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End to End SIS

  • 1.  End to End SIS

    Posted 03-24-2022 12:18 PM
    In need of suggestions/opinions. We are looking into replacing our current SIS and wanted to know if anyone had recommendations or cautions about any of the solutions available these days. We currently use Senior Systems Advantage platform (under the Community Brands umbrella), but are looking for something more modern and flexible. Ideally we'd like a single system that handled everything from admissions through advancement, but are willing to use multiple vendors if they play nice together and we can get addresses and other crossover data to synchronize. We are a relatively small standalone high school of about 340 students. We currently use google classroom quite heavily, so bi-directional synch with google is important (but I'd be happy to dump classroom for something better, if available).

    If you've got a product you like, please let me know about it!!
    #General
    #ITSystemsandSupport

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    Michael Syrek
    University High School of Indiana
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  • 2.  RE: End to End SIS

    ATLIS Member
    Posted 03-25-2022 08:49 AM
    Michael... great question, but also a big question! 

    THE SHORT ANSWER: Systems like Veracross and Blackbaud offers a "single solution" that schools can use from Admissions to Alumni/Advancement, but each offers a different level of integration with other systems that your school maybe use (hence not a "single solution").

    THE LONG ANSWER:
    Modern & Flexible - This can mean a lot and, depending on your needs, can be a fairly deep rabbit hole. By modern, do you mean fully browser-based with a robust API structure? Do you need to do a high level of customization to track specific information?

    Play Nice Together - We all work in school and know what it is like to get children to play together... the same struggle applies across different systems. Several vendors offer competing products, and it is not in their interest or technically possible to offer seamless integration between vendors. They want you to be putting everything into their systems and don't have the time nor see the advantage to do so.

    Many of the smaller, specialized systems (Health, Emergency Notification) offer robust API connections because it is in their best interest, and it only enhances their products.

    Identifying the Problem and your Audience (Constituencies)- This is often where you should start. Forget about what systems to use and start with the issues you are trying to solve and the audience you are trying to appease. Talk to the various departments and help them identify their current workflows, bottlenecks, and needs. What would make their lives easier and more efficient? Then have a conversation about your audience... who will be using or interacting with these systems. Have the various department prioritize those various constituent groups. Should the system be easy for students and faculty to use? Do parents need access? How many passwords are we asking people to know and manage? If a system serves one group better than another, will we choose that or continue to do our own thing?

    Systems Check - Once you have answered your key question, you need a nice, LONG list of things. These should be the items that each department/area has identified as important to them. Next, ask the department/areas to grade them and then provide that list (without the grading) to vendors and ask them to respond with as much detail as possible.

    Put together a data map of where you are and where you might go-detail how the data will flow and how the systems are integrated. ATLIS has a great micro-course on this very topic.

    In the End - Once you've done your due diligence, you can then bring the vendor in, have a good down and dirty discussion, and then decide.

    For me... this was a process that took over a year. We not only talked to other various vendors but visited multiple schools. There were internal meetings, and we started the marathon process of implementation in the end. This is not a sprint and should not be treated as such.

    This was a great process and taught us a lot as a school. It is also a process in that you can get help from other vendors like Educational Collaborators (FULL DISCLOSURE - I work with EC as a consultant). 

    This isn't giving you a product, but a process because what works well for one school might not always be the best for another. If you want to know what we use at my school, I'd be happy to discuss that with you and why...

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    William Stites
    Director of Technology
    Montclair Kimberley Academy
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  • 3.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 03-25-2022 12:16 PM
    Thanks William. We've gone through most of the extensive process and have down a fairly substantial list of functional must-haves, wants, and wishes, but there are so many options out there I wanted to check-in with the fine people here to see if anyone has a solution they really like. We just went through this process not too long ago, but our frustrations (and the number of people frustrated) with the current system have reached critical mass and I believe we are headed down this path again. Sadly we've have done the initial conversation with several SIS solutions and so far, most have failed to check the "must-haves" boxes.

    You correctly assumed the meaning of modern and flexible. We are all pretty tired of using remote desktop connections and the difficulties that comes with that. A browser based solution with good API access is important. Creating the data map will be a little more challenging. Right now it's pretty straightforward. It's all in one place. How the data will move in the future depends on the solutions we find.

    I'd love to have a conversation about what you use at your school and why. Let me know how you'd like to have that conversation and we can get it on the calendar.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply.

