The SIS market is a cacophony of solutions that cannot find harmony in higher education’s modernization march. CIOs should use this market guide to assess which SIS solution will allow them to transition to a modern digital technology platform and personalize the student information experience.
Institutions with fewer than 2,500 students have been more inclined to move their student information system (SIS) to the cloud than larger schools with enrollments of more than 2,500.
The SIS market is dominated by a shortlist of principal vendors, while offering few realistic choices for midsize to large institutions.
The highly customized on-premises SIS installed base, combined with the pandemic-driven composable technology movement, is contributing to the slow uptake of next-generation SIS solutions.
Although the SIS vendor market share has changed little over the last 10 years, some offerings indicate that changes will come over the next five to eight years.
Education CIOs seeking technology optimization and modernization should:
Lead the institution’s modernization efforts by leveraging business composability to combine strategy, practice and tools to deliver enterprise digital capabilities that improve outcomes and demonstrate quantifiable benefits.
Decouple the SIS by introducing new enterprise business capabilities using point solutions specific to stakeholder business models and practices.
Link SIS technology changes to specific institutional goals with measurable objectives by leveraging the digital-outcome-driven metrics framework for higher education to pinpoint the value of IT investments.
The SIS, a core system of record (SOR) for higher education institutions, supports and delivers services for routine administrative and academic activities. Specifically, the SIS supports back-office administrator and student- and faculty-facing functionality, including management of institutional information assets that include student prospects, applicants and matriculants. Additionally, the SIS manages vital student assets, including course offerings, course registrations, grades and transcripts throughout the student life cycle. Current market offerings vary in size, scope, regionalization, functional capability and delivery options. Offerings can range from individual components to enterprisewide integrated solutions, or they may be part of a larger administrative ERP application suite.
Serving as the institution’s core SOR, the SIS provides a chronology of individual business transactions, academic activity, advising interactions and educational outcomes. The SIS is a critical component of the institution’s larger digital technology platform. For the purpose of this market guide, the SIS is defined as a system that supports or integrates with several of the following activities depicted in Figure 1.
Buyer behavior in the current SIS market is sluggish and imperceptible as institutions wait for new offerings to evolve and deliver feature and capability parity. As institutions continue to introduce new enterprise business capabilities (EBC), institution leaders are making a conscious effort to decouple the SIS and compose a framework of technologies across the organization that address changing business models in a timely manner.
The evolution of new SIS offerings remains disappointingly slow, thus feeding the ongoing descent of the next-generation SIS into the Trough of Disillusionment on the . Although vendors and institution leaders aspire to modernize their SIS/application, their ambitions have been tempered by:
The slow pace of new product development
Organizational change readiness
Pandemic-related acceleration of other digital investments
The deployment of purpose-built solutions
Lack of strategy linking quantifiable metrics to technology investments
Ongoing support of technological debt
Meanwhile, vendors are continuing to advance new product capabilities to enable feature parity with those SIS solutions currently deployed. While SaaS is no longer a new delivery model for the education market, few vendors have a mature cloud/SaaS SIS. Vendors offering next-generation SIS solutions cannot seem to deliver on past promises of developing a feature-rich, configurable solution in a timely manner. Therefore, the SIS market is falling further behind other core application offerings in higher education. Institutions are moving to cloud-hosted and SaaS offerings for other enterprise technologies like human capital management (HCM), finance, CRM, learning management systems (LMS) and identity management.
However, the acceleration of digital initiatives, spawned by the pandemic response, offers some growth potential for the global SIS market. These modernization efforts combined with the growth in deployment of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), cloud/SaaS services, analytics, digital transformation and mobility provide the global SIS market growth opportunities. Higher education institutions have rising demand for application integration, consultancy and security services offered by SIS vendors.
Fortunately, vendors still have time to advance the capabilities of new SIS solutions given the slow pace of change common in higher education. Additionally, we are seeing some newer entrants on the edges as vendors sense opportunity in this space. The recent emergence of SISs being developed on platforms, such as Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce, highlights the changing nature of the traditional SIS market and composable approach. Institutions are leveraging this to modernize their environments and to support new ways of engaging students and delivery services.
SIS functionality continues to be dispersed across the university with the deployment of functional point solutions. That dispersed functionality creates a more critical case for the deployment of a digital technology platform requiring a composable approach (see Note 2). However, vendors have not fully recognized this phenomenon, as they continue to march toward the development of an all-encompassing SIS rather than focus on core capabilities and integration with other offerings. While the market is pressing for more composability, vendors are still emphasizing product centricity.
The SIS has always been a series of modules connecting the primary administrative and academic records of students. However, the changing digital landscape and advances in technology like integration, workflow orchestration and extensible applications continue to change the traditional makeup of the SIS.
Given the current maturity of legacy SIS applications and the changing nature of how institutions are evolving digital enterprise business capabilities, both vendors and institution leaders face a growing dilemma regarding their migration plans and evolution of the current SIS market.
