What’s in a name? For us, everything, says Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at Scientia
What is a technology year worth in human years? Can we apply the same 1:7 ratio we do to calculate ‘dog years’? At approaching 30 years old, Syllabus+, our core scheduling software, should be pushing up the daisies by now. And yet it’s not. Hundreds of iterations on from its launch, Syllabus+ still gets a lot right, which is why it’s the number one choice for academic scheduling worldwide. That’s why many of our clients have been with us almost as long as Scientia has existed. Syllabus+ is also Scientia’s most-recognised brand. For a company which is known as Cyon across half the world, that’s important.
The recognition and trust in the Syllabus+ name is the reason we’ve retained it for our forthcoming solution. But that’s about the only thing we’ve retained. Syllabus+ Anywhere is a completely new system, built on leading-edge technology and free from the constraints of a legacy system – but underpinned by the knowledge and experience we’ve gained through its forebear’s faithful service.
Communication: the foundation of healthy relationships
This is the most fundamental change Scientia has made in almost 30 years of business. We knew that this was not a journey we could take without major input from our customers. Product development at Scientia has always been collaborative and based on actual need, not perceived need. But as our client base has grown to some 450 institutions worldwide, we’ve sometimes found it a challenge to maintain the levels of communication which are easier for smaller organisations. As a former customer, I know how frustrating that can be.
As the saying goes, the first step is admitting you have a problem. You told us, we listened, and we’ve worked hard to improve communication and feedback opportunities for customers. In the past year alone, we have:
- Launched Idea Manager, a platform which enables customers to influence our development focus by voting for candidate features. These candidates are themselves derived from client requests and suggestions. The first voted-for features will be implemented in the forthcoming 3.14 release of Syllabus+ Enterprise;
- Surveyed users to discover what functionality they most use in our current solutions, resulting in more than 75 individual use cases which will feed into the development of Syllabus+ Anywhere;
- Run detailed User Journey Mapping sessions at client institutions, enabling us to drill down into the requirements of different roles at an institution; and
- Launched a simplified Customer Satisfaction Survey, making it easier for users to tell us when we get it right – or wrong.
This is on top of ongoing customer support activities, which include:
- A dedicated Account Manager;
- Our Customer Support Portal with ‘Knowledge Base’ – solutions to more than 400 real-world Service Desk queries;
- Free monthly Webinars, enabling customers to keep abreast of the latest developments in our software; and
- International Conferences and User Groups, providing much-needed ‘group hug’ opportunities for the tortured souls in the unique world of academic timetabling.
Joining the dots with Syllabus+ Anywhere
From our earliest days, we have had to ensure effective data transfers within Scientia’s scheduling suite and between third party applications. As we have shown with Connect, integrating Syllabus+ with applications such as student records systems is both achievable and beneficial. But our suite of distinct ‘boxed’ products has led to what could be seen as a disjointed offer. All that ends with Syllabus+ Anywhere. The micro-services architecture enables us to provide a scalable offer with the flexibility to pick only the elements you need from a holistic solution, with effective interoperability with other enterprise solutions baked in.
One thing clients have been keen to discuss is the process of migration from the current system to the new one. We will help each customer to create an individualised migration plan. When all of the functions currently covered by Enterprise are fully supported by Syllabus+ Anywhere so that any customer could choose to migrate, we guarantee that we will continue to support the products being replaced for a further two years. We will make an announcement to that effect when we reach that point in development.
At the end of that two-year period the legacy software will continue to run indefinitely, and you will still own a perpetual licence to use it. All that changes is that Scientia will cease to devote development resource to the legacy products. But looking at what Syllabus+ Anywhere delivers from a customer point of view, institutions are going to see the benefits of migrating to the new system as soon as they can – and we’re going to make it a no-brainer to do that.
Beyond the back office
By providing powerful reporting functions, timetabling moves from a required ‘back office’ service to a valuable strategic resource for any institution. For example, accurately predicting your institution’s future space needs will be easier than ever with Syllabus+ Anywhere.
More than ever, the university timetable is visible and accessible by students, staff and faculties. Self-service selection of study modules, booking rooms and resources, integrating lecture or teaching timetables with your personal calendar: all possible from any web browser on any connected device. Our software has the ability to powerfully represent the student voice in the scheduling mix; maximising this to enhance student experience and engagement is yet another way of activating the strategic value of timetabling services. This is particularly pertinent in the UK, where university funding is now partly dependent on student satisfaction outcomes.
Right now, I’m looking forward to sharing the progress we’ve made with customers coming to the Scientia User Conference this week. Hope to see you there!