Like many higher education institutions, Boston University found itself stuck with a legacy student information system (SIS) whose user interface, Student Link, was outdated, difficult to navigate, and fell short of what students expected from a world-class institution. They engaged Attain Partners to design a Salesforce-based student portal to modernize and improve the student experience at Boston University.
Attain Partners enlisted design thinking methodologies to craft a thoughtful solution that puts the student experience first, using technology to meet their needs and data to drive decision-making.
“After extensive feedback from students regarding our legacy system, we knew they wanted a tool that was more modern, intuitive, and provided self-service. Those ideas turned into the pillars of our design, and we made every decision with them in mind. Putting the students first helped us recenter our thinking throughout the project.”— Alexandra Bellerose, Director of Communications to Enrolled Students, Boston University
A Solution Users Can’t Help but Adopt
Boston University sought a new student portal that would be easy to use and easy to adopt. Attain Partners suggested using design thinking to put the people using the technology before the solution itself, which has proven to increase return on investment (ROI) by up to 106% (Forbes.com). Paired with their larger SIS implementation, this student portal was designed to serve as a single location where students can manage their enrollment, find answers to questions, communicate with advisors, and more.
The goal of Attain Partners’ design thinking approach was to deliver a tool that responds to its users’ needs, wants, and preferences that was technologically feasible and within budget. Unlike traditional digital transformation projects that start with technology, those driven by design thinking tap into user experience before choosing tools and processes. This proved an excellent opportunity to investigate the way Boston University students want to use the portal and provide an intuitive experience built just for them.
Attain Partners approached the project following a four-step process. The result is a solution that is so in-tune with users that they can’t help but adopt it.
Step 1: Get to know the users and their pain points.
Step 2: Uncover the root of their problems.
Step 3: Design creative fixes for the problems at hand.
Step 4: Test and iterate until a near-perfect solution is created.
Goodbye, Outdated System
As part of an effort to modernize the IT systems that provide a better student experience and establish more efficient academic operations across the student lifecycle, Boston University launched the SIS Renewal Program. Boston University needed to replace to the core SIS, and to support this effort several “Companion Projects” were initiated, one of which is the Student Portal Project.
Boston University’s legacy user interface, Student Link, served the university for more than 30 years to provide students access to course registration, advising, financial aid and billing, student employment, dining, and more. While it did the job very well, the disjointed system required users to navigate through specific menu pathways to find the functions they needed.
To improve the student experience, Boston University made the commitment to move from its outdated system to a modern and user-friendly student portal. The University’s goal is to create a comprehensive student experience through the creation of a new student portal where all the information and resources that students need can be found in a single location that is comprehensive, intuitive, and easy to use.
Reinventing the Student Experience with Salesforce
Boston University engaged Attain Partners to create a new student portal and knowledge base to help students easily and quickly get the answers they seek while also centralizing data to improve internal operations.
Design thinking methodologies were employed to get to the root of student needs first and ensure the solution was built-to-last. Attain Partners helped Boston University engage its student community to design a more sustainable, accessible, and enjoyable student experience.
Attain Partners built the MyBU Student Portal with Salesforce Experience Cloud and Salesforce Service Cloud to meet students where they are, taking care to build a solution that will continue to grow with the university and meet student needs for years to come.
Visualizing Design Thinking at Boston University
Boston University’s technology experts were immediately onboard when the Attain Partners team presented the technical solution and architecture, but the functional team, who supports students, struggled to see the vision—they needed to see the solution in practice.
Using design thinking, Attain Partners created a visual mockup prototype and had several sessions with the Boston University team to align on the key issues and ensure we all understood and agreed on the path forward.
“Oftentimes, hearing about a system’s benefits and solutions isn’t enough. Decisionmakers need to see the tool in action before moving forward in the build.”— Jennifer Best, Senior Consultant and Design Thinking Expert, Attain Partners
Thoughtfully Designing a Student Experience
A strong design thinking solution is dependent on collaboration between technology, change management, and functional leaders. The process to develop the MyBU Student Portal was rooted in workshops that enabled Attain Partners and Boston University to align on key problems they were trying to solve as well as defining metrics and objectives to measure success.
Attain Partners established a common language and highlighted the requirements to be met in design and architecture solution documents. They then proceeded to create a prototype solution in Figma, based on needs defined in the workshops, and tie prototype functionality to the components in the solution documents.
Showcasing the paradigm shift required design thinking, Attain Partners continually reinforced a focus on the user experience to ensure the technology was built to support it. Using this approach, Attain Partners assessed feedback from the student portal prototype, implemented fixes, and continued in this manner until the desired solution was reached for a Phase Zero rollout.
As part of an effort to ease the transition to the new student experience, the Project took a phased approach and launched a minimal viable product (MVP) version of the MyBU Student Portal. This initial implementation delivered a new student portal which served as the front door to the legacy Student Link system, while also providing the Salesforce Knowledge and search features, and served up content that was previously not available on the legacy system. A benefit of the initial Phase Zero launch was to leverage the MyBU Student Portal to communicate upcoming changes as part of the overall SIS replacement and ongoing improvements to the student experience.
Working in partnership, the Attain Partners and Boston University Business CRM teams first defined what, specifically, students search for and do in the student portal. We then designed and implemented the functionality within Salesforce Experience Cloud and Salesforce Knowledge to facilitate these processes while Boston University teams crafted the content for students to consume.
Phase Zero was successfully launched in March 2023 and the team is actively monitoring usage data and evaluating search results, which has enabled data-driven decisions for content updates.
Phase One will launch in the Spring of 2024 and will deliver a fully reimaged student experience, including personalized and audience-based content and real-time data integration with the new SIS to display key academic data—such as the daily class schedule, to-dos, account holds, and university academic messages—on the MyBU Student Portal homepage. Along with the new set of features, there will also be updated content and training guides within the MyBU Student Portal to support students as they adopt the new system.
Boston University is Determined to Provide the Best Student Experience
Boston University wanted to provide the best student experience possible throughout the SIS system replacement while both staying within their designated timeline and providing guidance to students using the system. Beginning with an official go-live in March 2023, Attain Partners and Boston University launched the new MyBU Student Portal.
Design thinking solutions always focus on human experience first to support real, identified needs and the way in which users want to use the system. Nothing can paint that picture better than Boston University’s success of over 18,000 unique logins in the first week the new portal was launched while students were still on spring break. They couldn’t help but use the new system specifically designed to fit their needs!
Attain Partners and Boston University will continue the phased approach and monitor student portal search data to further improve the experience. Phase One development is currently underway and will provide more individualized content to student users to ensure all their questions are being answered.
“It has been amazing to work with the Boston University team. Everyone embraced the student needs throughout the project which has created a site that truly is a value-add for BU students. The collaboration between Attain Partners, BU business stakeholders, and the BU CRM team has been key to the continued success as we work towards our Phase One launch.″— Jessica Simonetti, Senior Consultant, Attain Partners
Attain Partners – Salesforce Experts
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