Unit4 unveils next-gen student information system

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 27, 2015
Building on its acquisition in June of Three Rivers, Unit4 has announced a new student information system built for the social, mobile, analytics, cloud era

Amir Tajkarimi, SVP global education, Unit4
Amir Tajkarimi, Unit4

Following on from its acquisition in June of higher education software specialist Three Rivers, Unit4 has unveiled an all-new student information system which it claims is the first in the market built to deliver a "consumer-grade" user experience.

As with previous versions of the Three Rivers solution, the new Unit4 Student Management software has been rebuilt from scratch to accommodate the latest technology advances. Three Rivers founder Amir Tajkarimi, now senior VP of global education at Unit4, told me in a pre-briefing:

This is our fourth time doing this. The first version was DOS, the second was Windows, the third version in 2001 was browser-based. Mobility and analytics were not a prominent technology back then.

Going touch-first and making it work with CSS and HTML5, that is hard to do unless you build it from the ground up again.

Competing vendors

Unit4 is aiming to supplant currently-installed legacy solutions from competing vendors with the new solution, which goes on general release in the first quarter of 2016 in the US and worldwide in Q2. Tajkarimi told me some institutions have spent millions to graft a mobile interface onto Oracle's Peoplesoft student information system, one of the US market leaders.

A lot of these companies, specially the larger ones, what they have offered over the years has really been a piecemeal response to institutions over the years. They bring a lot of baggage over the years.

Today's students expect mobility. They want to do things on handhelds.

A true responsive design is a single code that is responsive. That is the core of the magic that differentiates our product from everything else that's out there.

Unit4 says the first release of the application will help institutions manage student information in five core areas: admissions, academics, financial aid and scholarships, billing, and student and faculty portals. The vendor highlighted six attributes of the solution:

  • An improved user experience, built for mobile users, with underlying workflow that helps to automate routine administration.
  • A 360-degree view in the CRM system, which follows students throughout their progression from potential applicant to student and then on to alumnus and potential donor after they graduate.
  • Built-in analytics and dashboards that allow administrators to easily analyze and track metrics.
  • Program enrollment flexibility to support non-traditional learners such as remote online students or corporate trainees.
  • Reduced IT and support costs through a faster, simpler, configuration-led approach to implementation and upgrades.
  • Ability to deploy the product either as multi-tenant public or private cloud or on-premise for a single or multiple entities.

Configured for flexibility

Tajkarimi told me the product has configurable, pre-built components designed to reduce the amount of custom code institutions need to add to meet specific requirements. Localization is provided in the same way to serve the needs of a customer base that stretches across EMEA and Asia-Pacific as well as the Americas.

It's designed to be very flexible but not in a 'do-it-yourself' way. We're anticipating what are the specific needs of each geography and pre-building those into the product.

The institution then has the ability to take it to the next [level] without having to engage consultants or going into a multi-year, never-ending engagement with a vendor.

The common code base also makes it easier for institutions to share templates and rules. Tajkarimi said he expected this will happen especially as people start to explore the analytics capabilities of the product.

You have the ability to automatically look for trends. Who are the people who are graduating? I need to contact these people six months later. People receiving financial aid but who are not showing up.

Once you establish these kinds of rules you provide the ability for institutions to share these rules between each other. Even though they compete they talk to each other. Being able to share these things to serve their commnity of students better is another thing that we think is going to change the market.

The emphasis on mobility and analytics invites comparisons with Workday's student information application, also built from the ground up with these features built in. Tajkarimi said this didn't have the same breadth as the Unit4 solution, citing a recent example where a customer chose it over the Workday offering.

The customer loved Workday but it's just not ready. They saw the integration that we have and how far we are with our product, once they saw what were ready to deliver it was no contest.

My take

Tajkarimi has written about the digital downgrade students experience when they enter higher education and encounter their institution's student information system. The sector is renowned for being a technology laggard and yet we expect it to produce tomorrow's high achievers. Those students deserve (and expect) better.

Full credit to Unit4 (and the Three Rivers team) for completely rearchitecting their product to meet the new technology requirements of today's always-on digital generation. This is no time for superficial makeovers to yesterday's products.

Disclosure: Unit4, Oracle and Workday are a diginomica premier partners.

Image credit: Midsection view of students sitting on steps using smartphones © kalim - Fotolia; headshot courtesy of Unit4.

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