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Bright Shiny Objects

The nature of Higher Education is changing at a faster rate than ever before. Budget restraints affect purchasing decisions. Increased competition puts an emphasis on recruitment. Outcome-based funding puts a premium on student success.

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These changes also affect tech vendors as they work to provide solutions to these challenges. It seems like a new product or service is launched every week touting student centric, mobile first or student success. The speed of change has resulted in:

  • Long time vendors aggressively upgrading their technology and adding capabilities
  • New vendors providing new solutions
  • Vendor consolidation adding capabilities through acquisitions
  • Old solutions repackaged making you believe it is a significantly new product

The increasing demand to do more with less, combined with the proliferation of vendor offerings, makes it easy for decision-makers to become attracted to products offering “new” and “better” technology solutions. We see it happen often; it’s known as the Shiny Object Syndrome.

In a typical Shiny Object Syndrome scenario, an organization feels it is not getting value and/or expected results from its current systems. Along comes a vendor pitching a new product that is sure to deliver the desired functionality and results. Perhaps the decision-maker has also seen an appealing ad for the product. They take a deep breath and invest in the new system.

In our experience, the results from a new system vary from very successful to OK to problematic. Problematic in the sense that the software doesn’t meet expectations, which usually puts the organization in a worse position than before: money spent, hours and time expended, no improvement in results.

What Is the Question?
Clients sometimes tell me “such and such technology is the answer,” to which I reply, “Yes—now, what is the question?” As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.” When we are asked to turn around a problem project, we ask a few basic questions:

  • What is the ultimate goal? How will you determine the success of your technology project?
  • Have value benchmarks been identified? For example, increase student retention by 5% in one year.
  • What are the timeline benchmarks? For example, fully implement the solution in six months.
  • Have value-capture metrics been set and an evaluation approach identified? Knowing in advance what data needs to be collected and processed to determine if you have met, exceeded or fallen short of your goal(s). And then—follow through on the evaluation. We had one client who set the benchmarks, collected the necessary value-capture data, but then did not evaluate it. All the data was there, but they forgot the last step.

These questions try to understand what problem is being solved and how success is defined. Many times we find it difficult to obtain clear answers. Either they were not defined upfront or the project lost sight of them along the way. The desire to “get to the solution and implement” often causes objectives and success criteria to be glossed over.

Your Old Solution Might be the Right Solution
Once you know what your objectives are and how you will measure success, you may want to take a step back and evaluate your current system to determine why you are not achieving the desired results. This step could save a lot of time and money. We have seen organizations start down the path of selecting a new solution, only to learn a few small changes to the existing system could provide many, if not all, of the desired results.

As I discussed in Are You Getting Value Out of Your CRM?, implementing CRM or any technology solution involves much more than the IT department. You need buy-in from users, proper training and strong leadership to make it all work. If you are not doing those things, investing in a new system won’t improve things.

Shopping Tips
If, after truly evaluating your current system and its implementation, you still decide you need a new solution, keep these tips in mind:

  • Set expectations. Understand what you want to accomplish, and match those goals with the product’s capabilities.
  • Make sure the product delivers. Cut through the marketing and make sure the solution will do what you want it to do.
  • Be open to new approaches. Don’t limit yourself to simply automating your current system; consider new ideas from vendors.
  • Consider future alignment. Technology is constantly changing. Understand the vendor’s vision for their product and make sure it aligns with your needs both now and in the future. This includes understanding what capabilities will be available when utilizing the vendor’s roadmap.
  • Evaluate the vendor’s ability to deliver the roadmap. Alignment with the future product roadmap is critical, but just as important is the vendor’s ability to deliver the roadmap.
  • Understand development partnerships. Speed to market means the use of development partners has increased accordingly. Working together with a vendor to create a system has many advantages. In our experience, the best results are achieved if you get in early in the development stage. Understand, however, that the vendor wants a product that supports the broader industry, not one customized to your needs. If the vendor can’t market and sell the product to other organizations, it may stop servicing the solution. That could be a problem down the road.

To sum up, buying a new product is a major investment of money and resources, so take the time to fully understand what you need before reaching for that shiny new object.

You may realize that, with proper configuration, training and business leadership, your old technology solution can do the job after all and at a lower cost and risk.

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