implementation lessons learned texas state

From Zero to Hero: Implementation Lessons Learned With Texas State

Our recent 2016 User Group brought together the expertise and insight of hundreds of clients from universities around the world who shared valuable lessons from their successful  use of Activity Insight.

Here, we’ll recap “From Zero to Hero: Implementation Lessons Learned,” presented by Whitten Smart, supervisor of the Educational Technology Center at Texas State University, about what his team discovered  during their five-month implementation process.


Texas State University opened its doors in 1903 as the Southwest Texas State Normal School, with 303 students and a mission to prepare Texas public school teachers. The school’s name has changed multiple times in response to its expanding scope, with its current name reflecting its status as a major, multipurpose university.

With more than 200 degree programs at all levels and a full-time faculty of more than 1,300, Texas State University serves 39,000 students across two campuses.

Zero to Hero

Texas State began with an ambitious task: migrate data to Activity Insight from an old system used by 65 percent of faculty, 50 percent of whom had their full CV in that system, as well as adding the data for all faculty not yet using the old system. They also needed to incorporate data from their internal Banner and SAP systems.

And they had an ambitious timeline: a five-month implementation window, beginning with preliminary meetings with Digital Measures in late March 2016, with an unmovable go live date of September 1.

How They Did It

To ensure project success, Whitten and his team engaged with Megan Sullivan, Client Onboarding Team Lead and their Onboarding Consultant, early on to identify essential milestones to keep the project on schedule. To establish an accurate implementation timeline, Megan helped Whitten’s team estimate time needed for:

  • importing data via Web Services
  • setting up advanced user authentication
  • revising data collection screens
  • building reports
  • testing the system
  • rolling out Activity Insight to faculty

Having an idea of how much time to budget for each of these tasks, as well as building in  a buffer for changes, kept the Texas State project on track. Activity Insight rolled out on September 1 as planned.

Keys to Success

  • Start Web Services early: Your technical team will need to identify what data exists in source systems like Banner, secure access to that data and create the mapping to Activity Insight. Starting early gives you time to sort out issues regarding permissions and roles in those systems and leaves time for testing and implementing screen revisions identified in the process.
  • Use spreadsheets to map existing data fields: Whitten’s team established a spreadsheet in which all previous system elements were outlined for each screen. This ensured that all fields of data were accounted for in the new system.
  • Get the data as clean as possible: Spend time cleaning up data from legacy systems to ensure what you bring into Activity Insight is useful. For this task, Whitten’s team found that Excel truncated some data and had difficulty with special characters including diacritical marks used in other languages. He recommends using an alternative, such as LibreOffice.
  • Give fine arts colleges extra time: It’s much harder to document and cite exhibits, shows, individual works of art, performances and other accomplishments than it is to cite publications and research.
  • Communicate early and often: Whitten’s team used shared documents to keep everyone on the same page—literally. One spreadsheet had a column dedicated to questions from the team, which IT could research and answer. They tracked each faculty member’s college, department, number of pages of CV they sent in, and were able to track and report progress because they had the data available.
  • Build buy-in: Involve as many people as possible throughout the implementation process, from Provost and Dean’s offices through college and department committees and faculty senate. Involving stakeholders promotes better results, including buy-in when it’s time to go live.

Be Prepared for Changes

The most important lesson learned during their Activity Insight implementation? “Things change,” Whitten said, “You need to build in that area for buffer,” because it’s impossible to anticipate all needs up front. He also noted that you’ll make many more screen changes than you think you will, so building time for those modifications into the schedule is vital. Whitten recommends an additional month or two, if possible.

Future Steps

Activity Insight is live and running well at Texas State, but work continues, Whitten said. He expects data entry revisions to be completed in December, at which point the data becomes the responsibility of the user. Since this information is required for annual review and accreditation, users have incentive to maintain their data. Faculty reviews begin in January, so user training, underway since September, ramps up to weekly sessions during December and January.

Is your university planning an Activity Insight implementation? Talk with your Solution Specialist soon—a solid plan can ease the process for all stakeholders.

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