The Datatel and SunGard Higher Education SIS marriage: It’s about more than the SIS

The Datatel and SunGard Higher Education SIS marriage-It’s about more than the SISThough seldom witnessed these days, it was once common practice for the minister or magistrate presiding over a wedding to ask if anyone objected to the unification at hand. Except in rare cases (and perhaps only in the movies), the offer to speak up was generally met with silence. By contrast, the recently announced marriage – er, merger – of Datatel and SunGard Higher Education is already resonating in commentaries and conversations across industry trade magazines, blogs and even Twitter.

While not necessarily negative, the responses indicate a certain degree of anxiety about the long-term implications of what some are calling an “arranged marriage.”  Speculation or even a bit of hand-wringing is to be expected, especially from users of the various SIS products now in the same fold. After all, as I commented on in a recent post on IT funding and core enterprise applications, the SIS is no small investment for any institution.  Oftentimes, it consumes the largest slice of a school’s IT budget pie – a pie that, at many places, is filled with much less fruit than in years past. For that reason, the news of the Datatel/SunGard merger merely enters the ongoing conversation in higher ed about strategies and options for maintaining these mission-critical systems. The news and resulting industry response should, in fact, trigger more colleges and universities to reevaluate their entire technology ecosystems, especially asking this question: Are we really leveraging our SIS to its fullest potential?

To answer that question, I suggest not just sitting around, waiting to see what happens next in an evolving SIS marketplace. Rather, consider the rest of the solutions you have – or could bring on in a cost-effective way – that can augment your SIS. In another blog post a few months ago, I wrote about this notion of SIS augmentation as it specifically relates to SIS and ECM integrations. My point then and reiterated here is that, no matter which SIS you use and how much you spend on it, it’s not going to do everything. Whether improvements to a SIS come from SIS vendor providers (including via mergers and acquisitions) or from your own in-house efforts, your ultimate goal is to have it optimally tuned for its most important function – student service.

So, look for ways to enhance SIS performance and ROI without necessarily making improvements to the SIS itself – and certainly without waiting for the dust to settle in the SIS vendor landscape. Remember, potential students aren’t going to give you a pass when you can’t find a piece of their application file just because your current SIS was acquired or because market flux has you hesitant to undertake a SIS conversion or expansion project. There are other ways that you can take control of the situation to maintain – and even improve – your student service.

Tom von Gunden

Tom von Gunden directs Hyland’s market research, strategy and advisory initiatives in higher education. Tom holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University and spent more than a dozen years in higher education, serving as a tenured university professor, program director and accreditation specialist. His deep understanding of best practices in deploying ECM (enterprise content management) capabilities comes not only from his direct involvement in system implementations in colleges and universities, but also from his prior work as chief editor of Web and print publications focused on ECM and data storage technologies.

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