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    Michael Syrek
    University High School of Indiana
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  • 4.  RE: End to End SIS

    ATLIS Member
    Posted 03-25-2022 09:23 AM
    Viz is a small  but a bit larger than you.  Our enrollment is typically 580-600.  We went with Blackbaud years ago.  We went to their online products 4 year ago.  It isn't perfect but it is a very good product.  The SIS is good but some of our teachers who have used Canvas like that SIS better.  We have Raisers Edge and Financial Edge too that is for Development and Business Office.  Admissions also is in BB and they LOVE it and recently purchased the website module.  It integrated with the SIS. I would say the communication features is a strong value BB has ,among a other things. Their weakness is pulling queries or "lists" not super friendly if you have conditional terms and the reports have some limitations that I hope get better soon. I may be generous but I would say we are 90-95% happy with it.  It is easy for users. Blackbuad has small school pricing now so they are not out of small schools budget as they have been in the past -- still isn't cheap.  Several school around here have dropped BB but a few years later they all seem to come back to them.

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    Beverly Byrd
    Visitation Academy
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  • 5.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 03-25-2022 12:21 PM
    Beverly, thanks for taking time to reply. Blackbaud was a finalist for us the last time we went through this process and I've started some initial conversations with them this time around as well. They are one of the few options that can cover admissions through development. As we go through this process, if BB becomes a contender, may reach out with some specific questions? 

    I appreciate the reply.

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    Michael Syrek
    University High School of Indiana
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  • 6.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 03-28-2022 01:02 PM
    One bit to remember with Blackbaud on the RE and FE front is that yes they have the new NXT versions but you will still have users who will likely have to use the now affectionately called "database view" which is still Citrix. The education side is fully web but it then has challenges with exports due to their builder tool. Been using BB stuff for most of last 20 years and have had a love / hate relationship depending on the year.

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    Brian Hoyt
    French American School of Puget Sound
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  • 7.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 03-28-2022 01:46 PM
    Brian, thanks for the reply. I feel like the "database view" you refer to is one of the reasons we didn't go with BB last time. It felt like a time warp back to the early 90's. I'm sure we will continue to talk with BB and may have to deal with the lovely Citrix connections, but if there's a better solution out there, I sure would like to find it.

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    Michael Syrek
    Director of Technology
    University High School of Indiana
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  • 8.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 03-28-2022 12:39 PM
    Hi Michael,

    Packer (PK-12, 1000+ students) went through our SIS search and evaluation process 4 years ago. Like you, we were moving from Senior Systems. We also went through an extensive process with stakeholders to identify and rank requirements. Veracross and Blackbaud were the eventual finalists, with Veracross winning the day. In terms of its API and query capability is pretty awesome. I've also been impressed with the investments and improvements in the product since we signed on. We've managed to make Veracross "play nice" with our other systems (Finalsite, Ravenna, etc) but there's still more manual work than there should be and running non-Veracross systems that must integrate in some way adds complexity. Now that we've settled into Veracross as our core CRM and for Academics, the next challenge will be to reduce the number of outlier systems wherever possible. That will require winning "hearts and minds" of internal departments still clinging to third party systems that have counterparts offered by Veracross. 

    My advice? No matter which solution you choose, get commitments up front from Admissions, Development, Communications, Finance, etc. that they will all use the same system as the rest of the school -- and clarify their migration timeline. Otherwise, it will be more difficult to get them to move later and you may end up with an overly complex "federation" of platforms with overlapping feature sets.  That's not only expensive, but it also brings to mind the old programming saw of, "Complexity is the mother of failure"...

    Best, of luck with your process.
    Jim

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    Jim Anderson
    The Packer Collegiate Institute
    Brooklyn, NY
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    Jim Anderson
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  • 9.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 03-28-2022 01:53 PM
    Jim, thanks for the reply. That "federation" of platforms you described is definitely something I'd like to avoid. I'm fortunate to work with a lot of really flexible people so I'm hopeful whatever we end up choosing will be universally adopted as soon as reasonable. If Veracross becomes a contender, may I reach back out to you with some questions? 

    Thanks again for the reply.

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    Michael Syrek
    Director of Technology
    University High School of Indiana
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  • 10.  RE: End to End SIS

    ATLIS Member
    Posted 03-28-2022 02:02 PM
    I would echo what Jim has said. If you have agreement upfront about the project goals across departments it becomes much easier when things get tough and you find whatever SIS you selected can't do X in exactly the way you'd like having that prior commitment makes it easier to say "let's remember why we made this decision".

