The End of Sneakernet


Many schools designed their technology systems based on how their processes were executed in a paper world. When they first went to mainframe, institutions simply moved their paper processes to the computer with the idea of “I’ll fix them later” and they forgot about them. As a result, over the years key processes were simply lifted and shifted from one system to the next—from mainframe to client-server, to online to the cloud. If the new computer system could support them, many “as is” processes were left, “as is.” If the student was on campus and could walk from the Registrar’s office to the Financial Aid office, to the Bursars, to make payments and submit paperwork, there was no real need to update this “sneakernet.” 

But no longer.

Since March, higher education has been laser-focused on getting classes online and developing protocols for safe, in-person instruction. But now colleges and universities are rapidly toggling back to remote learning and face a whole semester and possibly a whole academic year of remote instruction and remote administrative processes. Now colleges and universities simply can’t afford to leave these burdensome administrative roadblocks in place.

Even before the pandemic, in order to survive, institutions needed to raise student retention and graduation rates, while reducing enrollment melt. With schools moving to remote learning and students questioning the value of on-line instruction compared to the cost of tuition, increasing student satisfaction and retention is even more important.   

To successfully support their students, institutions need to review their administrative processes with the same care they configured safe classrooms, installed plexiglass shields, and set up soap stations.

The first step is to generate an inventory of key student-facing processes. Each process in the inventory should be reviewed through the lens of understanding its desired outcome.  Once the outcome is understood, institutions need to ask two questions.  First, “Does this process have a face to face component, and does that component have to be done on campus?” 

 If the answer is yes, institutions must ask “Is this face to face interaction even needed?” If the answer is no, the process should be redesigned to eliminate the face to face interaction with a focus on the student’s journey to the desired outcome—not what is easier for the administrator or out of date rules. If an in-person interaction is required, the process should still be reviewed through the lens of how a student experiences it to make it as efficient and student-centric as possible.   

Overall revising these processes can increase efficiency, lower resource needs, and increase student satisfaction. All of these are key to surviving and staying strong in these rapidly changing times. 

And students will be happy to see the end of the “sneakernet.”

About John Thompson-Haas

John Thompson Haas has been dedicated to the Higher Ed Space for the past 30 years. Playing various roles from Faculty, System Implementer, Strategist, and now leading consulting at Beyond Academics, he brings a perspective to our client discussion as they look to shift in the new normal and create exponential transformation.

John Thompson-Haas can be reached on LinkedIn or via email:

Who Is the Man in the Lobby? (Part 2)


Has this happened to you?

In case you missed part 1, click here.

Listen to this post:

Funny how my post got people uncomfortable and I didn’t even name names. It’s something we all have been seeing. Some of you were the man walking in the lobby. Others were the man selling “AMAZING.” Some were the onlookers hoping to see where you could benefit from the transaction. 

If you felt like I was poking at you. I kind of was. Because we all are a little guilty of leading higher ed to the mess we are in.  We all have been selling and buying the wrong transformation.  

  • We were afraid, if we didn’t do what others were doing, we would be left behind.
  • We were selling because it helped quarterly numbers when we knew the products were not ready.
  • We knew, in the long run, the investment would only have a slight linear transformation but it was a cash cow for many.
  • The transformation message was driven by self-centered aspirations.

If we all say we believe in higher ed, then safeguard it. Help higher ed with the right transformation. One that’s centered around true value and student outcomes.

It’s telling, I got texts, LinkedIn messages, and phone calls all saying I know the answer of my post but all saying off the record. Everyone was afraid of the repercussions from vendors, schools, consulting firms and peers. They all recognize the spin and what is happening. Now that we are living through COVID casualties, we have to rethink how we operate in Higher Ed.

The past few months, reality has set in. 

Let’s just look at the Educause Top IT Issues for 2020. How many of those on the list truly prepared campuses to address the issues that schools faced in March and today?

Top IT Issues List for 2020 

  1. Information Security Strategy
  2. Privacy
  3. Sustainable Funding
  4. Digital Integrations
  5. Student-Centric Higher Education
  6. Student Retention and Completion
  7. Improved Enrollment
  8. Higher Education Affordability
  9. Administrative Simplification
  10. The Integrative CIO

Which one of those actually allowed schools to be nimble and sustainable? How many of these campuses can trigger any of these in weeks and not 6+ months.

Most top 10 lists are institution centric and are designed to be adopted in 12 -18 plus months. That won’t work today. 

The focus has been on initiatives that provided buzz words for conferences and great papers that showcased delusional value. In reality, it will not enable your campus to be sustainable.

