When a school starts a partnership with MBS Direct, we want to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible, that is Implementation Manager Sawyer Boehm’s specialty. During his tenure, Sawyer has helped over 200 schools make the transition to MBS Direct. When asked what he likes best about his position, he said he liked the people and helping schools find solutions that make it easier for students to get their course materials.
“I think people who work in education are there because they have a passion for it,” he said. “It’s nice to work with people who are passionate about what they do and invested in helping others.”
We recently sat down with Sawyer to learn more about the implementation process a new school would go through and how they can help ensure their transition is seamless.
What is your role at MBS Direct?
I am an implementation manager. I work with new schools that are transitioning to our service. Specifically, I help with that project management element. That means I help them set timelines, stay on the timeline, introduce services we offer and give guidance on how everything works.
My team works closely with a few key contacts at the school. It is important that schools identify a point person — or a couple people — that we can work with. That person would work on data tasks, like pulling reporting information that may be significant and have access to financial elements if we do any kind of charge to student accounts or do financial aid. Having that a kind of task holder who oversees the process on their end is essential for making a smooth transition.
What are the basic steps in a transition?
The very first stages are mostly internal communications to make sure we are up to speed on what’s going on with the client. We work directly with the sales team and gather information from them. We talk about any commitments with respect to shipping promotions and any special interests the school might have. The sales team can let us know the school’s interest level in charging to a student account, how the school communicates with student and what the broad timeline is for opening the store.
After that, a member of my team will reach out to our contact at the school and do an initial call that could be anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour, depending on the depth. We go over the full timeline for the first term, talk about all the elements we need to consider, talk about how we will handle the booklist in broad strokes, communicate out to students what services we need to have in place, and reconfirm interest level in things like marketplace and digital.
How long does it usually take to go through implementation?
Well, our best recommendation is to look at when they want the store to be open and build the timeline out from there. Most schools want the store to be open kind of early for HEOA compliance. You want the booklist information that is available to be accessible to students at registration.
We’d like to have the booklist settled at least four weeks ahead when the store opens. If the store is opening four weeks before classes start — which gives students a month to get check out the Online Bookstore, get familiar and place their orders — we’re probably looking at an 8-12 week implementation. But, if we are trying to open much earlier for HEOA, then we have to look at how that moves the book work stuff back. That’s why it is important for us to have buy-in from the academic folks. The department heads and faculty need to be prepared to coordinate and make sure that information flows to us.
What does MBS Direct do to help cultivate that buy in?
High level, we lay out the transition plan so everybody knows what the expectations are and what their responsibilities are. We have really strong tools to help with all the elements involved.
Course Director and our reporting options not only help schools gather the kind of information they need, but it also helps organize the information. For schools who are stuck in systems where they are passing around a bunch of emails and spreadsheets, these tools tell you who completed the work and what still needs to be done.
What is the main disruptor that comes up during a transition?
The booklist is the main thing. It’s really the best and most significant thing for us to focus on from the start. Really the rest of the timeline built around when the school can get that in and when they want the store to open. We fit everything else around those dates and flesh out the timeline.
Do you have advice for schools when they are putting that booklist together?
We have some communication pieces we can share with schools to help announce the transition. That’s a good opportunity to lay out the timeline and make sure it’s clear whether faculty are doing the submissions or department heads are organizing the booklist. Individuals can understand what their responsibility is ahead of time and know what their deadlines will be.
Some schools are really on top of that already. They already have that information gathered before my team, or account manager, starts working with them.
Do you find that schools may over estimate the difficulty of the transition?
We do everything we can to make the transition simple for them. It’s really a point of pride for our group. We have good reference materials help guide schools through the different services.
It’s pretty consistent that we hear the transition went smoother than expected, and the students have an easier time using the bookstore than expected. Also, people find Course Director easier to use than expected. It can sound a little daunting when you talk about this site where they are going to create courses, adopt books, approve and submit items, specify if the item is required or optional, and choose what options are available to students. But once they get in there and have a pass, they see it is intuitive.
Does the size of the school change the process?
Not really. A lot of what we do is scalable. Whether you are submitting a voucher file for 50 students or 5,000 students, it doesn’t matter if the school has the reporting tools to collect the information that they need. Our work is the same. It changes the volume of orders, but what we need to accomplish is really the same.
What are the biggest challenges for schools on a tight deadline?
The biggest pitfall happens when there are surprises and there is no time to make adjustments. It comes down to the basic logistics. If we have a tight turnaround on an implementation and an adopted book isn’t one we carry, it can be a challenge to make sure it is available when the store opens. One of our biggest goals is to make sure we have the necessary materials in hand when we open the store. We don’t want to have backorders out there. We don’t want the students’ first impression of the store to be that their book isn’t there.
Is there an ideal amount a time a school might set aside for a transition?
I would like to have eight weeks before they would like the store to open, but there are times when we have done it in four weeks. It’s important to know that when we say we need these eight weeks or four weeks, that doesn’t mean it is a full-time job for the contact at the school. It is just someone we can work with during that period who can reach out to faculty to get them to work with us on submitting the booklist or can collect that information and put it into Course Director.
Typically, the person has served as a liaison for another similar company or worked in their self-operated bookstore and has established relationships with the administration or faculty.
When do integrations take place?
It can happen any time. Usually, the earlier we talk about integrations the better. We have a lot of options available to schools. Some are pretty easy to accomplish for any of the platforms that are LTI compliant. But, if we’re talking about something a bit deeper than the off-the-shelf items where we are engaging more directly with student accounts, then that’s something which requires developmental resources from the school and from us. Both sides have to commit to doing the integration and establish that timeline.
What’s the main benefit of integrations?
Anything that makes it easier for students to order is good for everyone involved. Vouchering, Shop by Schedule and CourseLinks all work toward that end. It is with integrations like that where we need to make sure we have someone at the school who can work on pulling information that we can use.
It’s one of those things where everyone sees the benefit, but may not have immediate access to tools necessary to set it up. By and large, most of that investment is focused on the set-up. Most of the integrations operate themselves after they are set up properly. That’s why a lot of times a school might decide to focus on adopting some of the integrations later.
What’s one thing schools can do to make sure their implementation goes well?
The most important thing is to work together to establish that timeline. Also, as trivial as it might sound, having someone at the school who will pick up the phone when you call is a big thing. We can accomplish a lot more, a lot faster, if that line of communication is open.