By Tom Bell, Vice President, Commerce Industry Relations, Blackboard
At a recent seminar, campus executives were asked how they planned their card system and if their plan was strategic. All referred to the planning as “detailed;” and said it involved partner research, equipment evaluation, software testing and a variety of other important steps. As much as they wanted it to be, however, none considered it strategic, let alone ongoing.
I think we may all have known that feeling. Planning is often detailed but rarely strategic. In fact, many campus transaction systems result from reactionary decisions. These reactions are driven by immediate needs, such as updating point-of-sale equipment, adding access control or controlling some kind of campus crisis.
Scheme, Scope and Scale
A transaction project, like any enterprise system, should not end with deployment. In fact, that may just be the beginning. As campuses tend to discover, innovative ideas and applications will bubble up the longer the system operates on campus and as more departments become familiar with its capabilities.
Ideally, a rolling three to five-year plan should blend system objectives with a campus’s mission and strategic plans. That may be ambitious given the challenges of a modern university environment; still, an ongoing process that tackles both current challenges and long term direction will go a long way toward increasing the value of your investment.
Imagine any of the following situations. (If you’re campus is typical, it won’t be difficult.)
- The Student Services Division needs to provide secure access to residential facilities.
- Finance and Administration want to see better control in contract administration and cash handling procedures.
- Athletics must be certain that only currently registered students are using facilities.
- Student Government wants more students voting in campus elections.
- Clubs want the ability to sell tickets to events.
- The Alumni Association needs additional channels to promote Homecoming and generate contributions.
- The Art Department wants to sell clay to students in Ceramics 101 classes.
Any or all of these can be the starting point, a milestone or distant outlier for a strategic planning effort. Even in its most limited implementations, the transaction system will touch almost every department and division of the university in some way, and very often the surrounding community as well. For that reason, it is essential that campus decision-makers recognize that transaction system planning is an institution-wide project, not a departmental one.
Teams Make The Difference
How well your transaction system strategy is aligned with the mission and strategies of the university may do more to determine its return-on-investment than almost anything else. These systems must be capable of adapting, integrating, and expanding as mission, strategies and constituencies change, so maintaining that alignment should be an ongoing process. Trying to deal with those situations listed above individually, as each arises, under short deadlines and shrinking budgets is a prescription for “sub-optimizing” (at least!). Unfortunately, this is where many campuses find themselves when they fail to look at the larger and long-term picture?
A better solution is to create planning committees from representative campus groups. These groups should set objectives based upon the larger organizational vision, and they should provide direction to a campus implementation task force, whose job it is to keep the project on schedule.
Very important: Comprehensive education should be provided to everyone on these teams so that old and outdated technology doesn’t contaminate the final product.
Once implemented, a transaction solution will present a new way of doing business and a new method for providing services to the university community. Forming cross-campus strategy teams will help ensure that key decisions satisfy and will be embraced by all (or at least most) constituencies. For example, one important consideration will be how to access the systems—card, PDA, website or a combination. You’ll want to find the right fit for everyone, both for today and tomorrow. The end result is a true Networked Transaction Environment where all members of the campus community are able to access information, services and facilities using a single account.
The Game Plan: X’s And O’s
What should be covered in a strategic plan? Among other specific considerations it should:
- express a clear understanding of how the transaction system will support the core mission of the university.
- reflect substantial thought about integration with existing and future campus systems such as library systems, student information system, print management, etc.
- identify paths toward reducing operational costs and enhancing revenue generation.
- recognize groups and areas that will benefit significantly from greater convenience, ease of use, maintenance capabilities or financial accountability.
- define ways to leverage business partnerships.
- reflect risk management, property protection and human safety goals, particularly those that can be furthered by improvements to the campus’ access control systems.
- explore opportunities to eliminate boundaries. For example. the transaction system should be capable to being used on and off campus, in a wired or wireless solution, from the web and through other campus systems.
In addition to aligning with the university’s mission, systems planning must be consistent with—if not driven by—campus-wide operational plans and strategies, at least for near- and mid-term objectives. For example, business goals for a given year might call for improvements in efficiency. Technology will certainly play a key role in any such effort, therefore aspects of the transaction system plan might focus on issues such as its use as a systems integration platform, automating reporting or speeding services.
The Ongoing Value of Strategic Planning
The transaction system is a unifying platform for so much campus activity that in perhaps no other area will ongoing planning provide greater return on the effort. As more and more users experience the advantages of the transaction system platform, campuses that have made the change inevitably see new ideas rising up from across campus. Experience shows that this change will happen gradually, but it will happen, and that’s exactly the kind of situation that can benefit most from good strategic planning.