School leaders have to stop taking the easy road and designing your strategy based on conference discussions and fun vendor alcohol filled dinners. Be accountable to your institution.

Many leaders don’t want to do the hard work to design a strategy.  When you’re facing enrollment issues, it’s easy to say let’s adopt a technology solution or suggest the cloud. Or plan a costly irrelevant system migration when you have no choice, when you realize you should have modernized your systems before the last legacy coder on earth is a year from retirement.

Schools are going to go out of business because of four reasons:

  1. They are not “fit for purpose”
  2. They don’t have a “digital strategy”
  3. They don’t have an “online strategy” 
  4. They never defined their “brand value”

These are obvious if you look at what will keep you sustainable. It’s time to determine what’s important for your campus and design a strategy based on it. 

Finally, the onlookers were the higher ed analysts who sat on their hands. None of them actually guided you to focus on what mattered. Either they didn’t know, which is scary, or:

  • Because it didn’t have 6 or 7 digit revenue stream
  • Or because their annual industry trends reports were sponsored by the man in the lobby

In the past 8 years, we’ve all seen the lobby of conference hotels with these timeshare discussions to transform higher ed. 

Challenge me. Say “Matt—you’re crazy.” I’m open to having these transparent discussions. All we have to do is look at the past engagements, look at the top 10 lists, look at analyst reports. Look at the cloud transition labs that shamelessly wasted people’s time. 

Come on, higher ed. Wake up. Stop being a part of the lobby transformations.

Who Is the Man in the Lobby? (Part 1)


Who is this?

You’re walking through the lobby of the hotel. You see a friendly face approaching with a bright smile and a firm handshake. He asks if you’d like to own “AMAZING.” He paints a picture of this amazing transformational experience.

You ask curious questions, but he deflects and continues to speak about the others who also believe in this amazing transformation. He even stops a random person who supposedly embarked on the same journey and is now part of this amazing, elite community. Reluctantly, you shake off the concerns in the back of your head. You drink the kool-aid. You sign on the dotted line. They have you now.

You eventually recognize you won’t be able to experience this amazing transformation for another 18-24 months. You are then told by others that there are underlying costs that you are responsible for. You are now in a binding, long-term contract. Breaking the agreement would cost you substantially. But the most disappointing aspect is this: the picture he painted won’t become reality.

A year later, when you are walking through the lobby, you see that same person. He waves you in and tells the other person how you are future-thinking and a fellow investor. To save face, you smile, shake your head in agreement, and walk away. You recognize that another person, one just like you, just got taken by the ????????????????.

Click here for part two. >>>

New Player in the SIS Space, can they shift the SPIN in a new direction?


As some of you may have seen the article about Columbia University and Unifyed bringing a new SIS to the market. Competition always creates better quality for the market so while I try to understand the potential impact of this, it is still always good for the consumer. This happens to be my wheelhouse for the last 30 years and I’ve seen the past 8 years of linear trajectory and little transformation in the student market.  I know Gaspare, I put him in the rarefied air of one of the smartest CIO’s in higher ed.  Put it this way, I’ve known him since his coding days and saw what he’s capable of. For this reason, he was not easily sold the cloud spin many have been. So, this move is really interesting to see. While I believe he’s incredibly smart, I do have my own perspective on if this could transform a student market beyond the traditional approach of digitizing back-office processes.   

This a great time to reflect on the following questions:

  • Does Higher Ed need another SIS Provider who will only digitize your 1990 processes?
  • Will they change the spin and move schools from the cross hairs of the pandemic?
  • Will they bring true ROI for the investment schools will have to put in?

Like a plow in a fleet of equipment to manage snowstorms for a city, ERP /SIS are just equipment for many Chancellors, Presidents and Provosts and really never considered it to be a brand differentiator.

News flash… students don’t care which plow is used or which SIS you use.  

They only care when it’s not functioning during peak times. For this reason, I believe no SIS will solely transform colleges or universities, it will only enable them to do their respective tasks during peak periods.

In a post pandemic era, below are the 4 factors that will keep schools sustainable.

  1. Academics that is designed ‘fit for purpose’ 
  2. Increase online presence
  3. Create a digital culture and learning that will rival online gaming
  4. Create an educational marketplace that will unbundle, personalize academic paths and foster greater access for all.

If you go through my list, none of those are driven by an SIS. The SIS just manages the back-office processes of them. Prior to 2020, all SIS were designed around core antiqued institution centric processes of the 1990s. Yes, 1990 when next-generation technologies were not available. Yet, folks are asking their modern solutions providers to replicate legacy.

