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Thought leadership from SAI to accelerate your performance
 

Systems Alliance Blog

Opinion, advice and commentary on IT and business issues from SAI
Keyword: sai

2016 has been a year of substantial results and great progress for our clients at SAI. We are very grateful for the opportunities that we’ve had to work with you this year and we look forward to another year of collaboration to serve your customers and improve your organization.

This has been an exciting year for SAI as well as we’ve worked on a series of continuous improvement initiatives during a period of rapid expansion. Not your typical technology company, we’ve always been obsessed with the idea of delivering world class software products and consulting services with a passionate team and doing it with reasonable, transparent pricing and predictable results. This recipe has worked well for us and resulted in high customer retention rates and lots of referrals.

Finding new opportunities to better serve and support our customers has always been at the top of our priority list and this year has yielded several new opportunities to do exactly that. With our recent growth, we’ve had an opportunity to “re-imagine” how we can improve the customer experience for every one of our customers. So now we’re going all in with a commitment of more resources to a larger Customer Success team, equipped with even better tools and an increased focus on ensuring the success of every SAI customer.

Customer Success

The charter for our expanded Customer Success team will be expanding in the weeks ahead to include a greater focus in three key areas:

1. We will be more proactive in the delivery of information that will support your business, hopefully just before or at the time that you need it. We see this as an opportunity to build upon our already high customer satisfaction rates for our support team with proactive industry knowledge and experience that helps our customers succeed with operational challenges. Connecting our customers with one another, sharing best practices, tips and suggestions, will accelerate your success.

2. We will be more intentional in collecting, organizing and reporting back to you about your suggestions for new product features, new consulting services and other opportunities for us to make your life easier and more productive.

3. We will be deploying new tools and processes to more accurately measure customer success and we’ll be sharing those results with you on a regular basis.

I often think about how our culture has evolved at SAI and the strong correlation between how we think about our customers and how we relate to the local community. November is our month of service at SAI. Watching our team fill up carloads of food for a local food bank or swarm over a local park and nature center with hammers and paint brushes exemplifies the deep compassion that SAI team members have for those in need.

We are enormously thankful for the relationships that we have with our clients and we wish you well this Thanksgiving season.

Lastly, If you’re looking for a way to help those in need this Thanksgiving, I strongly recommend checking out the folks at the Helping Up Mission in Baltimore (http://helpingupmission.org/). They do fantastic work with very limited resources.

This week we had the pleasure of sponsoring HighEdWeb’s 2016 Annual Conference in Memphis, Tennessee. We shared SAI Digital’s Web Strategy for Gen Z white paper, gave out a fleet of paper airplanes, and awarded a lucky winner an iPad mini. We heard some killer blues music and soaked in the rich culture and delicious food of Memphis. I even had my picture taken with Elvis. But the best part of the conference for us, was getting to meet over 600 talented and dedicated web professionals across the U.S., Canada and beyond. (Okay, we didn’t meet every single person, but we sure tried!)

Jeanne & Elvis HighEdWeb

As a UX professional who has worked in and for higher educational institutions over the past 20 years, it was an enriching opportunity to listen to lessons learned and inspirational ideas for the future of higher education websites, recruiting and marketing. While I didn’t get to attend every session (there were close to 100) I did see a few major themes emerge that many higher education institutions are currently facing.

Understanding Your Audience

Quite a few sessions focused on understanding the post-Millennial audience that will reach college campuses in the next year or so. Doug Tschopp from Augustana College provided thought-provoking research on generational theory, while we pondered how technology shaped the next generation of college students. Gen Z’s have not known a world without the Internet and may have first connected with technology before they could walk (or in the case of Doug’s example, during potty training). It’s no surprise that there were multiple sessions about how and when to start texting and Snapchatting with prospective students.

Doug Tschopp

There were several presentations on providing personalized experiences to site visitors. At SAI Digital, we know that many of our Higher Ed clients would like to provide an Amazon-like experience for interested students. The CMS vendor, Terminal Four, walked through possibilities for personalized experiences based on geographic location, email campaign click-throughs, and website behavior depending on which academic program was viewed. The opportunities are exciting, but we must be careful because far worse than not providing a personalized experience, is making incorrect assumptions about our visitors or providing an experience that feels intrusive.

The presentation that sparked my imagination the most was from Melissa Dix and Bill Mortimer at Beloit College. Beloit shared their bold and unapologetic approach to marketing and recruiting which centers on the idea that hefty viewbooks are a thing of the past and the future is less permanent, student-authored content. Beloit formed a collective of students and invited them to collaborate and even drive the content authoring process. (And when I say drive, I mean literally drive. Check out their In a Van series on YouTube.) As a result, Beloit is able to provide fresh, fun and authentic videos and messaging that prospective students are overwhelmingly connecting with through email and social media, especially YouTube and Snapchat.

Beloit College

Managing Websites and Redesign Projects

Several presentations focused on how to build and manage a web team, especially when departments are understaffed or resources are decentralized across the college or university. Jennifer McFarland of NC State University provided an insightful (and hilarious) view into NC State’s move from two web team members to an expanded team of more than six web professionals and interns—all while moving their CMS from Drupal to WordPress.

Lisa Catto of Western Oregon University (WOU) emphasized the need for a more thoughtful and strategic process when undergoing a major website redesign. A poor vendor relationship and lack of campus buy-in led to a painful redesign of the WOU website. Some of the key takeaways for improving the redesign process in the future were agreeing on the primary audience, investing in usability testing, avoiding “death by committee” for key decisions and centralizing content creation. As a company, SAI Digital prides itself on thorough audience research, iterative usability testing and long-term collaborative partnerships with our clients. It was great validation to hear that the work we do can go a long way toward avoiding those pitfalls.

Data, Accessibility and Security

Another hot topic during the conference was collecting, analyzing and reporting on email, website and social media traffic data. As the Digital Analytics Lead for Harvard University’s Public Affairs and Communications, Aaron Baker had plenty of insightful experiences to share. For many of our clients, the job of data capture and analysis falls by the wayside behind too many other responsibilities. Aaron’s advice on selecting the right key performance indicators (KPIs) to track and leveraging analytics and social media listening tools is a first step toward building more comprehensive insight.

The theme of accessibility was addressed not only in several thoughtful presentations, but also by attendees I spoke with in conversations throughout the conference. A growing list of higher education institutions are currently facing liability for inaccessible websites. Colleges are becoming more aware of accessibility guidelines and putting plans into place for evaluating and improving their websites, reflecting a commitment to meet the needs of all students. This is a topic that will continue to be in the foreground of web development in the near future. (We recently wrote a blog on this very topic. Check out  Website Accessibility Tips for College Admissions.)

It is telling that the session selected as best presentation for the four-day conference was by Paul Gilzow from University of Missouri about securing higher education websites against hackers and malware. With more colleges moving to open source CMS solutions, like WordPress, security is an ever increasing concern.

Content and Storytelling

Aside from attracting audiences and tracking data, the real heart of the matter at HighEdWeb 2016 was content. Whether it was developing a clear content strategy, producing fresh and authentic content, or writing findable content, it was clear that many institutions are working on ways to improve the content they deliver. 

It was so fitting that the conference ended with a Keynote by LeVar Burton. (THE LeVar Burton from Roots, Star Trek the Next Generation and Reading Rainbow.) Mr. Burton, who has dedicated the past 30+ years to literacy, talked about how storytelling is the foundation of education. Stories spark our imagination and it is our imagination that allows us to form ideas. When I thought about Mr. Burton’s message and how it related to higher education marketing, one quote he said really stood out to me. “A story is only as good as the storyteller’s ability to communicate that to a listener.” It reminding me of a recent experience where we developed what we and our client thought was a very compelling story about the University, only to find out during usability testing that prospective students didn’t really understand the message we were trying to convey. Not only do we need authentic and compelling stories to tell, but we have to continually learn how to tell them in ways that resonate with our audiences, whether that is through an interactive website or a 10-second Snapchat.

LeVar Burton

For our team at SAI Digital, the conference was a great experience. Not only did we get to meet fantastic people and hear the difficulties facing a wide range of colleges and universities, we left inspired to continue to develop innovative solutions for our higher education clients and their audiences.

Job Interview Prep ImageOur software business is booming, our consulting practices are growing and our team is rapidly expanding. We’re planning to hire about two dozen new team members in 2016. What could be better?

At SAI, we’re laser-focused on identifying high potential candidates who are interested in learning, growing and earning more. We recruit candidates who have just graduated with computer science, design and business degrees, and we recruit experienced hires who bring with them the skills and expertise to help us grow fast. The common denominator on our team is the inner drive to be something more: more capable, more competent, more comfortable, more effective in helping our clients be successful. . .more.

I have interviewed thousands of candidates over the past 35 years and I am seeing more and more folks show up for interviews unprepared. We see the recruiting process as bi-directional. Will this candidate perform well in the current role and can they grow with us? And, just as importantly, is SAI a great fit from the candidate’s point of view?

Unfortunately, we’re not getting to those meaty interview discussions frequently these days, because candidates are coming in unprepared for the interview. Deciding where you want to spend a large chunk of your work day is a momentous decision. Shouldn’t you spend at least as much time prepping for an interview as you do investigating new car options?

We want you to bring your “game winning” persona to your interviews at SAI. In that spirit, here are some suggestions:

Do your homework. Would you fly to another country on vacation without doing any research? Go to our websites (www.systemsalliance.com, www.acadia-software.com); learn more about what we do, how we work with clients. Come with questions! You will undoubtedly be asked to describe what you think we do at some point in the interview process (there are no right or wrong answers) and not being able to respond will indicate that you didn’t care enough about the interview to do some research.

If you’ve gotten to the interview stage, we’ve already done some research on you. We’ve studied your resume, your LinkedIn profile, and other social networking or media sites you’ve used. Invest time in ensuring that your resume is in great shape, and that your LinkedIn profile and other online information provides enough detail for us to understand how your skills and experience line up against the position description.

Early is on time; on time is late; late is. . .unprofessional. Late without a phone call is disrespectful. Arrive early and have a cup of coffee across the street at Wegmans or Panera. It’s less stressful and you’ll have time to look around a bit and decide if this is an area where you would like to work.

Bring samples of your work with you. Samples of your code, design work, writing, client deliverables and examples of your successes (and failures) are a great way to show off your capabilities, discuss past experiences and lessons learned. If you are a recent graduate, bring along samples or documentation of your favorite college project.

Be prepared to discuss how your capabilities and experience maps to the position. Checklists are a great way to organize your thoughts ahead of the interview. Clearly articulating how you line up with the position and acknowledging any gaps will make the process easier for all of us. On more than one occasion, we’ve interviewed a candidate who didn’t necessarily fit the position description and we’ve been able to refer the candidate to someone else in our network who has subsequently extended an offer.

Ask questions! We are extremely proud of our team and our culture. Ask about how we work with clients, how we work with one another. You’ll know quickly whether SAI is a place where you’ll be happy for years to come.

We all benefit from lining up the best candidates with the right roles. Happier team members, better service to our clients and community; it’s all good. Let’s work together on this and see what we can accomplish together.

I look forward to meeting you soon in an interview at SAI.

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