North Dakota University Systems – Making a Connection
In 2022, North Dakota University Systems (NDUS) went live with Nelnet Campus Commerce after being with another payment vendor for over a decade.
With 11 different campuses across NDUS, this immense implementation project was successfully completed in 11 months.
Time for a Change
After over a decade of partnership with their payment solution vendor, and a partnership that felt one-sided, North Dakota University Systems (NDUS) knew they needed a change.
“With our prior product, there were some pain points, there really were,” shared Tom McNaughton, Director of Student Information System.
Students were unhappy with the extended wait times when accessing their payment portal, and staff were frustrated with a lack of customization and branding options as all campus locations shared a single instance of the ERP.
“NDUS having 11 institutions underneath one instance, we weren’t able to customize communications and provide branding,” explained Dee Muir, Assistant Director of Campus Solutions, NDUS. Not to mention the almost non-existent customer service from their vendor. “With our prior vendor, it would be weeks before we would hear responses and we basically lost hope in submitting any cases,” Muir continued.
Additionally, they wanted each campus and their various campus departments to have the ability to create and manage their own online stores, which was not possible on the current system.
Starting the Search
In order to change to a different platform, NDUS had to send out an RFP (Request for Proposal). Virgil Lloyd, Senior Business Development Executive for Nelnet, was familiar with NDUS from various national conferences, like the Alliance conference, and when they went into the RFP process is when conversations really started to unfold between NDUS and Nelnet.
“When I initially started talking with the key stakeholders at NDUS, one theme that was evident in all those conversations was user experience and a better, more robust, faster user experience for their students and improving that,” explained Lloyd.
Nelnet knew this implementation was multifaceted and would require a phased approached with a considerable amount of planning and numerous, willing participants from the institution.
It Takes a Village
The goal was to get all 11 campuses live within 12 months. “I think people were nervous right away hearing the timeline,” shared Ashley Hanson, Student Financials Business Analyst, NDUS. According to Lloyd, over 100 different people were involved in various areas of this implementation. These areas included:
- Integration Specialists and IT Resources
- Core Project Team
- Key Stakeholders and Subject Matter Experts
- Executive Steering Committee and Project Sponsors
At certain points of the implementation, different associates were brought in from the Nelnet side as they had a deeper understanding of the products and could listen to the needs of the specific institutions.
“We always hear from vendors ‘No problem; we can do that!’ but then when we get into the project and a discovery happens, then all of a sudden the vendors’ eyes become wide. That didn’t happen with Nelnet,” expressed McNaughton.
Successful Go Live
In mid-2022, NDUS officially went live with Nelnet Campus Commerce products. In less than a years’ time, Nelnet was able to completely implement all of the payment technology and eCommerce solutions NDUS had chosen.
“Nelnet was really on board trying to make sure NDUS was successful, which we had a 100 percent success rate with all of our implementations and all of our integrations,” shared McNaughton.
We had 11 campuses, three different main products to implement, and 12 months to do it. It could have felt very stressful. But Nelnet didn’t make it stressful, as we had great project management on both sides that really kept us on track.– Ashley Hanson, Student Financials Business Analyst, NDUS
With the entire implementation being complete one month ahead of schedule, the results were immediate. Now, NDUS students were connecting to the payment portal within three seconds, compared to the previous 90 seconds or longer it would have taken. “We were timing it as we were floored at how quick it was,” shared Hanson.
Not only were students impressed with the results, so was Shawnia Gurtz, Student Finance Coordinator for Bismarck State. “Once everything was implemented, it was really seamless and felt like we had always been with Nelnet,” she noted.
Implementing Nelnet Storefront
Along with Student Payment and Billing solutions, NDUS added Nelnet Storefront to replace their former online store solution. With Storefront, the online store experience designed for higher education institutions, NDUS was able to give their 11 locations what they had been asking for – the ability to set up and manage their own campus-specific online stores with customizable branding, inventory tracking, and reporting capabilities.
“Some benefits of having Storefront is it not only allows all of these unique storefronts to exist and gives the departments the ability to create a storefront when needed, but all of the reporting is centralized so I can run reports and manage it all in one location even though other departments are managing the storefronts,” explained Gurtz.
Everybody likes how they can configure their own branding when it comes to their storefronts as well because it just makes that user experience better.– Ashley Hanson, Student Financials Business Analyst, NDUS
Using Storefront in Creative Ways
Many institutions in NDUS have been using Storefront in a variety of unique and creative ways. From selling tickets to collecting non-credit course fees to taking birthday cake orders, Storefront is being used for more than just selling books and school swag. Here are how two institutions in NDUS are using Storefront to make an impact on their campus:
North Dakota State University
Though North Dakota State University (NDSU) mainly uses Storefront to sell books, collect testing fees, and as a general store, they also sell event tickets. In April 2022, their student government hosted a prom for freshman and sophomore students. They wanted to give these students an opportunity to experience a prom that they didn’t get to experience in high school because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Storefront was used to sell tickets to this event and track sales.
Bismarck State College
At Bismarck State College (BSC), they too use their Storefront for collecting testing fees. “Students who use Storefront for their testing love that they can create an account and then log right in without having to fill out additional forms. With our last product, this was not possible for them. It really is a timesaver!” expressed Gurtz. Along with this, BSC uses Storefront in a variety of fun ways like Birthday Cake Orders, Kudos & Coffee, and selling booths at their career fair. “Nelnet Storefront has given us unlimited options for connecting with people,” she remarked.
Lessons Learned During Implementation
Towards the end of any implementation, there comes a time of reflection and thoughts on what could have gone differently. For this project, there were three lessons Nelnet reflected upon. First was the use of communication tools as there were some on-boarding challenges due to the application used. Second, Nelnet learned it is important to be consistent in language and terminology as not everyone knows insider acronyms. Third, the project team wished they had started including third-party vendors earlier in the process with clear priorities and timelines.
“When it comes to working with third-parties, you are at the mercy of their timelines,” explained Lloyd.
A Lasting Partnership
Today, NDUS is fully live and operational. Nelnet Campus Commerce continues to provide ongoing innovation and support. “We haven’t even been live for a full year yet and there are things Nelnet has already developed for us. I think that helped build trust in knowing they are still a support,” shared Hanson.
NDUS wanted a partner for progress and that’s what they found in Nelnet. “Whatever your expectations are working with Nelnet, get ready for them to be exceeded,” expressed McNaughton.