Vendors continue to acquire readily available solutions or merge with other companies, as ways to deliver new/mature capabilities and address gaps in their SIS roadmaps. For example, predominant SIS vendors continue to acquire and/or merge with other SIS vendors. This activity suggests the SIS ecosystem is evolving and that vendors see the advantages and opportunities of having a portfolio of solutions that cross the entire student life cycle. Designing a modern platform with a framework of composable solutions based on years of SIS knowledge about how they should fit together, could and should be a real advantage to the higher education market.
However, institutions are moving beyond vendor SIS offerings and composing their own modern technology platforms, which include their legacy or new SIS, as well as a cadre of other digital capabilities. Yet, vendors continue to respond to the changing market by attempting to build a comprehensive SIS and ignoring the evolving modernization renovation occurring industrywide.
The SIS landscape continues its measured transition to cloud/SaaS delivery options (see Notes 3 and 4), and user demand continues to rise. Yet, user excitement about migrating to new SIS solutions is tempered by a lack of viable ready options and meager organizational readiness.
Several vendors are in varied stages of SaaS SIS development in higher education, and many, if not all of them, offer a cloud-hosted/managed solution or a newly developed SaaS product. Currently, there remain three primary types of SIS offerings:
Many SIS vendors offer legacy, cloud-hosted and/or SaaS; however, not all options are available for every solution. Cloud-hosted or SaaS offerings continue to be the most attractive options for institutions looking to modernize. Doing so can also improve the continuity of operations, enable the reallocation of human resources, and place the SIS reliability and performance on par with other core applications already leveraging cloud services.
To date, relatively few institutions have migrated to a new SIS, but the predominance of institutions that have, or are in the process of changing, are those with enrollments with fewer than 2,500 students. However, we continue to see a slow and steady rise in hosted migrations for SIS systems. In many cases, this can only be viewed as the initial step toward the next-generation SIS because these moves are primarily “lift and shift” projects that realize operational gains and offer few, if any, new digital capabilities. The cloud movement is a critical step that is aligned with general trends and data from recent Gartner surveys. Those survey findings indicate that higher education CIOs still view the cloud as a game-changing technology.
Vendors are intent on developing a modern SIS that delivers feature parity with legacy solutions, but reduces or eliminates the need for customizations, and/or major application code and architectural changes. Many institutions find that the next-generation SIS offers attractive features, such as agility and ease of use across a broader digital technology platform.
In addition to the legacy vendor solutions, a number of open-source and consortium SIS solutions are available globally. They are focused predominantly on regional or country-specific requirements. These consortia vary in governance and organization; some are government-sponsored, and others are outgrowths of a collaboration among institutions.
However, just like legacy vendors, these solution providers continue to be challenged by the rapid pace of change and modernization requirements as they continue to update their capabilities and service offerings. Until the next-generation SIS domain achieves near-feature parity with deployed solutions, we will continue to see a growing interest in:
The vendors listed in this Market Guide do not imply an exhaustive list. This section is intended to provide more understanding of the market and its offerings.
The listed vendors and solutions illustrate the variety of SIS delivery options. These range across multiple geographic regions and include vendor-based, open-source and consortium-membership-based solution providers (see Table 1 and Note 1).
This SIS remains a critical component of a larger digital technology platform. It is essential that CIOs understand the SIS market and support a modern SIS environment that enables a core set of symbiotic applications composed to deliver seamless engagement and record keeping across the student life cycle. Education CIOs seeking technology optimization and modernization should:
Lead the institution’s modernization efforts by leveraging business composability to combine strategy, practice, and tools to deliver enterprise digital capabilities that improve outcomes and demonstrate quantifiable benefits. Design a modernization architecture to enable an agile approach that supports new digital capabilities and institutional objectives.
Decouple the SIS by introducing new enterprise business capabilities using point solutions specific to stakeholder business models and practices. Plan for the eventual migration to the cloud by assessing the advantages of more agility and less customization across the enterprise application portfolio.
Link SIS technology changes to specific institutional goals with measurable objectives by leveraging the digital-outcome-driven metrics framework for higher education to pinpoint the value of IT investments. Drive new business and technology capabilities with enterprise performance improvements that deliver value by enabling growth, reducing costs or mitigating risk.
Gartner Recommended Reading
This research is based on Gartner client inquiries and briefings from January 2021 through February 2022. Multiple SIS vendor briefings provided data for market direction and analysis. Other sources include credible public sources.
Note 1: Representative Vendor Selection
The vendors profiled in this guide were selected to represent the breadth of offerings in the market segments defined as “on-premises,” “cloud-hosted” and “SaaS” solutions; which are the three primary offerings in this market. The categories of “open source” and “consortium solutions” received lighter coverage, as they have far less presence or general applicability across the market. Gartner’s objective is to provide a balance of options relevant for institutions of varied size, complexity, type and geographic location.
Note 2: Business Composability
Business composability (a combination of mindset, practices, and tools that enable enterprises to sense and respond to changing business conditions) provides a strong foundation to respond to business volatility.
Note 3: Software as a Service (SaaS)
Gartner defines SaaS as software that is owned, delivered and managed remotely by one or more providers. The provider delivers software based on one set of common code and data definitions consumed in a one-to-many model by all contracted customers at any time on a pay-for-use basis or as a subscription based on use metrics.
Note 4: Cloud Computing
Gartner defines cloud computing as a style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service using internet technologies.