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How to Switch to a New Student Management System

January 24, 2020

Many RTOs are aware of the fact that there’s better student management systems out there; that their current system is stale, horrible to use, and requires workarounds that take huge chunks from the day. But their current SMS feels comfortable and secure, and switching to a new system is unfamiliar, stressful, and risky. Why put yourself through that?

There’s a good reason—a better student management system will grow your business. The short-term pain of moving is nothing compared to the long-term benefits. Deep down you know what you need to do, you’re just afraid to do it. And for good reason—your current SMS might be a bit crap, but it’s better to deal with what you have instead of moving to a new student management system, messing up your data, and getting shut down.

The good news? Changing your student management system is 100% achievable, you just need a solid plan in place. Here are some key considerations you need to make for the change.

Choose an SMS who are data experts

This is the #1 concern for RTOs who want to change SMS. For a smooth switch, you’ll need a new student management system that provides a quality data migration service, who are able to offer straightforward advice on what data you need to bring across. After the data is imported, they should alert you of glaring errors (e.g. competency codes being non-standard), and give you plenty of time to validate your data in the new system, while helping you to fix any niggly issues that arise. There will be issues, but with the support of a patient and sympathetic team, the issues will transform from razor-toothed monsters that threaten your business, to inconsequential specks to be squished with a ready thumb.

The data validation process will take time—depending on the size of your RTO, there might be lots of data to fix, particularly because your new system should be flagging anything that is blatantly incorrect. But anything that needs to be fixed is incorrect in the first place, so even if you aren’t changing SMS, the job still needs to be done to remain compliant. And if you are changing to a new SMS, you’ll have clean data, and a better system for your business.

The data demands of ASQA must be coded into the soul of your new student management system, so that when it’s time for NCVER reporting, it can identify every little error that NCVER will find and tell you how to fix it, before you make your final submission. The system should never allow you to submit dirty, non-compliant data. Not having this functionality is like parachuting without a backup chute. An SMS who works closely with state and federal departments will be able to keep their system’s validation up-to-date, helping with your compliance.

Great training is a must

Student management is complex, requiring a comprehensive system that can handle every tiny detail. The complexity of the system makes training a necessity, delivered by the SMS to key staff members at the training organisation, who then pass it onto the rest of the company in group training sessions. Good quality training from the new student management system is critical for getting the most out of it, and helping to grow your business.

People hate learning new systems, so when it’s time to train your staff, you’ll get pushback. But as they become comfortable with the new student management system, they’ll gradually start to see its value, and hopefully come to love it. This is much more likely to happen if the SMS has a great user experience, something that should be a high priority when scouting for the new system.

Be aware of unexpected costs

Aside from the standard costs of the new student management system, there’s some unexpected costs that must be considered.

Paying for two SMSs

There’s a couple of time-consuming activities that you’ll need to go through when switching to a new student management system: validating your data in the new system, and receiving training for it. For this reason, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to run your current SMS and new SMS at the same time, which means paying for two systems until you’re confident that the data is accurate, and your team fully trained. It’s difficult to determine exactly how long this will go on for, but we recommend being as cautious as your budget will allow. 

Time taken away from sales

If your RTO is small, your salespeople will need to take time out for training, which could affect new sales. This must be accounted for when drawing up your budget.

Teething problems

Switching to a new system comes with unanticipated teething problems, which takes some initial time to work through. Once the teething problems are over, and you’re settled into your improved SMS, any time lost will be quickly recouped.

Notify your students

Once the switch is made, active students must be notified of any new login information, so that they can continue with their course. You should also be prepared for more support enquiries during this time, which has the potential to eat into your staff hours.

Create a functionality list, and do your research

An obvious one, but worth mentioning. You’ll need a required functionality list for your new system, to ensure that it does exactly what you need, for the right price. Each requirement can be discussed with the sales person for the new student management system. If you want to go one step further, you might consider creating a feature comparison table that compares your current and new SMS. Essentially, the system must be capable of performing the tasks required to deliver great training, and remain compliant.

Make sure your research is extensive—does the new SMS have great online reviews, with plenty of stars and testimonials? What do other people in the industry say about them? Do they offer the functionality, services, and expert support that you need, and actually follow through? Or are they full of hot air? Make sure your new student management system really does have the goods.

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Many RTOs feel in a state of paralysis—they want to grow their business by switching to a new SMS, but have overestimated the difficulty. Thankfully, switching is achievable, you just need to pick an SMS who have a history of providing excellent support to their customers; who will guide you patiently through the change, and without question or complaint, continue to support you into the future.

Sometimes the grass is greener, you just have to be brave enough to leap the fence.

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Thanks to Rikky from Paradigm Training for his assistance with the article, whose knowledge on the topic comes from recently changing SMS to aXcelerate.

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