Student Information Systems (SIS) do not get the recognition they deserve. Sure, Learning Management Systems enable educators to build and measure powerful learning interventions. But on a more basic ground, SIS do the hard work of keeping academic and financial information in tune.
The duties of a Student Information System are not trivial. This data often carries a high sensitivity and subject to simultaneous checks. Quality, financial and educational compliance, are essential. Public-funded institutions have an extra rule book on top. Adding parents and support staff, the number of stakeholders is vast. But not everyone has the right to access all the information. Which makes permissions, security and privacy a constant priority. And as more organizations become digital-literate, new sets of pressures come up. They can include better interfaces, real-time analytics, and mobile apps.
For sizable enough learning organizations, it is not enough to focus on the best LMS or SIS. It is also a matter of whether they will be able to play along. As the top systems evolve towards higher integrations, there are still hurdles ahead. We hope this guide answers some of the key questions, helps you streamline your procurement process, and broadens your idea of the power of Student Information Systems.
What should I expect from a Student Information System?
We can think of SIS and LMS as one picking up where the other leaves. Starting an academic period, SIS take care of all things institutional enrollment-related:
- Applicant documentation
- Fees and payments (often including e-commerce)
- Generating student plans
- Student sign-ups and scheduling
And other duties needed to make a student part of the academic community for the period. Once the teaching begins, LMS take charge. When it’s over, SIS jump back in to close the loop:
- Submitting final course grades
- Computing GPAs and other scores
- Generating transcripts, diplomas or other certificates
- Updating students’s profiles and institutional enrollment status
From a managerial, and more data science way to look at it, SIS provide a broader scope of information. We’re talking about student demographics, financials or extracurricular events. This explains in part the added security concerns they stem in addition to those from LMS.
In more cases than we would expect for 2019, there are still many organizations that have either LMS or SIS, but not both. Which means either system is missing out from automated inputs from the other. Teams can bridge this gap by adding SIS-like features to the LMS, or vice versa. But it is unlikely they bridge the “feature gap” to a satisfying end.
A a basic innovation management assessment framework for SIS
We have come to expect a few things when technologies hit a “critical” point. By “critical,” it could mean significant market share, customer awareness, commoditization or similar. In the case of Student Management Systems, not one feature will make your choice. (It should not, at least.) Instead, the concept of “innovation management” deserves the focus.
Put another way: Who is the best at continuously delivering the features that matter the most to you?
This is an essential driver of a procurement process. In long-term partnerships, the vision of a vendor is critical. But maybe not as much as their technological and commercial tactics.
When it comes to technology, you can analyze your vendor strategy in different layers:
- Security. In today’s world, cyberattacks are not something you solve, but something you manage. Your SIS vendor should be in the same page.
- Features and extensibility. Do they keep a commitment to a solid core, even at the risk of missing functionality? Or do they want to give you as many options as possible? How good is their work on add-ons, plugins or APIs? Of course, more polished and specific feature sets are often better off as an integration.
- Integrations. Are you comfortable with a partner that leverages third-party solutions at every turn? Or how about one that wants to become your “one-stop-shop”? What matters more to you: A consistent architecture or a commitment to open standards? (Not that they have to be at odds with each other, but companies often make priorities.)
- Experience: Weigh the look and feel of an interface, including reporting dashboards, on what it means for back-end development. Speed and reliability are other traits to consider. There is an ideal sweet spot, but it is one you must choose.
Modern Student Information Systems from an innovation management perspective
The following are some of the most popular or promising SIS as we are keeping it under our radar. Watch this space for updates!
An EdTech powerhouse in its own right, it brings the idea of SIS as a school-focused Enterprise Management System. Whether a SIS alone can fulfill the role can be too subtle a debate to have here. Suffice it to say Banner and Colleague are Ellucian’s top offerings, the former gathering headlines over new acquisitions on a regular basis.
A leader in the K-12 space, Powerschool is both a company and one the name of one of its SIS. (The others being eSchoolPlus, iNow and Trillium.) They vary on target and feature availabilty. Reports on whether PowerSchool or Ellucian are the top SIS in the U.S. conflict.
A reportedly 200 Higher Ed instutions make up the current customer base of Jenzabar, who provides two flavors of SIS, both cloud-based. It claims they are mobile-friendly SIS.
An up-and -coming SIS with scalability and time management features baked in. Last November, eThink Education and Genius SIS sealed a partnership, where the Moodle Partner not only handles the LMS side, but “all system benchmarks” including consulting and customer support.
CampusAnywhere (EDC Technology)
A college-focused SIS deemed the “Best Value SIS” and with a number of partners behind, and a much-touted Moodle integration. It pioneered the concept of modularity for SIS, which others seems to have been more apt to exploit, Ellucian most of all. Unfortunately it seems development has halted for more than a year.
SIS-LMS Integrations you need to know about
“Seamlessness” is the perfect way to capture the one final element you should consider when pitting SIS. If you already have an LMS running, the SIS should provide robust functionality while disrupting your existing workflow as little as possible.
Here are some cases worth exploring. Do you have an interesting experience to share? Readers like you would love to know about them.
- Moodle and Ellucian. This is possibly one of the most common integrations, for large K-12 organizations in particular. They are the most noteworthy in their category and toghether they serve millions of students in the U.S. alone.
- Anyone with anything?. Lingk is a company that especializes in connecting all kinds of systems. Across its portfolio of “connectors” and recipes you can find solutions for Moodle and other popular LMS and SIS and other systems.