Next Generation of Implementation

Hannah Adams

April 6, 2021

“When we first started Handshake, the early team members went on a road trip around the US and visited lots of universities that were open to talking with us. We did this because we wanted to listen and learn about what they were looking for in the future of technology. But a memory that none of the early team will ever forget was one early on conversation we had with a Career Service Director.” - David Shull

After seeing a rough demo of the Handshake platform, the Director said “This looks really interesting, but I’d rather retire than switch systems”. Ouch. That must have been hard to hear as a group of technologists who had set out to build a new career platform. What was it about implementation that was so bad?

The early Handshake team sought to better understand this statement and found that poor previous system implementation experiences had been drawn out, sometimes for years, by a lack of communication, clear resources, support, and a complicated product. They set out to change that.

The best implementation experience ever.

Since Handshake was founded in 2014 the company has gone from 0 → 1,100 universities in six years. Almost all of these institutions transitioned from a legacy system. During peak implementation years, Handshake supported over 300 universities' transitions per summer. No other provider has implemented more universities faster.

Handshake recognises that quantity and speed are second to quality. Below are some statistics that reflect the success that Handshake and our partners are experiencing.

Handshake has scaled faster than any company in the EdTech sector while maintaining our unwavering commitment to being a genuine partner to universities. 

How do we do it?  

In order to deliver a high-quality experience we were forced as an organisation to really try and solve this implementation problem. Handshake has helped make the process far *easier for partner institutions as the benefits and the impact that new technology can have has been recognised across student populations, employers and university-wide teams. Handshake makes the implementation switching cost simple.

Handshake has three guiding principles that work together to define the next generation of implementation. Imagine the concept of implementation, being a journey.


Implementation is a journey. 

Before you decide to go on an adventure, hike or trail, you need a map, a guide and the right tools, to make sure that you get where you are going successfully. Handshake will help you to imagine the parallels here between this adventure and the implementation experience.

A map to help you navigate the process:

How do you know where to start on your journey if you don’t know where you’re going? A map or documentation solves that. Handshake has invested in public documentation, technical and product specific. Our Help Centre is your first line of defence. It contains a wide variety written and video resources for Career Services, Employers and Students! For more information and tips on navigating your way, refer to Handshake Academy. You can find answers to questions such as “How do I post a job?”, “How do I mass email students?”, and many, many more, in the Help Centre.

A guide so you won’t get lost:

Switching systems isn’t a small decision. The Handshake team work beyond the normal support experience to deliver for our partner institutions, their students, and other stakeholders. Handshake aspires to be more than a vendor, but a genuine companion throughout the adventure to support every step of the way.

Handshake has highly invested in its unique model to provide support and success, as having both makes all the difference. A Relationship Manager is assigned to your university for the project management of implementation or translating specific workflows to Handshake. Your Relationship Manager also works as a strategic thought partner with leadership teams to align Handshake with the department’s goals and help guide the way indefinitely! 

The right equipment to get the job done:

Can you imagine setting out on a journey with only a map and a guide? These things are only so useful if you don't have the right equipment from the start.

Handshake provides the right tools for success, and the technology to help make hard tasks seem easier. We understand that people learn in different ways, by offering multiple Handshake webinars and articles that go beyond implementation to support the learning and growing with the platform.

One of the most challenging aspects historically for universities to switch systems is importing data from legacy systems and configuring things like SSO. Handshake recognises that getting those integrated connections with other university systems in place can be a lot of overhead.

Handshake has built dedicated tools, named the Importer and SSO Configuration tool to make it really easy to bring that data over even for people that aren't as technical. With the right equipment available this task can be approachable and become straightforward to get the job done.

Build technology that is easy to implement. 

The idea of building technology that is easy to implement is somewhat counterintuitive. As a supplier you could build the best implementation process in the world, but even if the system is complex, configurable and intuitive it's still going to be a challenge. Handshake has built different elements to combat the implementation process.

Customisation and complexity

Customisation isn’t always a good thing. How many meetings would it take you to determine what elements to put on the homepage? How much time would this simple decision take you and your team?

For most universities, the answer is at least a few hours per decision. The irony is that variance in these decisions across universities create complexity for external stakeholders. Worse yet, they slow the pace of innovation by forcing technology providers to account for a near infinite number of permutations of their software. 

Handshake limits customisation to what really matters such as appointment types, experiences templates and bulk email invitations to contacts. These tools have been built to make onboarding easier for all stakeholders. 

Virtual career fairs is a great case study of how getting this balance pays off. In Spring 2020, Handshake had zero virtual career fair capabilities but we knew it was going to be of paramount importance for our partners. Within three months our design, product, and engineering teams shipped a virtual fair tool. Today, Handshake is the largest provider of virtual career fairs globally. Our teams were able to move quickly and show up for universities because of the way we designed the system.    

Assume you’re in it alone, make it easy for others to support you. 

By acknowledging this fact that, Handshake has been implemented by over 1,100 universities some of which don’t have IT support or their capacity is very limited. As a system provider, if you rely on that type of investment, then you're really scoping who you can work with. Our mission is to democratise access to opportunity and ensure any student can build a great career, being able to support and work directly with any career service no matter the IT resources of that institution.

Handshake helps to limit the back and forth required to accomplish tasks like the following:

  • Getting data into Handshake: The Importer tool streamlines getting data into the platform. You can think of the Importer as a translator between a CSV file and Handshake. Evidently, this tool handles a lot of sensitive data but you can expect a 24 hour turnaround for your file to be run or to receive feedback from the Handshake team. This real time feedback means IT teams can quickly iterate on files making the integration process more efficient.

IT teams can also visit the Handshake Documentation Guide to check out the three key steps required to get Handshake ready for launch.

  • Setting up Single Sign-On: Handshake’s self service tools make configuring SSO quick and easy. Switching systems might not be fun - but it doesn’t have to be inefficient. 

Two of our UK university partners share a bit about their experience of setting up SSO with Handshake.

"I got some documentation from Handshake with all the required information. I gave that to our infrastructure engineers and they created a simple Azure app that passed the required AD claims through our authentication system to the endpoint and it worked the first time! Then it was just the case of making sure the auth_id column in the integration file matched with the claims provided by the app. It's so helpful having a dedicated SSO ID field, so thank you for thinking of that. It was all really straightforward thanks to the great documentation. That was that, I haven't really thought about it since!"

Will Foley (Digital Experience Systems Analyst at Falmouth University)

“What I can say about the implementation process was that it was pretty seamless and relatively quick and painless. The Handshake documentation was clear and concise. When I had any contact with our IT department, I would always check whether they had any questions and the answer was always no, the documentation spells it all out for us. This was the same with the first student data file we imported with SSO - the documentation was all clear and concise and self-explanatory really. We had regular contact with our Relationship Manager across the whole process: two or three times a week, often daily. We were always aware of what we needed to do, and what Handshake were doing - we never felt left on our own, or as though we had to come up with solutions to issues we found by ourselves.”

Jason Steers (Data, Technology & Communications Project Officer at University of Liverpool)

More than 1,100 universities have implemented Handshake - you can too.

The technology used by universities matters more now than ever before. The fear of switching shouldn’t keep you from moving forward. A core value at Handshake is #StudentsFirst. In that spirit, don’t let implementation prevent you from making a change that could impact your students. 

Learn More

To find out more and gain a true understanding of the implementation experience with Handshake, check out our webinar and these mentioned resources.