Lots of people talk about the need for change management when implementing a new Student Information System, but what you really need is transition management. At the Vrije University Amsterdam, the Project Nieuw SIS appointed a transition manager and this proved to be a key success factor during the implementation of SAP Student Lifecycle Management and a SharePoint portal for all self-services. The transition manager was a very experienced employee who knew the relevant processes. Most importantly, the people working in the faculties knew her. They were aware of the fact that she understood the complexity of running the administration. She was ‘one of them’. Her knowledge helped shape the processes for the blueprint and functional designs. She was responsible for creating several uniform processes with regard to deadlines, grading scales, fees, etc. This was combined with appointing some key people from faculties and the central student services department to the project team. All of them worked for the project full time.
The transition manager should be part of the project management team. Keep in mind that a project such as this is more about politics and choices than about IT.
Students and academic staff (in their teaching roles) are not the main stakeholders to take into account when changes are made which require a transition to the new ways of working. Of course they are crucial when determining the needs and shaping new processes. This might be a slight oversimplification, but as long as they are presented with long-overdue functionality and an easy-to-use interface, they will be happy. Management should carefully consider the strategy for managing the transition when they initiate a project for a new SIS.
It’s also important to consider the emotional responses. As described by JISC on their infoNet website, “Those leading change need to recognize these emotions in others and themselves, and develop ways to manage their own emotions and assist others to manage theirs. Unmanaged, these responses may undermine the change.” Academic staff very often serve on committees, boards and management to decide the structures of the study programs, the number of modules, admission and graduation rules. They do not want a new system forcing them to change their rules or the way a program is structured. Administrative staff have often been working for many years with the current systems and most of their day-to-day operations change drastically when a new integrated SIS is introduced.
Making sure that both academic and administrative staff are involved in creating the new processes and training their colleagues is critical to ensure the acceptance and adoption of the new system and processes. A transition manager plays a major role in this process. As the project at VU showed, the change in systems is not the main issue. The transition to new processes, supported by a new system, is what it is all about.