Updated on May 13th, 2020.
Student Information Systems help schools, universities and other learning organizations manage student information from an administrative perspective. While Learning Management Systems (LMS) enable educators to build and measure powerful learning, SIS do the hard and honest work of keeping academic and financial information in tune.
From an information architecture and security perspective, Student Information Systems can be more critical than LMS. The information they store often carries a high sensitivity and must be subject to simultaneous checks. Quality, financial, and educational regulatory compliance are elementary aspects to which SIS must comply. Special cases, like publicly funded institutions, for example, have extra rulebooks on top to account for.
For most learning organizations, it is not enough to focus on the best SIS. It is also a matter of whether they will be able to play along with the rest of the tools they have in place. A proper LMS-SIS integration is always desirable, as well as their interaction with other existing systems: ERP, CMS or CRM for example. Here we will focus on the SIS-LMS perspective.
We hope this guide answers some of the key questions, helps you streamline your procurement process, and broadens your idea of the power of Student Information Systems.
What should I expect from a Student Information System?
We can think of SIS and LMS as one picking up where the other leaves.
It can be helpful to think about it from a school year perspective. The SIS takes care of all things institutional enrollment-related:
- Applicant documentation
- Fees and payments (often including e-commerce)
- Generating student plans
- Student sign-ups and scheduling
And any other duties needed to make a student part of the academic community for the period. Once the teaching begins, the LMS takes charge by becoming the teachers and students’ best ally. When it’s over, the SIS jumps back in to close the loop:
- Submitting final course grades
- Computing GPAs and other scores
- Generating transcripts, diplomas or other certificates
- Updating students’s profiles and institutional enrollment status
- Clearing financial balances
In more cases than we would expect for 2019, there are still many organizations that have either LMS or SIS, but not both. Which means either system is missing out from the synergies of automating systems that feed data to one another. Teams can bridge this gap by adding SIS-like features to the LMS, or vice versa. But after a certain size, it is unlikely the organization can meet all their need with just one system.
A basic innovation management assessment framework for SIS
At this point of evolution in the IT field, choosing a SIS or any other platform is no longer a matter of looking at the features of each one.
Instead, what you should be looking into today from a SIS provider is one thing: “Innovation management.”
Put another way: Who is the best at continuously delivering the features that matter the most to you?
When it comes to technology, you can analyze your vendor strategy in different layers:
- Security. In today’s world, cyberattacks are not something you solve, but something you manage. Your SIS vendor should be in the same page.
- Features and extensibility. Do they keep a commitment to a solid core, even at the risk of missing functionality? Or do they want to give you as many options as possible? How good is their work on add-ons, plugins or APIs? Of course, more polished and specific feature sets are often better off as an integration.
- Integrations. Are you comfortable with a partner that leverages third-party solutions at every turn? Or how about one that wants to become your “one-stop-shop”? What matters more to you: A consistent architecture or a commitment to open standards? (Not that they have to be at odds with each other, but companies often make priorities.)
- Experience: Weigh the look and feel of an interface, including reporting dashboards, on what it means for back-end development. Speed and reliability are other traits to consider. There is an ideal sweet spot, but it is one you must choose.
Unfortunately, this makes the job more difficult. Online information, especially user ratings, do not properly reflect the innovation management qualities of a SIS vendor. Even in the opinion-heavy rubric of customer service and satisfaction, there are many ways in which this information can be misleading.
In summary: If you find a SIS worth looking into, build your own questionnaire based on the factors mentioned above and others you consider interesting. Only then you are safe to reach a sales representative!
Modern Student Information Systems from an innovation management perspective
The following are some of the most popular or promising SIS as we are keeping it under our radar. Watch this space for updates!
An EdTech powerhouse in its own right, Ellucian brings the idea of SIS as a school-focused Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP). Whether a SIS alone can fulfill the role can be too subtle a debate to have here. Suffice it to say Banner and Colleague are Ellucian’s top offerings, the former gathering headlines over new acquisitions on a regular basis.
Among the challenges Ellucian and the competition faces in the current year, a May 8th interview with CEO, Laura Ipsen, hints at the urgency of making data interoperable. Part of the challenge involves the current state of transition, in which organizations embrace cloud-based solutions without fully replacing legacy systems. Failing to address this challenge jeopardizes bolder plans for next-generation solutions, especially AI and Machine Learning solutions that require past data to deliver present value.
A leader in the K-12 space, PowerSchool is both a company and one the name of one of its SIS. (The others being eSchoolPlus, iNow and Trillium.) They vary on target and feature availability. Reports on whether PowerSchool or Ellucian are the top SIS in the U.S. are conflicting.
In January 2018, PowerSchool and Microsoft signed an agreement, which contrary to many reports it was not an acquisition. This provides knit-close integrations, such as access to Office and Power BI into the SIS.
A reportedly 200 Higher Ed instutions make up the current customer base of Jenzabar, who provides two flavors of SIS, both cloud-based. It claims they are mobile-friendly SIS.
Last May, the company announced Jenzabar Analytics, a companion to cloud-based Higher Ed SIS Jenzabar One. Details about features, functionality and availability were not readily available.
An up-and -coming SIS with scalability and time management features baked in. Last November, eThink Education and Genius SIS sealed a partnership, where the Moodle Partner not only handles the LMS side, but “all system benchmarks” including consulting and customer support.
A college-focused SIS deemed the “Best Value SIS” and with a number of partners behind, and a much-touted Moodle integration. It pioneered the concept of modularity for SIS, which others seems to have been more apt to exploit, Ellucian most of all. Unfortunately it seems development has halted for more than a year.
NexSIS by Nephila Web
Built in-house by Nephila Web Technology, certified Moodle Partner in the Philippines and the only Southeast Asian-based, it was the result of looking a clear customer problems in the region and having the ability to readily address them. As a result, Nephila SIS offers a comprehensive and highly price-competitive solution for customers around the world, supported by the Amazon (AWS) cloud and with world-class features including ID Monitoring, In-Campus Cashless Management (through RFIDs embedded in student IDs) and Accounting.
SIS-LMS Integrations you need to know about
“Seamlessness” is the perfect way to capture the one final element you should consider when pitting SIS. If you already have an LMS running, the SIS should provide robust functionality while disrupting your existing workflow as little as possible.
Here are some cases worth exploring. Do you have an interesting experience to share? Readers like you would love to know about them.
Moodle and Ellucian Banner
This is possibly one of the most common integrations, for large K-12 organizations in particular. They are the most noteworthy in their category and together they serve millions of students in the U.S. alone.
Moodle and NeXSIS
Despite its rapid success and powerful features, Nephila SIS was basically wrapped around Moodle during its inception and initial development. Even though since then it has become a profitable business line on its own, the engineering and customer support teams behind Nephila SIS and Moodle are one and the same.
Anyone with anything?
Lingk is a company that specializes in connecting all kinds of systems. Across its portfolio of “connectors” and recipes you can find solutions for Moodle and other popular LMS and SIS and other systems.