What’s Next? Approaches to Implementing New Features and Processes in Slate

Senior Technology Consultant Abby Molen outlines a phased approach.

The number one question my clients asked after this year’s Slate Summit was, “Where do we start?!” The onslaught of new features and system enhancements can be overwhelming for new and seasoned users, and this year’s list was especially intimidating, with a wide variety of changes to tried-and-true system tools like Reports, Deliver and Scheduler. My advice will always remain the same: start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can

No one can implement all of the new features in a single cycle, nor would you want to! Creating a plan for when, how and why you update your system will help you strategically roll out new features that will provide your staff and students with a better overall Slate experience.

Three things to keep in mind:

    • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you feel like you’re not ready to roll something out, it’s okay to wait or launch with a small beta testing group first. The features are not going to disappear because you haven’t used them yet.
    • Test, test and test again. The Slate Test Environments are great sandboxes to try new features without affecting your production database, and making sure you test new features before launching will ensure you know what questions to expect from students and staff.
    • Don’t polish shiny objects. Focus on improving pain points and smoothing out your back-end processes before moving on to the “bells and whistles” of Slate. It’s great to have portals for all your campus constituents, but only if they have the data and access they need.

Using a Phased Approach

I recommend taking a page from Marvel Studios’ book and creating “phases” for your Slate implementation or improvement process. Outlining your divisional goals for each phase can help focus your team, set expectations and give direction to those who wish to learn more about Slate.

Phase One should focus on ensuring your system is functional. You need to be able to receive inquiries and applications, send communications, process decisions and export data to other systems before you can think about student and staff experience in Slate. Building a foundational architecture of properly configured fields, templates, datasets and entities will help you with tracking, reporting and communicating in future cycles. Examples of projects you might include in Phase One would be:

    • Updating your system look and feel to match your website with the Branding Wizard Tool
    • Giving your email templates a refresh using the new Deliver Designer tool
    • Transition from a third party vendor to Slate Payments, which now allows the use of PayPal and Venmo and will soon support other payment types via Stripe
    • Enable Slate.Org for high school counselors to be able to review their students and submit application materials on their behalf
    • Build Entities to manage tables of data to relate to a record, such as scholarships or current enrollment information
    • Set up Active Scheduler so users can have appointments created around their existing calendar, without the need to predetermine appointment slots
    • Design an internal request form to help manage staff requests regarding Slate

In Phase Two, look for ways you can future-proof your system and eliminate year-to-year maintenance. Begin to incorporate new features that will save time and resources, or eliminate manual entry and human error. If you struggle with staff buy-in as you progress through implementation, consider adding two to three quality of life improvements for end-users to ease the transition into Slate. You can also identify those users that show “Slate aptitude” and can take on more responsibility in order for your Slate Captains to delegate day-to-day tasks. 

    • Construct Query Libraries with commonly used Configurable Joins exports and filters, or pull from the examples in the Knowledge Base
    • Create Default Query Templates to save time when building a query in a specific base, or build Deliver Query Templates for your marketing team to import as recipient lists
    • Establish Custom Views for tables that display on record profiles or in other Slate tools in order to help end users see the information they need faster
    • Leverage Dynamic Content Blocks in communications and portals to generate personalized content, without the need for extensive logic
    • Set up internal emails to staff based on the examples from Suitcase or the Knowledge Base
    • Register for Slate Labs for advanced learning opportunities on specific topics

By Phase Three you can start to move beyond the functional and begin to elevate the user experience. Start to think outside of the box and see what other systems or processes that Slate may be able to improve or replace.

    • Customize the way that students and users interact with the system with Custom Portals
    • Build microsites for specific events or programs using Express Portals
    • Create additional Custom Datasets to manage stakeholders who should not have user access
    • Consider moving your student search in-house with custom Drip Marketing campaigns
    • As your system grows and you invite more users into Slate, implement Population and Realm Permissions to limit access to records and objects

Building Your Roadmap

It will be important that your Slate leadership shares an understanding of what should be completed in each phase. As you design your own Slate Roadmap, consider the following questions:

    • What is the goal of each phase that ties the features/processes together? 
    • What is the intended outcome of adding these features or updating these processes?
    • What is the institutional level of priority for this feature or process?
    • How long will it take to complete each project or phase?
    • Who else is involved in completing each project or phase?

Once you have your plan in place, make sure to communicate it to the appropriate Slate stakeholders! Sending a periodic newsletter or providing updates in team meetings can help to demystify the build process and welcome others’ participation in designing your system.

  • Spread the word