How Do You Change School Management Systems? Part 1: Preparations

Posted by Sophie Costello on Mar 31, 2022 12:08:30 PM

Starting the process of changing your School Management System can be a daunting task, especially if you've never been involved with a similar project. 

Understanding what the project steps will look like - and where to start - will make it a lot less intimidating. While each school's process will be slightly different, we've outlined the common steps, pitfalls, and considerations below.


When Is it Time to Set Sail?

No doubt you've invested a significant amount of time and money into making your School Management System work for your school.

Sea searching

Especially for those that are personally involved, it can be difficult to think back on the countless hours spent maintaining your school's systems, only to throw them all out the window - but this line of thinking can become a problem when it comes to making decisions.

Based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the sunk cost fallacy describes the irrational tendency for people to continue with a project, investment, or activity purely because they have already invested their time or money.

On an individual level, this can cover things like continuing to watch a terrible film just because you've already paid for your ticket. However, whilst you're only losing 90 minutes to a bad movie, the ramifications of the sunk cost fallacy can be huge when the same thought processes impact major decision making.

The fallacy can affect people at all levels, from politicians to business leaders, but fortunately, studies have shown that once you're aware of the effect, it becomes much easier to overcome. The same researchers developed a simple quiz to determine how susceptible you or your team are to the sunk cost effect, which can help you be more aware of how it may impact your decisions. 

In summary, the time, money and effort invested in your existing systems cannot be recovered - so don't let them impact your ability to look critically at your situation and decide the best path forward.

Looking at your systems objectively will help you to identify issues that may have been 'swept under the rug' or that haven't previously been considered critical. Whilst the individual issues may seem fairly minor, once you start to add them up you may find it difficult to justify continuing to wrestle with a system that doesn't fit your needs.

This could occur for many reasons, but we've outlined some of the commonly identified issues below:


Outgrowing Software

Your School Management System may have been perfect for your school's needs when it was first put in place, but your needs have likely changed over time, as has your school. If your school has expanded, added another campus, transitioned to co-educational learning or similar, you may find that your system hasn't grown with you.



If you've been on the receiving end of a recent price hike, this will be a pretty easy issue to identify; however, increasing prices are only one facet of good value software. Your school may be paying a consistent amount, or be happy paying a steeper price, but also factor in whether your software is keeping up with technological advancements and offering you modern-day functionality.

Consider that back in 2010, buying 1gb of data for $20 a month was a pretty good deal - but if you stayed on that contract and continued to pay the same amount now, you would be getting terrible value. Similarly, whilst your system may have had competitive features and pricing when it was first implemented, you may need to explore your options to properly evaluate whether you're getting good value for money in today's market.

Sea drifting

Functional Requirements

If your system just isn't meeting the needs of your school - whether that's because your needs have changed, the features don't work as they should, or development promises were never realised, then it may be time to think about why you're sticking with it.

It's unlikely that any one system will instantly solve every problem for your school - but if you're regularly spending resources on workarounds and third-party solutions for things that could and should be possible through your School Management System, it's possible that the balance has shifted to the system creating more problems than it solves.



Your school likely uses a range of software in addition to your School Management System; but despite any failings, it should still be operating as your single source of truth for all student and school data.

Whether it's because your system doesn't have a specific feature or because your staff or students prefer the functionality of a different piece of software, your third-party systems should be syncing with your School Management System for any relevant info.

The headaches caused by systems that don't 'play nice' with others cannot be understated, and so it's no surprise that the ability to quickly, securely integrate with third-parties is a big reason that schools switch from less supportive systems.



On the other hand, schools can often end up with an overwhelming list of systems, which quickly becomes challenging to manage. Changing School Management Systems can give you the opportunity to consolidate a sprawling software ecosystem into fewer systems that provide the same range of functions.


Getting Prepared

Once you've evaluated your current School Management System and identified that it's time to look at alternatives, there's some preparation to do before you speak to any vendors.



To set yourself up for success, we recommend getting your school prepared internally before involving any external stakeholders. The first step of this is to determine who will be involved in the project, and what level of involvement they will need. 

Sea sailing

Your school's Business Manager and IT Manager will likely be involved throughout the entire project, but also consider those who will need to give feedback or approval, such as the Principal and the School Board.

It may be advantageous to include the people who will be using the software the most, such as teachers and administrators. Involving large groups of people at every step could complicate the process substantially, but consider choosing a representative from relevant departments to sit on the project team or join key meetings and demonstrations.

You could also run smaller, targeted information or brainstorming sessions with specific departments or groups, to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard and is kept informed on project progress.



