Recently, Harvard Law School launched a new Student Information System (SIS) to solve problems that have plagued the process of online student registration and curriculum-related activities.

The school’s IT leadership team reports that the new SIS platform represents a successful solution that meets the complex requirements of a school serving approximately 2000 students who select courses from the largest curriculum of any law school in the country.

The school began the process of replacing its old system in 2008, to eliminate a number of debilitating problems. During the vendor selection process, HLS learned that many of the problems afflicting its previous system were not unique and were commonly found at other institutions of higher education as well. Specifically:

  • Very few students could use the old system concurrently, forcing students to wait in online queues for access.
  • The pre-existing system did not adapt well to changes in business process, and there was a lack of transparency of data for administrators, making it especially difficult for them to obtain timely reports from the system.
  • These and other problems necessitated the creation of costly and labor-intensive workarounds or shadow systems to supply missing functionalities in the core system.

The new SIS platform went live on time and on budget in January 2012 to an overwhelmingly positive response from students, faculty, the Registrar’s Office, and staff.

Students can now register for courses on the web in seconds as opposed to the hours previously necessary, said Law School Registrar Lisa Burns.

“They can see all the information they need to make their selections without referring to external catalogs,” Burns said. “On the day of the launch, the student portal logged over 2800 visits, and up to several hundred concurrent visitors, with no negative impact on performance. The administrative processes run by the Registrar’s Office have seen similar improvements in both performance and ease of use; processes that once took 30 hours to run now take only 20 minutes, leaving staff more time to interact with students.”

Burns added that “one student commented how it once took 30 minutes to upload his schedule and it now takes 10 seconds.”

Among other benefits, system data is immediately and readily available through easy-to-use reporting functions, and there are in-system functionalities (rather than shadow systems) for degree audits, grade releases, and visual viewing of schedules. The system is also adaptable to changes in business processes and can accommodate the roll out of new features at reasonable cost in the future.

“Our new student information system allows us to deliver the functionality and experience that is expected by our community,” said Dan Kaplan, Manager of Client Services at HLS. “This will be of interest to other institutions that have experienced the kinds of woes that commonly afflict systems of earlier generations. The platform is architected in a way that allows for continuing changes, and uses standards-based technology, simplifying the task of acquiring and training team members in the necessary skill sets to support the solutions.”

Delivery of the student and curriculum administration functions was Phase One of the project. A second phase will soon add academic-related faculty administration functionalities and a public interest job search and placement system.

UNIT4 Business Software is the Law School’s vendor/partner in the project, which is built upon the Agresso Education software solution.