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Ask any Faculty Information System (FIS) vendor if their system is configurable and you will probably be told that it is. To some degree, all FIS’s are, however, what does “configurable” really mean, and how does that impact your higher education institution?

Configurability can mean simple options like changing a field name, selecting a background color, and/or editing the names in a drop-down box. It can also describe elaborate options such as the ability to completely organize a workflow in any manner with customized packets and the ability to track any desired information.

More than likely, the intricate details of your workflows are complex and you have specific information that needs to be tracked. At Mountain Pass, the average appointment workflow for customers consists of over 30 steps. We understand that the design of these workflows results from hundreds of hours of work, numerous meetings, and the approvals of many processes. 

If you currently have an FIS, there is a good chance that you have needed to modify your desired workflows to fit into the limits of the system. Furthermore, the compromises you made may have introduced issues, created inefficiencies, and ultimately forced you to change how you work. For example, you may require reviews from additional committees and leadership and were unable to add those, and may have tracked the additional reviews manually. Or, you may have had variations in the process based on the faculty members’ title/track, so a common workflow was implemented and all differences were captured in a spreadsheet. If the solution you adopt lacks too many of these requirements, you may be missing out on many of the benefits of automation.

Looking to the future, it’s difficult to know exactly what workflow changes will be required, but one thing is certain; change is coming. Knowing the constraints of your institution’s current FIS provides insight into the issues you’ll face when new requirements emerge.     

Therefore, when evaluating an FIS either as a new or replacement system, it’s critical to understand the flexibility available to you, given the complexity of faculty affairs processes. Configurability matters because it is how an FIS meets your needs today and continues no matter the uncertainties that the future may bring.

It’s not easy to discern if an FIS can truly meet your needs, so, here are a few helpful tips to help provide insight and understanding.

  1. Ask pointed questions relevant to your needs such as:
  • Does your solution allow process variances at the college level? Have the vendor respond in detail.
  • Does your solution allow process variances by title and rank? Have the vendor respond in detail.
  • Describe how your solution enables access and edit rights to the steps in a given workflow.
  1. Ask the vendor to show you 
  • While it’s unreasonable to ask the vendor to build your entire workflow, choose 4 to 5 very difficult components of your workflow and ask them to show you how they would accomplish them.
  1. Ask the vendor to share a similar design
  • Ask the vendor to share workflow designs that are similar to your needs.
  1. Write up your needs and make them prove it point-by-point
  • While it’s common to use RFP’s to gain vendor responses, the questions posed to them often leave a lot of room for ambiguity. Tightening question language is always beneficial, but for certain items, hold an online session where you see the response in action.   
  1. Understand what is underneath
  • Have the vendor show you the process of creating your workflows.  
  • Ask the vendor how the system is technically configured for configurability (you may need your IT team for this).

Our Buying Guide was written to help you evaluate a potential faculty information system purchase. If you have not downloaded it, please do. It’s informed from our team’s combined experience working in faculty affairs and with faculty affairs departments.

Tom Simon is the Chief Executive Officer for Mountain Pass Solutions.

A growth-focused startup software executive, Tom has a proven history of success working with industry giants, including Intel, Kellogg’s, Deloitte Consulting, and Valassis. Developing strategy and tactics to strengthen the internal team and its roadmap, Tom has successfully used his leadership to advance core customer relationships and generate sustainable growth for Mountain Pass Solutions.