software hurdle

Legacy software: A hurdle to automating the transfer process.


“Why do Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Student Information Systems (SIS) employed across our state institutions inhibit our ability to address student mobility and transfer automation with our sister institutions?” This question was raised by a CIO in an online webinar held by AcademyOne in 2020.

It should be no surprise; academic and administrative software reflect functional priorities. Vendors design software to do what their clients expect. So why aren’t vendors aware that transfer is a big part of the higher education experience for most students? They are for the most part. Why can’t institutions serve prospective students with automated methods to validate transfer credits and how those credits would apply toward a student’s anticipated degree?

The increase in transfer and related advising services to ensure student success is a repeating topic across industry webinars and conferences.

Why are institutions caught without the abilities to send and consume digital transcripts, share course information details, and enable automated workflows to streamline transfer steps including the assessment of prior learning? Why are these functions not well supported today? Is it because they are not built-in?

Higher Education administrators often thought their institution would reduce the need to employ hundreds of software applications when they bought a new ERP or SIS system. They also expected a new system would help tie the third-party applications together with industry standards from IMS and PESC. What happened?

These monolithic systems promise to unify the institutional user experiences with identify management, portals, data/file storage, content management, and workflow engines. Yet so many institutions tell us they can’t do the essential steps to market, recruit, enroll, and advise prospective students without significant work around or manual efforts.

The promise of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Student Information Systems (SIS) for decades has been to optimize the business of education from the inside out. This has led to many present-day barriers that inhibit the support of student mobility and academic credit portability when learners, faculty, and learning experiences cross boundaries, policies, and practices. They lack the outside perspective.

“The student centric movement for giving students control of their information is a direct result of the limits led by systems that focus on institutional needs at the expense of serving customers,” says David Moldoff founder of AcademyOne. Here is why:

  • ERP and SIS platforms for decades have been designed to unify departmental workflows, centralize data storage, provide role-based access to functions and ongoing technical evolution from a single vendor. They failed to automate the customer experiences considering transfer because they are external to a single institution.
  • ERP and SIS platforms reinforce separation of duties and segregation of responsibilities. They mirror the specializations baked into departments, purpose, and perspectives. Specialization isolates core competencies at the expense of restricting abilities to span functions viewing a holistic state.
  • ERP and SIS platforms were never designed to bridge inside functions outside the enterprise, such as supporting the collaboration between institutional departments as they swerve to address college transfer, prior learning recognition, partnering to develop guided pathways, and bridging with cloud services.
  • ERP and SIS platforms are built on complex relational data models. The systems rest on a tiered architecture with modularity, object inheritance, and levels of abstraction.
  • ERP and SIS restrict direct information access by choice. They offer a high level of user interface standardization. And they limit customization methods which often require significant expertise and cost.
  • ERP and SIS platforms reflect the way things were orchestrated in the past, how colleges and universities stress their standalone and isolated work practices motivated by scale, tracking, and conformity.

For most of this century and prior, the business of teaching, learning, and administration has been self-contained governed by standalone institutions.

Academics define and evolve curriculum from their wisdom, research, and perspective of what the market needs. They orchestrate learning experiences much like a composer envisions how a sonata is crafted mixing the instruments sounds, tempo, and volume. It’s not audience driven, is it? It is expressive and reflective of what the composer is attempting to convey.

As technologies have evolved, the isolated functions behind the firewall continue to be maintained as the targeted purpose and use cases shifted from centralized specialized functions to online services. For the most part, retrofitting ERP and SIS have given institutions greater need to address growing applications and utilities offered in the Cloud or web services not hosted or controlled by IT since they are not locked down by the constraints of the past.