Redefining the System of Record

May 17, 2017

Historically, institutions have had one, large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system such as Ellucian Colleague, Ellucian Banner, or Oracle Campus Solutions (PeopleSoft) with modules to cover all major business functions and data including admissions, registration, financial aid, advancement/alumni, finance, human resources, etc. This application environment made it fairly obvious what “system of record” meant – the ERP system. Granted there were institutions with a best-of-breed or hybrid application environment with smaller stand-alone systems. However, these satellite systems were typically tightly integrated back to a central ERP system, so this concept of a single system of record tended to continue. Therefore, prior to the advent of data warehousing and business intelligence in higher education, it was common to perform reporting and analysis directly from the ERP as the system of record.

Today, higher education systems are becoming increasingly more fragmented and specialized in terms of capabilities and technology. This is driven partly by the rush to the cloud, Software as a Service (SaaS) and many new entrants focusing on specific business functions that the traditional ERP providers have ignored or not invested in. Ask any CIO or IT professional about the proliferation of systems and data integration and you’ll hear a chorus of complaints managing this evolving world. The proliferation of systems is not limited to the transactional data, but is expanding into the reporting and analytics space as well with specific, self-contained reporting and analytics isolated in each system. This creates a great deal of confusion and anxiety about the best approach to a comprehensive understanding and view of institutional data.

One big challenge tends to occur with “hand-offs” or where a business process bridges two systems, for example, applicant conversions. The admissions staff lives and breathes in TargetX, Slate, or Ellucian CRM Recruit as they work a prospect through the admissions process. For admissions staff the funnel ends when the applicant reaches the deposit stage. However, ask any CFO of a tuition driven institution and they are more concerned about the conversion taking place once an applicant has registered for all their classes. So, how is this best managed when the funnel essentially bridges two systems that could both be considered the system of record depending on which part of the business process you are working? Data Governance is not enough to resolve this disconnect by defining different versions of “converted” or “matriculated.” If ultimately admissions staff are responsible for getting a prospect all the way through to enrollment, do you build costly integration with the SIS and the Admissions system? Do you just force them to work in two different systems and bridge data gaps by assembling spreadsheets?

In our view, this changing landscape means the definition of system of record must change as well. No longer is it practical or realistic to expect that the ERP with all the disparate and integrated systems should serve as the system of record anymore. As institutions grow in data sophistication, we feel that a comprehensive data warehouse or to use the newer marketing term “data lake” (though debatable whether it is really the same concept) is the new system of record. The admissions staff will always consider their business system as their system of record. So, will every other data and system owner. Rather than building two way communications to every new system or constantly arguing over whose system is right, wouldn’t it be easier to push all necessary data into an enterprise data architecture as the hub to provide a comprehensive, enterprise wide view of institutional data in a consistent and repeatable manner? The resulting enterprise data model with business rules and governance, typically implemented in a data warehouse, is now fundamentally the new system of record and should be relied upon as the authoritative source for reporting and analysis related to all functional business questions.