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Implementation Process For Rookies


You’ve completed the purchasing process for AcademicWorks system, now what? This blog will outline everything you need to know about how to implement your AcademicWorks system efficiently, effectively, and most importantly, on time!

Picking Your Team

One of the most important starting points of any SaaS based implementation is to determine who on your end will be assisting you with getting this live. Usually this would involve someone “owning” the project, who very well may be the primary user of the system after it’s implemented. You’ll also want to pin point who will be the primary users of the system, as they may have feedback that will be important while completing initial configurations.

You’ll also want to decide who should be divvying up the various responsibilities of your AcademicWorks implementation. Lastly, who do you need to have involved with your weekly training and consulting calls. Knowing the above will help you determine who your product owners are, as well as your project manager, your project sponsors, all of which will be creating your “Implementation Team”.

Help with your implementation can come from many sources (registrar, foundation, financial aid, IT etc.). Some times this may be your first time interacting with a particular group or department. You’ll also be introduced to several contacts on the AcademicWorks side as well (Onboarding Project Manager & Client Engagement Specialist) so you’ll need to be mindful of how you interact with each respective party.

Let’s start off by working with your IT departments. From an AcademicWorks implementation standpoint you’ll need IT for two main reason, creating your student data file, and setting up your authentication (how folks log in). This can be the same person, or several departments, so find out at your institution who can assist with each.

If you’ll be providing a student data file, that data may be “owned” by several individuals or departments. In order to avoid any complications with the creation of the file, find out who you need to get to sign off on certain data elements so that you have what you need to implement your system.

The import file isn’t the only area where you’ll be collecting data from your applicants. You may also have applicant-facing questions for the applicant to provide to you. So you’ll also need someone to help you make application design decisions so that you can collect the proper data you need. Lastly, you’ll need someone (or a group of “someones”) to assist you with the huge task of building your qualification criteria across each scholarship opportunity. 

Working With Your Team

So now that you have your team, how can you work with them in a productive way to get things done? Start off by understanding some jargon from both the AcademicWorks side, as well as internally across other departments. 

If you see in an email the words SAML, SSO, LDAP, or Shibboleth, know that this is in regards to your authentication method.  You don’t need to know what the specific method entails, or even means, but you’ll want to know who to reach out to on your end should there be any questions regarding these items.

Also, if you see the words API, cURL, or CUUI; these are all talking about your import file. Again, you don’t need to know what each mean, but it’s important to know who to ask on your end should these items come up.

Since help can come from many different sources, you’ll want to be mindful of how you go about asking for that help. Get to know decision makers at your institution. If you come across an individual who is unable (or unwilling) to assist find out who you need to talk to in order to make some progress.

If you do need to “go over someone’s head” make sure to go through the proper channels. Most often there’s a hierarchy of who you should reach out to about what and when. Learn what that is at your institution so you can more easily get the help you need.

Lastly, it’s important to respect the current work-load of the department or individual you’re needing assistance from. This is especially important for IT as often times resources are limited and thinly stretched. Ask for realistic deadlines for deliverables so you can manage your expectations on when certain tasks can be completed.

Overcoming Barriers

Even after the sales process has ended, you’ll still have to “sell” the AcademicWorks system internally to either department heads, deans, or other stake holders at your institution who may not have been involved in the decision making process.

The first step is to understand WHY the barrier exists. Be aware of the impact this system may have on their current process, and offer up ideas as to how that process will improve. At the very least this will create opportunities for dialogue between your respective departments to help wrap their heads around what this is.

Next, should you receive any push back, how do you overcome resistance? Is there a higher authority that’s actually bringing on this resistance? Understanding the why will greatly help you decide which path you should go to help overcome that resistance.

Potential Pitfalls 

One of the most commonly uttered phrases in SAAS based implementations is “Don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen! “

Your core implementation team should be yourself and maybe two or three other stakeholders and decision makers. That isn’t to say you can’t gather feedback and input from other parties, but if you have a team of 20 people during an implementation call, you most likely won’t get much done.

Try and maximize your time with your Client Engagement Specialist on the AcademicWorks side. Sticking to the core team on your end will allow you to absorb the information being given to you, and then you can pass along any pertinent information to any other stake holders on your end in separate internal meetings.

Secondly, make a plan and stick to the plan. Focus your attention on what needs to be done in order to launch your system on time. Which deadlines are firm? Which are flexible? Don’t jeopardize crucial system configurations for a speedy launch!

Finally, are you doing anything that is out-of-scope of the project? Yes there’s numerous great features included in your AcademicWorks system, but which ones need to be completed in order to launch? Setting up reviewers is important, but often time doesn’t need to be done before you launch as the goal of most clients is to have the system start matching their applicants. So ensuring your import file is correct and your “quals” are set up would take priority.

Hot Tips

This comes directly from Sarah Malone, Donor Compliance Specialist at Kansas State University: your import file; It WILL be wrong, then it will be less wrong, maybe someday it will capture everything you need, and then things will change, and it will be wrong.

So be patient with this deliverable. From a configuration standpoint it is the most important deliverable, so you owe it to yourself to make sure this is built correctly, and that some times can take a bit longer than expected.

Taking quality notes is another important item to think about. Your Client Engagement Specialist will typically follow up each meeting with an email outlining what was discussed and decided, but it’s important for you to take notes throughout. Everyone absorbs information differently, but jotting down a few bullet points can never hurt. 

If you don’t understand something, consult an expert! There will be a lot of new things to learn from both a functionality and a tech point of view. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if anything seems confusing or hard to digest.

Nice and Sheepish are not the same thing. Be polite, but avoid saying, “I think” when you are in fact, certain. This may gain you more respect with your peers and may help speed the delivery of some of the assets needed for your implementation.

Really what we’re trying to do at the end of the day is make this implementation as smooth as possible, and not be one more thing you need to worry about with your day-to-day. The end result of a successful implementation is a more streamlined scholarship management process, and that doesn’t have to come at the cost of a few gray hairs!

Are you interested in learning more about scholarship management best practices? Subscribe to our sharing solutions blog to receive monthly updates about the latest trends in donor stewardship, donor reporting, and scholarship management. 

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Author: Matt Frank, Onboarding Project Manager

Matt Frank, Onboarding Project Manager

Matt began his career as a video editor and engineer for Sony,then transitioned his career into a more client facing atmosphere. Matt obtained a job working for the support team at San Francisco based Lyft, before moving to Austin to work on the Client Support Team at AcademicWorks. Matt recalled when he was applying for scholarships when he went to school how much of an added process it was, and was thrilled to find a company that was making that process easier. Being able to help institutions implement this system so that their student body can easily apply for scholarships is why Matt grew passionate for assisting higher education. Matt’s current role within AcademicWorks is as our Onboarding Project Manager, making sure our clients are prepared to begin implementing their AcademicWorks system.