When the so-called modern student solution providers decided to embark on designing a SIS they boasted about:

  • Better user interface
  • On single line of code for better reporting capabilities
  • Oh yeah, cloud

While the mantra was a modern student, none of them actually transformed universities or colleges. None of the schools that adopted these modern platforms withstood the impacts of the pandemic in March.  However, colleges who did adopt an online strategy invested in digital learning and made their offering accessible beyond the four walls of a campus fair far better.  This is what post-pandemic student systems should be addressing.  So, if Columbia and Unifyed can help foster these innovative approaches in an affordable way, they can change the market.  If not, they are just managing the back-office processes of old.

Three Mistakes

For a new player to make an impact, let’s recognize the mistakes of the past decade.

The first mistake the cloud vendors made was they made moving to the cloud as the transformation, which we all know is really not game-changing, it is just outsourcing infrastructure to reduce operational costs.

The second key mistake is they asked institutions who are not “future thinkers” to help them design a product for the future, many of these institutions where still managing processes manually so they were riding bikes when many others were in a Honda. You are now asking them to design an airplane. So, what you got was a modern Toyota driving on the same expressways as the Hondas.

The reality is none of them had a future of lens on. We just need to look at the recent engagements, the ones that went live and the ones that were paused. It’s evident that these schools were/are requesting what their legacy systems did. Check out the Client Gap (Blocker) list that the vendors were asked to design around. Many of the requests on the list do not differentiate campuses. Sadly, many of these list stalled projects and only increased the cost of the migration.

The final mistake is that the SIS vendors, underestimated the complexity of designing a Student System from scratch so the roadmaps painted an unrealistic picture of the transformation. Which also costed many early adopters dearly.

A modern system has to change what you do and not repave the same path. So, what I’ll be looking for from these campuses, who adopt this new sis, how will they enable the new normal. If it’s just to digitize pre-pandemic processes to remain on the same path, I recommend campuses save their money as you won’t move yourselves from the crosshairs of the pandemic. But if you are truly ready to change what you do and how you do it, this new player could be just what the market needed. 

Chicago Startup Led By Seasoned Entrepreneurs Helps Higher Ed Digitize The College Experience In As Little As 8 Weeks

Beyond Academics Leaders (from left to right) Joe Abraham, Matthew Alex, and Joel Mathew Smiling in Front of Chicago Skyline

Matthew Alex couldn’t have predicted a global pandemic when he launched Beyond Academics to help higher Ed transform, but it was the final ingredient of the perfect storm that is claiming its casualties in higher education.

Alex is a former partner at Deloitte, where he led the Student Technology and Transformation practice—overseeing some of the most complex Student Technology Transformation projects in the country. He also led Deloitte’s Smart Campus and Future of Work initiatives.

“Other than a handful of elite, incumbent schools with 10 and 11-figure endowments and globally-recognized names, most colleges and universities have months, not years, to make a total digital transformation,” says Alex “most schools are either completely delusional or cautiously concerned about the future. What both groups have in common is that neither group has a plan that has any sustainable future. They think ‘zoom university’ is the way out of the storm.”

With big tech like Google and Amazon announcing their plans to enter the space, 40% of future freshmen saying they don’t plan to pursue 4-year degrees this fall, and a growing population of digital natives who have no interest in sitting in a lecture hall for 2 hours, the proverbial writing is on the wall. But higher ed is in denial. 

“Coronavirus was just the catalyst that accelerated the inevitable,” says serial entrepreneur and co-founder Joe Abraham. “Higher education has typically had an anti-business, anti-entrepreneurial mindset within its internal operation, and it’s about to cost a lot of careers. They’ve thought of themselves as so different and so separate, that they’ve lost the basic business fundamentals of customer-centric product design, voice-of-the-customer-driven innovation, and an agile, iterative pursuit of being fit for purpose.” 

But there is hope. Thought leaders and authentic innovators in higher education who recognized the warning signs a long time ago are sounding the alarm. Dr. Rufus Glasper, CEO of The League of Innovation in the Community College says “there is a sense of urgency for any college campus to shelve traditional strategic plans, and lift highly nimble and innovative 3, 6 and 12-month roadmaps focused on entrepreneurial transformation, and that requires new thinking,” Glasper said. “You have to establish culture where you can have the opportunity to have an ebb and flow like never before.”

Beyond Academics is helping campuses build and deploy these nimble plans for digital transformation while introducing low-cost ‘bolt-on’ technologies like its Smart Panda tools that automate labor-intensive processes, while making things like transcript portability possible within weeks, not years.

