Software Rollout Features Personal Touch
Read how Transylvania University introduced a new analytics tool on campus.
By Margo Vanover Porter
When Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, introduced Colleague Reporting and Operating Analytics (CROA) in 2011, IT staffers made it personal.
To ensure that the rollout was a success, IT staff "went the extra mile" by meeting with each administrative office to introduce the software, provide training, and help build some of their first reports, according to Jason Whitaker, vice president for information technology.
"As our users learned the tool and started building their own reports, we followed up with advanced training and additional support," he says. "We believe that the value add of IT to higher education is in understanding the business processes of our different areas. If we understand how an office works, then we can do a much better job of helping them achieve their goals with big data and other technologies. These tools have transformed how we access and use data to report and make decisions."
To help business officers introduce big data to their institutions, Whitaker shares the details of Transylvania's rollout. (Read more about data analytics on campus in "Predictive Patterns" in the July-August 2014 issue of Business Officer.)
When did all this occur?
Our rollout began August 2011 as part of preparation for a system upgrade in fall 2012. We wanted to get everyone up and running on the new CROA tools before the system upgrade. By March/April of 2012, we had many users familiar with the new tools.
What format did the training take?
We started with a canned training session from Ellucian, the system vendor, to get our main offices—accounting, registrar, admissions, student life, and advancement-familiar with the tools. That introduction was online. Then, we provided our own training sessions with each office so we could concentrate on their areas and reports. For some offices, we conducted one or two general sessions, as well as individual sessions once users got deeper into their reporting needs.
Within about six to seven months, all offices used the tools, a few at advanced levels.
Who decided on content?
After the first vendor-provided session, our various offices determined content because the sessions were working demonstrations focused on their areas. For example, accounting wanted to build reports for balance sheets and payments due, so we focused on those needs. We asked, "What reports do you need immediately?" and started with those, then moved to "What reports do you run regularly?
The idea was to teach them how to fish by guiding them in building their first reports for themselves. Most people found this method easier to absorb than a generic online demonstration that did not focus on their areas.
We wanted to focus on the data that our users know. For the registrar, that might be a report showing counts of students by major. For accounting, that might be one showing current operating budget versus actual spending, and so on. The training was much more successful because we focused on their data, not generic examples.
We had almost no resistance because we sold the tool upfront. We gathered all of our users early on, talked about the coming upgrade, showed them the new tool, and demonstrated how it would be useful to them and how it would empower them. We got a lot of buy-in that way.
How many IT staff members taught the classes, and how many participants per class?
Three IT staff members learned to use the tools first and then became teachers for others. Usually, two staff members would teach the class to four to six people from an office area. We usually held the sessions in a room with a projector or a lab, although we occasionally taught one-on-one sessions at the person's desk.
Again, we always tried to make the training about helping them build meaningful reports so they could walk away with a working report that they could refer back to later as an example.
What did advanced training include?
A basic report might just produce a table of data, say a list of purchase orders that meet some search criteria. An advanced class might be designing a report in which you could click on the purchase order number and drill through to another report with more details about that purchase order. We ended up with a number of power users who asked questions like, "I have a report that shows a list, but can't I sort/organize/drill in a different way?" so we let them drive the need.
What would you do differently in the training if you had the chance?
Probably record some of the training so that others could play it back later, maybe as training videos or another recorded format. We are now considering recording our own online training sessions that are tailored to our institution.
What lessons did you learn?
You have to explain to users what a software tool can do for them and why you are switching to it. For example, users of this software suite can quickly build their own reports from the campus enterprise system without IT assistance. The tools are easy to use with a drag-and-drop interface to build reports and add charts and graphs. Users can even schedule reports to run automatically and be sent to their e-mail inbox.
We've heard from a few other institutions that have these same tools but have not had our level of success in their adoption. When we ask about how they involved their users upfront, they almost always answer that they didn't. You really need that upfront buy-in. Change comes often in technology, and IT pros can make it more successful by getting buy-in from users and giving them the personalized training that they need.
MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues of Business Officer.