Student success software helps institutions provide more proactive student support, create workflow efficiencies, and increase persistence, retention, and graduation rates. Since new software affects the experience of so many stakeholders, selecting the right student success software is a multi-faceted, time-consuming project.
In addition to the standard list of required features and capabilities, it’s essential to consider an array of other variables to ensure the long-term success of any technology investment, including the culture of your institution, the needs and desires of key stakeholders, and the institution’s desired outcomes for the purchase.
Institutions that fail to address these considerations may miss an opportunity to build cross-functional support for the new platform. A lack of institution-wide buy-in will jeopardize the success of the implementation process and the return on investment gained from adopting a student success platform. Even the best software can become ineffective if it’s not broadly adopted and used across campus.
Dr. Chelsy Pham, Vice President of Information and Technology Resources at Hartnell College in Salinas, California, employs a four-step process for selecting new technology solutions that build campus buy-in from the start:
- Engage the selection team.
- Establish the purpose of the proposed purchase.
- Compose a wish list of required and desired features.
- Evaluate products and vendors.
Engaging in these four steps will keep your institution’s needs at the center of the process and build broad support for the project throughout the selection, purchase, and implementation of new technology.
1. Engage the selection team.
Dr. Pham recommends shepherding stakeholder buy-in from the very beginning. The individuals who collaborate throughout the selection process develop a shared understanding of the institution’s needs and a vested interest in choosing the right solution. These individuals become the coalition that will support implementation and adoption across campus.
While it may be tempting to stack the selection committee with colleagues already onboard with the vision, Dr. Pham recommends a more strategic approach. The selection team should include members who represent these three categories:
- Frontline users. Not only are their unique perspectives vital to the evaluation process, but frontline users must also be committed to the selected platform for broader campus adoption to be successful. If these individuals are satisfied with the chosen software, they will serve as product ambassadors, promoting its use to students, colleagues, and other stakeholders.
- Critics. Dr. Pham suggests inviting individuals to join the selection team who have doubts about whether the institution needs a new platform. Their input and objections will strengthen the evaluation process, and they’ll better understand the institution’s needs by participating in cross-functional discussions.
- Cross-Functional Stakeholders. Stakeholders may or may not be frontline users, but adopting the student success platform will affect their workflow and processes. Thinking broadly about who cross-functional stakeholders, like faculty and academic departments, are to ensure broad campus engagement in the project.
2. Establish the purpose of the proposed purchase.
Make sure the selection team understands the needs you’re trying to address with the software purchase. Dr. Pham recommends answering the questions below to make sure the selection team achieves this shared understanding:
- What problem(s) are we trying to solve?
- Who are you trying to help?
- What difference do you expect the solution to make?
- Does the proposed solution solve this problem(s) in the ways we expect it to?
Answering these questions helps focus the team on the intended outcomes, increases understanding of the institution’s needs, and allows those skeptical to ask questions and raise concerns.
One challenge selection teams face balancing the institution’s needs with the desire to find one solution that can do it all. It’s possible to choose a product that promises to address a variety of institutional needs only to find out the product is so general that it doesn’t effectively meet the project’s intended purpose. A clear understanding of the purpose and intended outcomes for the investment will help avoid this mistake.
3. Compose a wish list of required and desired features.
Dr. Pham recommends composing your wish list of required and desired features before reviewing products or engaging potential vendors. This ensures that the team is considering the practical needs of the institution rather than retro-fitting those needs to available products or becoming distracted by features your institution doesn’t need.
This step is another natural way to build strong stakeholder buy-in. Discussing the features that will improve processes and help people work more effectively fosters a commitment to finding the right solution. And while you may not be able to achieve 100% of the desired features for every stakeholder, knowing what the required features are will help ensure the selection of a solid software platform that meets your institution’s needs.
4. Evaluate the products and vendors.
Now it’s time to research products and evaluate them against your institution’s required and desired features.
There’s much more to consider than the product and its capabilities. The wrap-around service and ongoing support a vendor provides may be as important to your selection process as the product features are.
According to Dr. Pham, you’re searching for a trustworthy partner who will be with your institution throughout the product’s lifespan, from selection through ongoing use.
Some additional information to consider when evaluating products and potential partners includes:
- What does the vendor do to support the implementation and maintenance of the product?
- How compatible is the software with existing and future IT infrastructure on campus?
- What kind of (and how much) training does the vendor provide to campus personnel to initiate the use of the software?
Foster Campus Buy-In from Selection to Implementation
Throughout the selection process, remember that you’re laying a foundation of trustworthiness, open communication, and commitment to ensure successful implementation and adoption across campus.
According to Dr. Pham, the process outlined above ideally results in a cohesive coalition representing different areas of campus who are committed to the selected software and continue to support the project through implementation and adoption. Because the group is already comfortable sharing positive and negative feedback, they can raise and resolve issues to help ensure a smooth experience for all users.