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Switching Student Information Systems: Does It Have to Hurt So Much? Five Components for a Successful Implementation

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April 4th, 2016


Most educators are keenly aware that change comes with the territory. But when a perpetual state of change seems to be the only constant, it’s easy for skepticism to arise.

The impetus for positive change in education is ever-present, as school districts continually strive for improvements aimed at benefiting students. Yet the fact is substantial change represents a pain point for many educators. Full-scale adoption of a new student information system (SIS) not only proves difficult to initiate in the first place, but often fails to produce the desired results once implemented.

Too often, districts take a “let it happen” approach to overhauling their SIS. Like waiting until you have a mouth full of cavities to start brushing your teeth, a reactive strategy for change management afflicts needless pain on your district throughout the endeavor. Worse yet, research indicates only 14 percent of implementation efforts undertaken in this manner result in substantive changes.

Conversely, proactive districts that execute their SIS switch with a “make it happen” mindset enjoy greater likelihood of achieving transformational change that impacts student learning. By fostering an atmosphere ripe for change, getting the right people involved, utilizing effective communication and implementing a strategic plan for SIS training, district technology leaders have succeeded with instilling enduring change at the schools they oversee.

Nobody said it would be easy. Switching your district’s SIS might never be painless, but it doesn’t need to be like pulling teeth either. With an implementation process addressing the following five components of SIS adoption, you can commence a journey toward transformational change that ultimately proves culture-shifting for your district and beneficial to educators and students alike:

1. District Buy-In

Advocacy for change must start at the top and trickle through the entire district. Garnering widespread buy-in, particularly from management, is critical to the fate of your SIS implementation. Communicate the need for revamping your district’s SIS, conveying a clear vision of your desired outcome. District stakeholders are aware of what’s changing; however, for a successful implementation it’s imperative that stakeholders know why the change is being made. What benefits will the change bring about? How will the new SIS improve the district? Successful communication results in stakeholders who are active participants in the change process.

In his bestselling book Leading Change, Dr. John Kotter outlines his eight-step model for change management. To truly serve as a catalyst for transformational change according to Kotter, district leaders must create a climate for change, engage the entire district and implement sustainable change. Your unwavering persistence with re-imagining how your district utilizes an SIS eventually becomes absorbed within your organizational culture.

2. Data Integration

One of the primary challenges confronting a new system rollout involves data integration. Chances are your new SIS provider knows its system inside and out, but you’ll still need to successfully transfer your data from your previous SIS. It’s paramount to allocate sufficient resources to the data migration process, including achieving real data literacy by having a staff member or hired consultant who truly understands how a database works. Your revamped SIS, after all, will only prove as useful as your data enables it to be.

Once data migration is complete, your focus shifts to system configuration. What rules, permissions and workflows need configured to achieve optimal data usage? Keep in mind that you’re constructing a framework that will need to streamline system operations for your district for years to come.

3. Implementation Roles

Your smooth transition to a new SIS requires having the right people in place to orchestrate your district’s switch. As you construct your project plan, identify members of your implementation team and define their roles. These agents of change will oversee everything from cultivating buy-in to anticipating unexpected issues to training end-users.

A strong collaborative effort among your implementation team can dictate the success of your new SIS. Examples of implementation roles include:

  • Implementer/Project Lead – Spearheads interaction with your SIS provider
  • Data Person/Team – Manages the extraction, import, validation and readiness of data
  • Technology Lead – Troubleshoots tech-based issues you encounter
  • Superintendent and/or Assistant Superintendent – Provides leadership and champions the project
  • Site Level/Training Lead – Offers ongoing support at the site level

4. Support Resources

When it comes time to implement your new system, the right SIS provider should complement your internal team with a multitude ofsupport resources. It takes a village, after all, to succeed with a district-wide SIS transformation. This supporting cast might consist of an Implementation Team (your primary point of contact), a Data Team (assists with data migration) and a Support Team (troubleshoots implementation issues).

Support resources courtesy of your SIS provider should be available throughout each phase of implementation. Whereas initial implementation should focus on system setup and end-user training, full implementation consists of running both systems side-by-side until your district feels comfortable discontinuing use of the legacy SIS.

5. Success Readiness

Is your district truly ready to make the switch? The answer isn’t always yes. According to Kotter, less than 30 percent of all major transformation efforts succeed. The absence of a consistent, comprehensive approach – as well as a failure to effectively engage staff in the implementation effort – can doom any change-minded organization.

Success readiness starts with evaluating your district’s vision for SIS implementation, the quality of the data at your disposal and the buy-in you have from management and staff. The most effective implementations occur gradually based on strategic timelines, affording districts time to measure success and identify areas for improvement.

Overwhelming though the prospect of large-scale change may seem, your SIS switch simply doesn’t have to hurt so much. With an optimal approach to your implementation process, you can achieve educator and student success while cultivating positive change that’s ultimately weaved into the fabric of your district’s culture.

*This post was written with contributions from Melissa Vasquez & Rick France

Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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1 Comment

  1. Scott Norvell on May 21, 2016 at 11:16 am

    I can’t begin to emphasize the importance of having an implementation team made of various stakeholders/users in your district to assist in making the change.

    As our first year of switching to ISI comes to a close, users are starting to see the benefits of ISI over our previous system. As the project lead, I am seeing the “light at the end of the tunnel” and am looking forward to year 2 of implementing ISI.

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