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The decision of whether to buy or build a new Student Information System it’s a complex one. As CIO or Head of Education, you may catch yourself thinking if the are any benefits to building a new Student Information System from scratch? What potential problems can occur, and what are the possible risks that must be weighed before making that decision?  Some educational institutions choose to develop their own SIS, which can lead to uncertain outcomes and excessive budget overruns. But if your board feels it is worth the risk, you may want to consider the actual cost and time needed to build a new and complex management information system.

Let’s begin with the simplest but most important factor: duration.

Developing a management information system from scratch consists of several stages, which in turn need a certain amount of time to implement. In each case, the implementation time may vary as it depends on the individual needs that exist and of course, on the complexity. Nevertheless, in any situation, building software is like building a house. All the steps needed are similar, starting from the identification of requirements and design to planning, architecture, and development, and finally to testing. Considering the above, the overall duration of a Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) can be 4-9 months on average.

Phase 1:  Designing and system specification

As it’s said in the aforementioned, the first step in a custom development is designing the product. This can take 2-4 weeks, during this time developers will focus on creating a unique and tailored product for your needs. Like a construction project, you need to have a clear engineering plan before you start to make sure it meets the product’s requirements. A clear vision must be given to developers to ensure they know what they need to develop and how to develop it.

Phase 2: Architecture and development

It is the longest stage of development and it can take up to 3-8 months. First comes the planning which involves all the necessary tasks and resources while checking which tasks can be done simultaneously and which don’t. Once it’s done, the system will need a framework or a structure to be built on. A team with specific roles will be needed to start the project and be on track. Specifically, you’ll need software developers to write the code, technical architects to design the framework, and designers to aid in the user interface (UI) and/or user experience (UX).

Phase 3: QA and compliance

This is the final stage of the custom software development and it usually lasts 3-6 weeks.  It involves testing and comparing the final product against usability and coding standards. During this period the system should, at least, go under a coding review, end-to-end testing, and user acceptance testing (UAT). Extra testing of load times and high-traffic performance should also be performed as well as testing on how your software will integrate with other 3rd party systems.

So, after all, that being said there’s one more question you may think: is it worth waiting?

One thing to keep in mind is that even if you build your own SIS and it is already running, it will take about twice as long to get the system to the point of being fully functional. Many shortcomings or/and bugs can appear along the way which also takes time to be fixed. Also during the time of building the management information system, it is reasonable that many of the requirements will have evolved or maybe new technologies will occur, meaning that more changes will need to be made.

The truth is that adopting a ready-made SIS solution can significantly reduce the time of implementation in your institution. More specifically, the time to implement and get the software up and running is reduced from 4-9 months to 2-3 weeks, meaning more than 90% time decrease. It is worth noting that this period is needed so you get in touch with the product team you’ve chosen, to determine what your individual needs are, and in the next step, to start configuring and integrating your data into the system. Think that the final product that you’ll get will be a complete, fully configured SIS ready to be used.

With that being said, let’s move on to the next key factor you should take under consideration: complexity.

We already know that building a management system from scratch it’s a complex process itself and requires a lot of organizing and patience. The same complexity (maybe even more) exists in the management of a school, especially in higher education and in large organizations in general. So, if we consider how much information is corresponding to each student and how many students are active or how many are in the admission process are already starting to feel like we are at the beginning of a maze.

Part of the complexity comes from how many operators need to be registered and constantly updated in the system, these includes:

1. Multiple Stakeholders

Teachers, staff, students, parents, board members, etc.

2. Multiple Institutional Structures

Grades, divisions, athletics, arts, clubs, etc.

3. Service Delivery

Administrators, teachers, staff, etc.

A Student Information System (SIS) must be capable of managing a large amount of information, coming from multiple sources. It must automate key processes, ease administration and IT managers, and, of course, enhance learning.

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Don’t forget that your SIS should also be able to assist you in the following 

Each student must have their own personal record that contains all their demographic data, as well as their academic information (current courses, grades, behavior, financial, etc.). Students should also have the ability to enroll in subjects, coordinate with their assignments, and have an overview of their academic progress.

Teachers, on the other hand, should also be able to manage their classes with ease. They need to have frequent and direct communication with their students and their parents whenever needed. Additionally, timetables and assessments creation, evaluation, students’ progression overview, workflows, and more are fundamental functions that should be provided to educators.

Admission management is a critical component of every Student Information System. SISs are well-known for enhancing the whole registration process from start to end, making it easier for both the institution and the candidates. Applicants must be able to apply through the system along with all the necessary documents while admissions officers should have access to any application at any time.

Finally, an essential feature that your system must provide is financial management. That means features for tracking expenses, budgeting, creating invoices, and payments. Developing an SIS from scratch can be tricky for the developers since only a few have expertise in finance. So, in order to get credible results, you’re going to need a finance expert on your team.

And the maze of complexity doesn’t stop here

High complexity is deemed to exist when a project contains over 30+ screens, includes user portals and user applications, supports multiple operating systems (web, Android, iOS), involves data migration from older systems, and integrates with multiple systems and platforms: CRM (Customer Relationship Management), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), payment gateways, MS Teams, etc.), and has complex reporting requirements. Sounds like what an SIS contains, right?

Last but not least, you should also consider the total cost and how it would affect your investment ROI.

The cost of building software varies in each case. Research showed that the average cost of custom software falls somewhere between $50.000 and $250.000 range. In our case, the final cost is made by several factors that will be discussed below.

To begin with, as mentioned earlier, in order to start the project, you will need to search and recruit a team of people consisting of:

  • A Technical Architect
  • A team of Developers
  • UI/UX Designers
  • A Usability Expert
  • A Technical Writer
  • A Project Manager
  • A QA Engineer

To get a better idea of where the price range falls, we’ll have a quick view of who the exact factors are and how they define the final cost.

Software Size

The bigger the size, the more work needs to be done. You can quickly calculate the size from the number of screens your system has or needs, large is anything more than 40.

Complexity

Like in the software size, more complicated business logic means more coding and testing.

3rd Party Integrations

Integrating with other systems can be risky since there are many unknown factors involved.  Updates to the corresponding 3rd party solutions may lead to errors and heighten the development cost.

Migration of Existing Data

In order to transfer your existing data, you’ll need to remove it from your old system and migrate them it into your new system. The time spent determining translation rules, building scripts, and completing a sequence of tests will add extra cost to the project.

An All-in-one Student Information System

When purchasing an SIS solution from an established company, you avoid the hassle of building it yourself. Behind a ready-made software system is a team with years of experience and expertise in this area. The final system installed provides a fully functional platform that has been successfully tested and implemented in educational organizations in the past. Also, keep in mind that a technical support team will be on your side to guide you throughout the configuration and installation of the system and for anytime you have questions or difficulties using the platform.

During implementation, the product team you have chosen will do all the work for you. Meaning: Transferring all the data, creating flows, statuses, portals, students, schedules, and anything else that is needed so to get you the most complete Student Information System that meets your needs. And we said, it only takes 2-3 weeks to get your SIS up and running, so don’t hesitate to get started.

We have given you a lot of food for thought, but the truth is that the answer to whether it is worth building a new Student Information System is yours.

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