Once you know who is involved, you need to determine your project timeframes. These will vary for each school, based on how many people are involved, what other projects you may be undertaking, and your specific approval process.

Working backwards from your ideal launch date, you should generally allow for around six months to determine your school's needs, research systems, speak with vendors and implement your chosen software. If you want to go live in Term 4, your school should start looking by Term 2.



Before you start looking, it's important to know an approximate budget that will be allocated to switching systems, so that you can better determine which vendors will be suitable for your school.

Final software costs will often include once-off fees for implementation, training, and data migration, on top of the ongoing license subscriptions. However, remember to take into account the cost savings from consolidating any additional systems that your final School Management System choice may replace.


Taking the First Steps 

Mapping your Software

Now that you know who will be involved and when things need to happen, you can start looking at what systems you already have in place, what features they cover, and how they connect.

This is important for determining what functionality your new system will need to include, and can help to identify specific areas of focus or pain points for various users. 

Speak with each department about their needs, what systems they currently use, and any challenges they are facing.

We have put together a free template that you can use when mapping out your software ecosystem. This can be done individually, with notes from your discussions with various staff, or can be used for real-time collaboration and brainstorming. 

An example of what this may look like is below, but your school will likely have a unique combination of systems and use each one in different ways.

You can map out the systems at your school using our free customisable template.

Free Software Mapping Template


How/Project Goals & Priorities

Once you've mapped out what your school currently has in place, you can start looking toward the future.

Your project goals and priorities will drive the entire project, helping you to determine what vendors to consider and how you evaluate their solutions.

To ensure the success of the system you eventually choose to implement, it's important to ensure that every area of your school has a voice here - though you or your project team will be making the final decision.

These goals will likely relate to the problems that have led you to change systems, but other priorities may have been identified during the mapping and software auditing process.

Goals may include:

  • Consolidating systems
  • Specific additional features or functions
  • Easier integrations (i.e APIs) or better connections between various areas
  • Time savings (i.e. through workflows and automation)
  • Better value/cost savings
  • Moving into the cloud
  • Improved security or stability


Overcoming hurdles

The final step of preparing to change School Management Systems is to identify any potential roadblocks and finalise the extra factors that will influence your final decision.



You can't always prepare for everything, but there are several common roadblocks to consider when preparing for any big project.


Key Staff Availability

Check in with the key members of your project team to ensure that they will be available for the length of the project. If any of them are planning to go on extended leave, it's better to know ahead of time and plan your project steps around these gaps. 

Likewise, if your school's process requires the board, advisory council or similar to give final approval, ensure they are aware of your project timelines so they can notify you of any clashes.  

For instance, if board members are expected to change around the same time as the final stages of your approval process, this may introduce more variables or extend your timeframes as new people join and have to be taken through the proposal from scratch.


Concurrent Projects

Make sure you're aware of any other major projects occurring at your school at the same time - for instance, if your school is in the midst of building a new science block or adding a new campus, members of your project team will likely be involved in both.Sea iceberg

This doesn't mean that you can't undertake this project at the same time - in fact, if you're planning to expand from same-sex to co-ed, or adding a primary school to your secondary school, evaluating your School Management System will often happen alongside other related projects. 

The important thing is to keep these projects in mind whilst you are finalising your project timelines, to ensure that the key stages are achievable in the time you are allotting.



If you have staff that you know will be resistant to change, try to get them involved as early as possible to encourage more enthusiasm for the project. As we've spoken about previously, change management is much more manageable when you plan your communication ahead of time, and when you deliberately involve parties that may otherwise be reluctant to change.


Critical Risk Factors

Once your project parameters are defined and potential roadblocks are accounted for, you can start to plan around the critical risk factors that may impact your school. These may include:


Operational Impact

Ensure that you have considered the operational impact of any changes and plan your timelines appropriately. Often, schools will want to complete the final changeover during school holidays to avoid dealing with as many staff, students and parents during the transition. 

Ensure your staff are aware of the upcoming changes and arrange training or information sessions to help them get up to speed as soon as possible. You may want to consider continuing these sessions over several months, to reinforce best practices and ensure that no one falls behind on new systems and processes.


Data Integrity

As a School Management System houses a majority of the key data for your school, it's important to be careful about the way data is handled during the change.

Vendors should be able to offer trial data migrations and give you transparency about how your data will be handled, to ensure that nothing is lost in the process.

Also ensure that your final vendor is able to securely handle your data, by verifying their certification against standards such as ISO 270001


Hopefully, this breakdown helps to make the process of switching School Management System seem less daunting.

In Part 2, we’ll be looking at how to research and evaluate your options, putting together a Request for Information (RFP), and making the final decision.




Topics: School Management, Database Management

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