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What is a Guide on the Side?

Implementing a new system is a major undertaking, much like climbing a mountain. If you set out to climb Mount Everest in flip-flops with a group of people who’ve never climbed higher than the stairs to the 8th floor of Geisel Library before, your odds of success are likely to be vanishingly small. While it helps to start by doing extensive research and packing as thoroughly as possible for your trek to the top, there’s still no substitute for experience. The best way up to the summit is to have someone with experience at your side to guide you, making sure you’re on the right track, pointing out potential pitfalls and problems on the way, and helping you get the most out of the experience.

While implementing a new financial aid system is certainly less life-threatening than climbing Mount Everest, there’s that same need for a “guide on the side” to provide the experience to both get the most out of the new system and to avoid the pitfalls and problems other institutions encountered in their own climbs to the top. The new Financial Aid system we’re implementing at UC San Diego, Oracle Student Financial Planning (SFP), is a relatively new product which has capabilities beyond what older systems can provide, making the guide’s role even more essential. 

Guide on the Side vs. Consultant

How is a guide on the side different from just having a bus full of consultants come implement the software for us? There are many consulting firms out there who specialize in implementing software for their customers, but using too much of a consulting firm’s help can be a double-edged sword. 

In the traditional consulting model, an organization brings in dozens of consultants to configure, test and even manage change resulting from the new software, but this model has several drawbacks. The traditional model costs tens of millions of dollars in consulting fees, and when the consultants leave the project after the implementation, most of the knowledge of how to configure and operate the system goes out the door with them when they leave. While consultants can have deep knowledge of the software’s capabilities, they don’t share the same deep understanding of our university and its practices as our staff possess.

Benefits of a Guide on the Side

The guide on the side model we follow at UC San Diego is very different from the traditional model. By doing the work ourselves (supported by a hefty dollop of “backfill” to keep the staff involved from being overloaded), we ensure that we understand the software more completely by doing the actual configuration and testing ourselves, aided in making sound design decisions by the guide working with us. 

Another positive of the guide on the side model is flexibility. We only pay for the hours we use, and in the unlikely event we need to make a change in guide, we have the flexibility to do so. But how do we find a guide on the side in the first place, and what qualifications and experience do they bring to bear that helps us?

Finding the Right Guide

There are many consulting firms out there that assist universities, companies, and organizations of all sizes with software implementations, but only a few have real-world experience implementing a relatively new product like SFP. To select who we would use as our guide for the Financial Aid Project, members of the project team met with consulting firms with experience implementing SFP and who had responded to a request for information from us. The team spoke with experts from the consulting firms to assess who had the best experience in implementing SFP at similarly sized universities around the country. Finding a good guide is never easy, but the guide the team selected is well versed in SFP, having implemented it at universities with similar complexity to ours.

Our guide on the side is an integral part of the model for implementing major software projects like SFP, and by leveraging their advice and expertise to answer our questions and help guide us on the best path possible, we can ensure we have a smooth trip to the summit, instead of a remake of Into Thin Air.

Category: News, Student & Faculty