“Digital transformation is not about repaving the old roads of higher education with multi-million dollar student system installations, or synchronous classes delivered over 16-week semesters,” says Alex, “it’s about providing poly-synchronous learning, unbundling of courses into mini-artifacts that can be consumed on-demand, creating off-campus digital affinity for students – the likes of a Minecraft environment, and providing real-time transcript mobility so that students can take multiple classes across multiple schools – at the same time. That’s just the beginning of what the future of higher education looks like.” 

“Senior leadership teams are struggling to visualize the future because they’ve been in a bubble. Their teams are struggling to display entrepreneurial behavior – which is a prerequisite for authentic innovation,” says co-founder and author of Entrepreneurial DNA, Joe Abraham. “Higher education has some of the brightest minds on earth, but they need help breaking past limiting beliefs, and they need to discover the frameworks for how to design and deploy innovation in times of existential crisis. That’s what we need to help them through.”

In addition to Alex’s Future of Work platform and Abraham’s Entrepreneurial Innovation frameworks is 3rd co-founder Joel Mathew’s decades of digital media experience including running a digital marketing agency with clients like Nike, Allstate, Acura, and Rakuten. “Higher ed needs a fresh, customer-centric, and outside-the-industry approach to enrollment strategy in order to engage the digital natives of the future”, Mathews says.

7 Strategies to Create Campus Affinity in a Digital World


Welcome to the new normal. With the reality setting in that digital will become a part of the fall and beyond, many are struggling to attract students to their school without the actual campus aspect. Since online classes sterilize the in-person experience and level the playing field, numerous campus leaders have already expressed their concern on how they can foster their campus affinity through the digital layer. 

Without an immediate answer for them, I took some time to think about how other industries create online and social affinity for me. Immediately, Apple and Nike popped into mind.

So what makes Apple and Nike different in the market?

It is not their computer or shoes but instead what they stand for. If they solely focused on their products in their message, Apple and Nike would be like any other. Because there are numerous competitors selling electronics or athletic wear, they would get lost in the other advertisements.

Apple’s mission statement is “Bringing the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software, and services.”

They are also not the cheapest option, significantly higher actually. However, they have built a followership based on what they stand for: quality through simple design, in order to support your experience. Customers that buy their product know that they are purchasing quality products, and they continue to do so because of the personal connection they receive (‘Why’ statement).

Nike’s mission statement is “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.”  

*If you have a body, you are an athlete.

In the higher education market, there is a lot of noise around “the best.” Nike and Apple do not come out and claim best. They let their consumers decide that based on the quality of their products and the accomplishments that people connected to them achieve.

Similarly, the ‘Why’ for schools need to be showcased. The reality is that most students do not choose a college because of “what” you offer: courses, dorms, majors, top faculty. Students want to personally be a part of a community that can inspire and push them towards success. You need to create a connection to WHY they should join and gain affinity to your campus.

Every school should try this 3 Step Campus Affinity strategy exercise in order to reshape your “Why” brand in the market:

  1. List the reasons that students should choose your campus.
  2. Do the same for a competing school. 
  3. Cross out the shared ones. The remaining ones under your campus are the WHY answers that you should focus on spotlighting. It is what will uniquely attract prospective students.

You need to unconsciously resonate to your consumers. For all of the struggling schools at this pandemic time, you need to stand for more than the knowledge you disseminate, the best faculty, top rankings, graduation rates, programs you offer and your campus. Instead, represent how your campus will transform someone’s life and develop a sense of community. You need to connect with the human that wants to attend your campus, not the number that they will fill in the institution-centric metrics.

Below are some strategies to foster campus affinity.

create digital campus affinity graphic

What A Prospective College Student Is Looking For: A Hybrid Experience


REASON I: Comfort

The mind of a seventeen-year-old is extremely different from a forty-year-olds. Not saying that all who work in the Higher Ed industry are that age, but you get the point. 

Although the world around us is advancing, people are still comfortable with what they grew up with. I hear my parents talk about their ‘good old days’ with paper maps, VCR’s, cars without seatbelts, rotary phones, and pagers. Might I add that I do not know how to use those, nor do I know what some of those actually are.

My lifestyle, along with many of my peers, includes a digital GPS, wireless calling, self-driving cars, high quality pictures in seconds, and social media. We carry a handheld device as our main necessity throughout the day. Our comforts are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum. Simply because that is what we each grew up with. 

Same goes for what a prospective college student is looking for. Input from that actual age group will help schools figure out what they need to adjust. 

Their necessities are usually very different from what a 1970s baby thinks they are. In my college checklist, I have added a well implemented hybrid campus. Although that will be rare to find at this stage, hopefully that is in the near future. 

