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interaction with a focus on the student’s journey to the desired outcome—not what is easier for the administrator or out of date rules.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: