Improving In-House Processes Using Available Technology: The Case for Shadow Systems

With limited technological resources and staff, many smaller institutions create internal systems to complement their enterprise-wide options, improvising with the technology and software at hand. These “shadow systems” are applications and databases developed and used by end users and can be a creative technology solution to improving office operations.

Andrew Marx and Sandra Fallon-Ludwig from Brandeis University will share their experience with shadow systems in their session “Improving In-House Processes Using Available Technology: The Case for Shadow Systems.” AACRAO spoke with Sandra on her upcoming session.

Sandra Fallon-Ludwig

Academic Records Specialist

Brandeis University


Improving In-House Processes Using Available Technology: The Case for Shadow Systems

Monday, July 13, 2015 8:00 AM - 9:15 AM

Tell us a little about your session.

Like many other institutions, our registrar’s office doesn’t always have the proper funding or resources to purchase an enterprise system.  Instead, we have to create a way to work around that barrier and improve our processes using tools that are already accessible.  In our session, we will present a few case studies of what we’ve done to improve our online forms and course scheduling process. For example, our office is using a combination of Qualtrics, which is a survey tool, and Google Docs to create an online form system.  Currently, we are also using our Learning Management System, which is built on a Moodle open-source platform, as a database for course scheduling.

What are some advantages and disadvantages in implementing shadow systems?

One of the biggest advantages is that you do not need to wade through the murky waters of institutional governance, the layers of authority who ultimately approve the acquisition of new technologies. You can make technology decisions internally and at little to no additional cost. However, this also means that you have to do your own research, maintain the system yourself, and that you don't have the strong, centralized technology support that you would often get with an enterprise system.  Even so, I would encourage you to just jump in and learn from your mistakes. With our university’s limited resources, we had no choice but to build our own system and the benefits have definitely outweighed the challenges thus far.

How long have you been doing this?  I understand that this is a continuous process.

It is ever-evolving.  We started our online forms about three years ago, and we are continually updating the forms and collaborating with departments to improve them.  Andrew will be talking about our Learning Management System, and how we’ve use it to develop a course management database. That process has only been going on for about a year.

What are some key lessons that you hope attendees will gain from your session?

First and foremost, I hope that our case studies will get attendees thinking about how creative solutions might be used at their own institutions. Currently owned software packages will likely never fit all of your needs, but you can find ways to improve your own office processes without needing to buy a new tool. Anything that ultimately makes your operations more efficient and taxes your resources less is going to be worth it. 

Also, the session may be useful for any Transfer attendees currently using paper forms, but interested in moving to an online system. Our first case study, which involves Qualtrics and Google Docs as an online form system, can be applied to processing many types of transfer credit. I’ve transitioned all of our paper forms to an online system and found that this has saved me valuable time and effort.

What are you looking forward to the Technology and Transfer Conference in Austin?

This is my first time at an AACRAO conference.  I’m definitely looking forward to some of the Transfer sessions, since that is one of my main areas of responsibility at Brandeis.