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Implementation can be the key to a successful MIS

13/08/2018 09:27:12 | Alex Williams, WCBS

Implementing a new school information management system takes a lot of planning, may need some adjustment along the way, and requires commitment from everyone. But, if put in the legwork, especially during the early stages, your school will reap the rewards for years to come.

From selection to implementation

Implementing a new information management system is something few staff will have experienced, so schools need to clarify during the selection process how much help and guidance they will receive and how skilled and attentive the support will be from their provider.

Also, full and clear understanding of what data can be migrated into the new system is crucial before any decision is made to ensure there are no surprises along the way.

Once you have chosen the system, take plenty of time with your provider to plan your implementation to ensure a smooth transition. They should have given you a realistic timeframe but expect challenges and prepare accordingly. You may have to deal with staff who have unrealistic expectations; this and underestimating how to manage change are the most common mistakes schools make.

Assign an implementation team

A smooth transition will only happen if you have a strong implementation team with a good project coordinator. Select an internal central coordinator to make sure the process is effective and constantly moves forward. This should be someone with IT skills but also who is an effective project coordinator and good communicator. An IT manager alone may not sufficiently understand the academic, pastoral or finance needs of the school, so put together a team who can represent each area of the school to include teachers, pastoral, administration, finance, fundraising, IT and senior management. They will then work together to consider the challenges faced by everyone.

The senior leadership team (SLT) needs to show a united front by being actively involved in the implementation process. As well as having a presence on the implementation team, the SLT should maintain a monitoring and management role, ensuring they are fully aware and supportive of progress at all times.

Prepare for a smooth transition

Implementation success needs significant planning. Your provider should allocate a project manager to work closely with the school’s project coordinator and implementation team. They will spend time getting to know your school in order to help you formulate a realistic and effective implementation plan.
Encourage your project manager to connect you with similar schools who are already using the same system. Talk to them, visit them if you can. Benefit from their own experiences, advice and best practice.

Get talking

Regularly tell all your staff what’s happening. Make them aware of the importance and complexity of this process and that it will take time. Let them know their department is well represented within the implementation team.

Make it clear to everyone why your new system will not replicate what you previously had (why would you want it to if you’ve decided to make a change for the better?) Help them to understand that now they have the opportunity to review what data is collected and why, and how it will be used to progress pupil learning, to support staff, and improve the smooth and efficient functioning of the school.

Identify users who may feel disgruntled with change and involve them in discussions as much as possible. Make sure everyone understands that the introduction of a new system will, in time, make their lives easier, more productive, and that it will be beneficial for pupils and their parents.

Do everything you can to ensure everyone feels some ownership of the new system and is fully involved in its implementation.

Get real with your time plan

Successful implementation requires time, and schools tend to be highly efficient organisations that are already functioning at or near full capacity. So, the introduction of a new large-scale project can, if not implemented well, place all other responsibilities under strain. Think about how everyone will need to fit this around their normal daily responsibilities.

Implementations can be challenging when schools make their selection in June or July and expect to be live by September. Although this is a plausible timescale, additional planning is required to manage the holidays of key staff and it’s often a busy time for the technical department as major infrastructure projects usually take place during the holiday.

Be realistic with time planning for going through transition and implementation. Work with your provider to prepare clear timescales for each stage of implementation. This should allow for detailed discussions with your staff about what data collection and tracking means for your school, and how your school can benefit from your new system. It should also allocate time for data migration, training, and a roll-out that may be spread over several terms.

Assign periods of time for every step of the process, allowing your staff chance to learn and then develop their skills of using each part of the system, or each new module, before introducing them to another. The time required for this process will depend on the size of the school, what software programs are being implemented, and which departments are involved.

Understand the challenges of data migration

Much, if not all your school’s existing data will need to be transitioned from your old data storage to your new system. It is highly unlikely that there will be compatibility between the old and the new system and this will be a challenge. Nevertheless, this can also be seen as an opportunity; a chance to data cleanse, and to evaluate what data your school really needs.

There’s no easy solution to data migration but some information management providers do a better job than others of supporting schools through this process. For example, at WCBS we take responsibility for extracting the data; putting it into a format that is clear for the school to review and check, and once that is complete, then importing what existing data is required. In light of GDPR ensure you have written confirmation of your provider’s policy.

Support everyone

There’s a vast IT skill range within a school community. Generally, younger people have a greater propensity to new technology than older people. Some accept change more willingly than others. Even the most intuitive IT systems can be challenging, so assign someone from your IT department or a staff member with good IT skills to provide support to anyone who needs it. Ensure this person has sufficient flexibility of responsibilities and time to provide the support when it’s needed, especially during early implementation.

Identify champion users who have mastered implementation well and can buddy up with less able users. Build a group of champions from different departments and encourage champion user group meetings once a term to share issues, achievements and best practice.

Commit to training and ongoing support. Look for different levels and types of training from your provider. Identify what technical support is available from them online or via telephone. Expect support when you need it.

It’s hard to overestimate the wide-reaching impact the introduction of a new information management system will have in any organisation, and this is the same for schools. Time spent planning and preparing the implementations process with an experienced provider will make the difference to the overall success for years to come.

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