    We went to Veracross about 3 years ago and in our plan I had left open the possibility of the Business Office and Advancement staying with Blackbaud (our main SIS was Sandbox, a Filemaker solution that CB bought). Both decided to integrate. Advancement is super happy with Veracross - their number 1 challenge had been bad data in Blackbaud and VC has genuinely helped us address that - but the Business office has found more lacking with Veracross. They've probably had to do the most process changing - that is conforming to the way Veracross expects them to do it rather than the way they want to. I think we're through the worst of it now but the prep work that Jim and Bill wrote about is a big reason we were able to get through rough patches that happened along the way.

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    Lane Young
    Director of Educational Technology
    Phillips Brooks School
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  • 11.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 03-28-2022 02:25 PM
    Thanks for taking the time to reply, Lane. I feel like we are including everyone in this process, but after hearing from all of you, I'll be sure to cover bases two and three times, making sure everyone is ready and onboard with the changes we make. It's good to hear that Advancement has been happy. Our Advancement office likes our current solution so giving them a strong replacement with whatever product we choose will go a long way. 

    Interesting aside on your previous solution. We had an employee that really wanted to make our own custom SIS in Filemaker. We talked him out of it for a myriad of reasons. Good to know it actually was possible though. :)

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    Michael Syrek
    Director of Technology
    University High School of Indiana
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  • 12.  RE: End to End SIS

    ATLIS Member
    Posted 04-06-2022 09:47 AM
    Just as a note, we are currently transitioning from Senior Systems to Blackbaud / PowerSchool and the data transfer has been a little bit of a headache. Senior Systems sent us a database backup as a dmp file from Oracle. I haven't used oracle in a while and wouldn't even consider myself an amatuer. I've spent a solid 24 hours trying to get the dmp file restored to a local Oracle Instance. (Schemas = users in Oracle????) I think I have finally got it going but waiting for the Data Pump to finish to see if just the tables got imported or if the data did too.

    Also uploading to ReNXT, we started by pulling from Crystal Reports, essentially doing a Select * on the needed tables (Blackbaud is great in ReNXT with telling you exactly what you need) and exporting as | delimited, " separated values. Apparently this doesn't work for Blackbaud, it has to be | delimited text file. As far as I know you can't delimit a txt file. Still trying to work this one out.

    FeNXT, find out if your finance team wants sub ledger data imported. We were told that we could import it ourselves, but now it looks like maybe not? Trying to get answers on this one.

    I'll end this to say, give yourself a lot of time. We are implementing for July 1 and started in March. It's going to get done, but for me at least stress levels are really high. If I were you I would look into deciding and signing before the new calendar year so you can take your time.

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    Chris Wozniak
    Director of Technology and Information Systems
    AWTY INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
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  • 13.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 04-07-2022 12:00 PM
    It has been many years since we moved off of SS but at the time they gave us a bunch of CSV files which were much easier to manipulate. Maybe ask them for that? I can't imagine standing up an Oracle instance for this.

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    Brian Hoyt
    French American School of Puget Sound
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  • 14.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 04-08-2022 09:51 AM
    I found that I could actually read the SS files in Excel. All I did was replace the file extension to csv, It made it much easier to manipulate the data.

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    Katherine Epes
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  • 15.  RE: End to End SIS

    Posted 04-07-2022 12:39 PM
    Hi Michael,

    What William Stites and Jim Anderson said resonates loud with me.  We also went through the process of going away from a Community Brands SIS to something more modern and integrated.  We spent 1 year going through the "Identifying the problems and interviewing the stakeholders" process to determine our desired features in an SIS. Buy-in from all the stakeholders is a must. A list of wishes and functional requirements will also give the criteria to objectively find the best solution for all the stakeholders.  We are now going through an 18-month implementation schedule with Veracross.  18-months, because like you, our school is small (180 students and 50 staff/faculty members) and we have 1-3 people carrying all the weight of implementing and launching all the modules we purchased.  I have used Blackbaud and Powerschool (both systems we evaluated vs Veracross) in the past and no one came close to Veracross in checking all the boxes. No single system will provide you with a silver bullet to all of your needs, but Veracross came close to meeting most of the stakeholders' requirements.   I do not regret one bit moving to Veracross.  It is expensive, but we are committed to improving and modernizing our processes throughout the whole organization, and Veracross is the central cog in the machine we are building.  We are very happy with the transition and the migration tools that VC has are like nothing I've seen before.  Its a very robust system

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    Francisco Felix
    Echo Horizon School
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