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Why You Need a Flexible Certification Management System

by | Certification

Does anything ever really stay the same?

Most professions are constantly changing, new tools and technology, new approaches and best practices, and of course, new regulations.  

Certified and licensed professions are no different. Certification boards capture the changes in their profession by conducting the job task analysis (JTA) on a regular basis—every one year, three years, five years, etc. The more the industry changes, the more frequent the job task analysis. Why? For the certification to retain value in the market, it needs to be current. Who wants to study for an exam only to find that the certification is outdated?

Most think of the JTA only applying to the exam blueprint, aka what is on the test. However, a thorough job task analysis will also give certification organizations insight into the community’s professional development needs and direction as a whole. Are there changing demographics? Would a certificate program support new entrants into the profession? Is there a need for a new certification program, or perhaps an advanced certification? Does the organization need to adjust recertification requirements in response to how the current JTA is different from prior JTA’s?

Most certification managers consider the JTA under the umbrella of test development, and it is. Yet, the findings of a well-run JTA may have program considerations that your software will need to support.

A certification board needs a flexible certification management system so that they can respond to their community.

What is a Flexible Certification Management System?

According to Webster, flexible is “characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements.”

When we think about the word “flexible” for certification software, three scenarios come to mind, which are:

  • Adding a new certification program.
  • Changing an existing certification program requirements (either initial applications or recertification).
  • Changing operational requirements, payment options, demographic attributes, audit rules, or grace periods. 

You shouldn’t have to wait six months to a year to add a new application to your certification management system, yet that is the plight of some certification organizations. In addition to being able to add a new application process quickly, you should also have a candidate dashboard so candidates can see where this new certification fits within their professional journey.

Common Program Changes Your Certification Management System Needs to Support

Eligibility Paths – In response to changing applicant demographics, programs may add or remove an applicant eligibility path. Their intent is to broaden the applicant pool, ensure that applicants are sufficiently prepared to pass the exam, or simplify operations by retiring infrequently used paths.

Changes to payment options – In response to other industry stakeholders, such as large employers or membership societies, organizations will often expand who can pay for the application and the discounts offered in the payment process.

Recertification – For recertification, we often see a program make changes in recertification rules in response to the JTA. Perhaps the program adds a CE requirement to a new domain area, or the introduction of an assessment.

Regardless, the board needs to “grandfather” the existing certificants who signed up under one set of rules while introducing these changes.

This is one of the trickier changes that certification boards often need to make—changing rules mid-program cycle. So how do you establish the new requirements while grandfathering the old rules for a period of time? 

We do this by establishing two recertification applications organizing the participants into cohorts—one under the prior rules, another under the new rules. Over time, the grandfather cohort rolls into the new.

Managing more than one set of rules for a program really tests the flexibility of a certification management system. 

Tips for Selecting a Flexible Certification Management System 

Let’s start with a basic premise. Flexible certification management software doesn’t require any development. You should have a set of tools that will allow you to configure your certification application and your recertification application.

While a vendor may promise that their system is flexible to meet your organization’s needs, if they are custom developing it “just for you,” you are going down the path of custom software development. Your primary post launch risk is that you will not have certainty around the level of effort in time and dollars that subsequent program changes will involve. Even if this meets your needs today, you are at risk of the vendor not being able to meet future needs due to the constraints of custom development.

In the system selection process, here are a few tips to help you ferret out how flexible the certification software is.

#1 What Is the Vendors Implementation Process? 

In a flexible certification management system, you should be an active participant in the configuration process. You should see your program unfold in the system week by week with no surprises.

Ideally, you could be trained to make these changes yourself, if you want.

#2 Does the Vendor Introduce New Features for the Certification Community at Large? 

For your program to continue evolving, you want a software platform that is a little ahead of where your program is today and tomorrow. The vendor’s innovations give you the option of adopting new features in the future without having to change software platforms.

#3 See It to Believe It 

Can your vendor show you how to configure an application in a live system demo?

As simple as this may sound, ask to change a label (like CE units to PD units), or the number of CE units required, or if a document is needed at a certain step, or cycle grace period.

In a configurable system, this is easy to change and to demonstrate.

#4 Pilot the System

Is your vendor willing to set up a pilot engagement so that you can pilot your program rules in a sandbox environment?

For programs that have more complex rules or program managers who would like additional assurances that the system can support their needs, a small pilot is a great way to “try each other on” and test assumptions.

Pilots are not free. It should cost 10-25% of your implementation budget. Remember, the vendor is dedicating resources to the pilot and is betting that their system and team will meet your needs.

As you consider your next system, consider the value of flexibility in the system selection process. A flexible system is one that you are less likely to outgrow and will enable your program growth and innovation. As you go through the system selection process, identify the areas you anticipate will change in your program over the next three to seven years. Then, ensure that the vendor can meet these changes through system configuration, not customization, so that technology does not become your constraint to program growth.

Getting Started With Heuristic Solutions

Heuristic Solutions provides software solutions for certification and licensing boards that improve your process efficiency, reduce staff time, and enhance your brand. To learn more about our flexible certification management system and how we configure it, sneak a peek at one of our webinars and connect with us on our contact page or schedule a meeting with one of our sales team.

Heuristic Solutions is a leader in software and technology for certification, licensure, and accreditation. Partner with us today, and we’ll modernize your system to better serve your organization.


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