decides to accept said invitation, you have a problem on your hands.
The real issue is that every student who has a negative experience can become a ‘keyboard warrior’. Bad press. Viral tweets. Every time someone writes about a bad experience online, they are potentially persuading another prospective student not to come to your institution.
They won’t know it’s because of poorly managed integrations but in a competitive market, the small stuff matters. There’s a very real value attached to it.
We’ve got plenty more examples of where database and system integration failures have resulted in a poor student or staff experience.
Investing in hidden IT infrastructure is often not the most popular choice, but it’s a vital consideration.
One solution people go for is buying a new system, but applying the same manual processes that are often at fault for the issues above.
With Amos, you transfer the responsibility of integration to an expert team who know higher education systems and software, have automated tools and can prevent problems from happening before they do.
Up to date timetables within hours? Check. Relevant assessments updated on Canvas or Blackboard when a student changes course? Check. ID cards with all relevant access ready to go for enrolment day? Check.
Don’t fight fires on individual cases when the problem has already occurred. Make integration a priority and let Amos look after it.
Want to know more? Chat directly to a member of our team today.
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