Not only do I want safety from the pandemic, I want the flexibility and independence of a hybrid campus. It uses easily navigable technologies and apps that us students are familiar with. We are attracted to campuses that are digitizing with the rest of the world because they are able to provide the most efficient, interesting classes and lifestyle for us. Students are able to relate more to what is occurring on a technological campus compared to a traditional one. 

With all of this in mind, here are some suggestions that colleges should consider adding and focusing on when changing up their courses and institutions: 

  • Giving students the option to either attend or simply tune into lectures.
  •  Add the course schedule / plan to an online learning platform, in order to allow students the freedom to complete the assignments whenever it works best for them (as completed by the due date).
  • If your course or lecture is online, consider a smaller meeting time that students can attend to extend their understanding on a specific topic (online or in person, depending on the circumstance). It gives them the personal, social aspect of education.
  • Figure out ways to incorporate more small groups or spread out activities on campus for students to participate in, most will want something to do outside of their dorm rooms and apartments.

REASON II: Independence

A hybrid learning experience opens the door up for students to choose how they want to manage their schedules. It is up to them to learn the responsibilities of completing their work on time, attending the mandatory lectures, and functioning through digital learning platforms. We are adults, and we want to be treated with the same respect and responsibility as the other adults. 

It also gives us a mix of the digital and social side of learning. Hybrid helps the students that want to work simultaneously, struggle with sitting in lecture halls for hours, and are more organized with technological integration. It expands to a more personalized education as students can pick what method works best for them. 

REASON III: Preparation

The next step after college, for most, is a career or internship. That world is shifting towards digitizing a lot of their functions. Going to a traditional, brick and mortar school does not prepare us for the career world that we are going to step into post-college. 

Different careers have quickly adjusted to becoming digital since the pandemic affected them, such as online food ordering, meetings, and shopping. The sad truth is that those who did not shift did not survive. Adding technology to a curriculum and lifestyle is setting your students up for success as each career is now incorporating online options.

Open your ears and eyes to the voices of students that walk onto your campus. Take a look at what they grew up and are most comfortable with. Doing this will also set you up to attract the future generations, as they will come in with similar mentalities on advanced technology’s integration to your campus. They all will provide you with more insight than any other staff or administration can.

Beyond Academics Announces the Acquisition of Smart Panda Tools


Beyond Academics Announces the Acquisition of Smart Panda Tools And Launches Subsidiary To Serve Higher Education Technology Needs

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Chicago, IL: As colleges and universities around the country wrestle with decisions around the short-term and long-term impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and what many are calling the “new normal”, technology is a major point of transformation. Becoming digital is so much more than just delivering classes online. Every aspect of the campus experience for a student has to transform to be faster, and available on-demand. That doesn’t have to involve multi-million dollars investments anymore.

“Costly ERP implementations should not be the focus of any college or university at this time of existential change”, says Beyond Academics founder Matthew Alex. “Our acquisition of Smart Panda Tools allows us to bring low-cost, nimble, high-value technology that can bolt on to existing IT infrastructure so schools can deliver more human-centric solutions that students actually need.”

With in-market technologies like the industry-exclusive Raptor Transcript Importer™, Transfer Gateway™, Pathway Finder™, Transcript Express™, and Rule Maker™, Smart Panda Tools is focused on helping universities and community colleges automate tasks that historically have taken a tremendous amount of human capital and time. Unlike large ERP implementations that are hard to justify ROI for, these tools are typically 5-figure investments with virtually immediate ROI. While colleges see an increase in efficiency, reduction in costs, and higher capacity for enrollment, students see much faster access to information (such as transfer credit and transparency to degree outcomes), and greater portability of their data.

We are entering a new era of digital freedom. That means freedom to learn and achieve, and critical is the freedom to move those achievements in and among schools all along the educational journey,” said Paul Rhinehart PhD, co-founder of SmartPandaTools.  “For the last three years, at SmartPanda we’ve been pushing the envelope on what is possible in automating student transfer.  Now by combining forces with Beyond Academics, and with a growing network of allies in higher education, we are positioned to help higher ed deliver exactly what the next generation of students will expect.

Smart Panda Tools technologies are already in use at over 15 colleges and universities around the country. Partnerships and joint venture alliances are available for interested parties.


A higher education think tank, incubator, and advisory firm, Beyond Academics exists to help its university and college leaders navigate the mission-critical decisions involving the future of work, and the future of the campus enterprise. The company uses a highly collaborative approach to industry partnerships in order to bring clients diversity in guidance and solutions.

To learn more about these tools, click here.

Press Contact:
Tiffany Mullins
Beyond Academics
935 W. Chestnut Street, Suite 470
Chicago, IL 60642