After many years spent watching RTOs endure the same agonising frustrations of set-up and getting started, we thought it was time to put together this simple 5-point guide. These simple tips will help your RTO avoid the most common and painful mistakes when implementing a new student management system.
1. Document your business model
We can't stress how important this simple step is in helping you evaluate solutions, educate your supplier, and share the task with your team. It doesn't have to be a complicated model. Simple flow diagrams, checklists, bullet lists, workflow diagrams or just plain-text documents are fine. The important point is that you, your supplier and your team will all have a common blueprint to work from. The model should address the following questions:
- Personas - what are the roles of people and companies in your organisation?
- What are the workflows and processes, what triggers them, what actions do they result in, and what are the expected outputs from each process?
- What data, content, templates, reports, certificates or other artifacts are required as inputs to each process and what documents are generated or modified by the process?
- How are processes monitored and reported?
- If a process fails how should it be handled?
If you're a process engineer that's great, but you certainly don't need to be. This simple checklist will help you shape the most important components of your business model.
2. Be clear about what your SMS needs to do
The business model will be an invaluable tool when its time to tick the boxes in the search for your ideal SMS. They are all different. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Having clarity about what you and your team need the SMS to do will ensure the vendor marches to your tune and not the other way round.
In many ways this is similar to point (1), but the difference is it uses step (1) to inform your product selection team what to look for in any SMS being evaluated. The best way to map these is to apply what we call 'user stories'.
A user story helps to map your requirements by stating the needs of each of the roles identified in your business model. For example. Lets say Mary Hurst is one of your Trainers. One of your business rules is that trainers must have portal access to mark attendance, assessments and course results for each of their learners individually or as a selected group (bulk marking). Your user stories might state Mary's role requirement like this:
(1) Individual Marking: As a trainer I need to login to my portal, look up a learner, access their training records so that I can: mark attendance, mark assessments and result the selected Learner.
(2) Bulk Marking: As a trainer I need to login to my portal, select all students who have successfully attended and completed all assessments and the course and result them in bulk.
Personas and User Stories offer a very effective way of simplifying complex requirements by stepping into the shoes and walking the journey of each of your team members. Once they understand the concept, your team members will be able to help you walk in those shoes by correcting and updating their own user stories.
3. Understand the vendors setup process
Sometimes referred to as 'onboarding' or 'adopting' the new system can be the most frustrating of all experiences, especially if you get a series of demands from you vendor 'out of the blue' to supply data, images, style guides, content and templates that you either don't have or don't know where they are. Being clear from the outset and having the opportunity to discuss with the vendor what information they'll need when, helps you and the vendor prepare. This step is particularly important when you have to:
- Migrate data from an existing system
- Integrate the new SMS with existing systems
- Design or modify web pages
- Create reports and certificate templates
- Implement workflows
- Provide specs for customisation
People who are not trained in these technical disciplines can feel left out in the colds when the tech heads start demanding the world using other-world languages that only confuse and frustrate. Learn what demanded of you in order to setup and use the new system, and make sure it's delivered in plain English.
4. Decide where you need flexibility and control
Software is great at making your life easier, but that often involves making decisions that may not be in the best interest of your business. You need the ability to takeover the controls when the software is unlikely to know how to decide. A classic example is Auto-Billing. Your software might auto-bill the learner for training when infact your business model requires you to bill the learner's employer. Do you have the ability to tell the software who to bill under what circumstances. Good systems build in this kind of flexibility. Understanding your business model will enable you to spot those gaps instantly.
5. Get serious about privacy and security
As a provider you and your vendor have joint responsibility under the Privacy Act, and as we all know, the need for cyber security is only going to continue to increase for the foreseeable future. You can't afford to accept systems that don't respect your learners privacy or that can be easily hacked. A the very least you need to consider:
- Password security - how safe are they?
- Access to sensitive data - can you determine what access each staff member has?
- Location of your data - is it stored on a secure server in Australia?
- Data accessed via the internet - is it encrypted using SSL and TLS
- Penetration Attacks - how easy is it for hackers penetrate your security boundaries
- Backups and Disaster Recovery - what happens if your server completely fails
To many RTOs assume security is purely a supplier's responsibility. They just assume the software takes care of all of this, so they don't have to worry about it. But security breaches can have devastating consequences on your business. And there are just as many vendors hide their head in the sand when it comes to cyber security. You should ask and get written security statements and policies. And ensure your supplier has a security test framework in place.
You can think of your help desk as that friendly team at the end of the phone, always knowledgeable, helpful and supportive. But the software help desk is also a knowledge base of lessons learned, user behaviour, frequently asked questions and common issues. That's why we always consult the support team for every product release.
Follow the prompts to learn how our student management software ensures you have an easy-to-use solution with the flexibility, functionality and integrity to deliver the processes your business needs for success.
About the Author
Bruno Cozzi and his team have spent the last 20 years designing and developing effective workplace learning management solutions. The diverse mix of skills developed during his career can't be acquired in any academic program.
He has a thorough understanding and in-depth knowledge of the vocational education sector and all the related compliance reporting standards.
Cozzi and his team are experts in the delivery of learning and development cloud-based technologies, web applications and web services.
That requires extensive knowledge of eLearning, virtual classroom and blended learning technologies and standards.
His corporate systems background adds the all-important dimension of business system integration, in a world that demands privacy, data protection, high performance, zero downtime, and user friendly interfaces that work across all devices.
But perhaps his most important quality is his outstanding ability to distill complex concepts and technologies into highly accessible and simple working solutions.