by Hung V. Le
June 2003

In the recent years, concerted efforts have been made to re-design the processes to make them more student-centered. The OneStop initiative was begun to create a centralized means of triggering effective workflow processes, allowing for a more integrative delivery of student services. In addition, the definition of "users" has been redefined to include the students as a critical user group, who need access to the information systems 24 x 7 rather than only during "normal business hours."

The current enterprise resource planning (ERP) system suite was first purchased in 1986 and has been upgraded with various releases from our vendor. At the time of the purchase, the end users of the ERP were considered to be administrative university staff, housed in specialized areas with specific functions. Each area functioned within its own silo, often reporting to different vice presidents overseeing distinctly different areas of the university. For example: Student Accounts reported to the VP for Finance; Registrar reported to the VP for Academic Affairs; Financial Aid reported to the Vice President for Enrollment Management; Admission reported to the Dean of the college. Each functional area maintained its own set of data within its own operational as well as informational structure; its tasks were clearly defined and closely guarded. The business processes were designed to ensure a high level of accountability and efficient tracking of such accountability. The division of labor and the separateness of information storage and maintenance assured that such efficiency of process tracking could be achieved.

Within such an environment, the ERP was built and developed with distinct and unconnected informational databases. As the need for information within each area surfaced, new and more layers of databases and information files would be created and maintained. The redundancy of information input and storage is a built-in feature of this system. Since the databases are not connected, sharing information is often a difficult and tedious process. Information does not "flow freely" nor transfer from one database to another. As the need for shared information increased, "bridges" were built for information to travel from one functional area to another. These "bridges" were built via complicated COBOL computer programs that were written to aid in the customizations of the various modules of the ERP suite. These customizations need to be maintained and adjusted with each new upgrade released by our software vendors.

The users of the adminstrative systems were trained specifically to access the system for specific purposes. Most of the administrative staff learned a specific series of non-intuitive steps to perform specific functions. Most often, the understanding of the whole systems and information flow was limited to the immediate task. As functions and adminstrative needs evolved, more layers and parts were added to the original ERP suite. The "vehicle" which we currently use to deliver critical information needed to provide effective service to our students resembles a Gypsy Wagon from which many seemingly disconnected but all vitally important parts hang.

The current system was originally designed with the administrative functions and staff at its core. It is built to support a system which is process-centered. The processes were traditionally designed to support the disparate nature of the functional areas. The evolutionary development of functional areas occurred within the context of themselves rather than the integrated evolution of the whole enterprise. The inflexible nature of the non-relational information databases structure became much more cumbersome to manage as the University changed its adminstrations and adjusted its organizational structure. As functional areas were moved outside of its originally-based silos, ad hoc programs were written and developed to allow them access to information that was now inaccessible to them. The lack of information sharing built into the system also required that the students who needed administrative support were often forced to engage in a complex web of activities involving travelling to multiple offices, re-authenticating themselves and re-telling their stories. Area-specific information was often incomplete, requiring multiple steps of confirmation and reconfirmation between and among offices before an adminstrative transaction would be complete. For example: A student who needed to order a transcript would have had to begin the process at the Registrar's Office, go to the Student Accounts Office to receive financial clearance on the system and on paper, pay at the Cashier's Office (and return to the Student Accounts Office if the payment was to clear the account), and bring the receipt back to the Registrar's Office before a transcript could be produced.

Informed by the technology review of the current systems involved in the delivery of student services, following is a plan which has been compiled from a collaboration with staff members from the University's Information Technology group, industry consultants, the Student Services Council, user groups from throughout the University, and the ERP Steering Committee:

Vision for new adminstrative systems

  • Increased self-service capabilities
  • Streamlined, automated and effective workflows, providing for better administrative processes that better meet the needs of our consituents
  • Shared information made more possible
  • Single data source
  • Enable better academic advising planning for the students as well as their advisors
  • Enable better curriculum planning
  • Accurate and accessible data

Proposed affordances of new adminstrative system that would better support the integrated model of student services delivery

  • Internet-based... This is a must!!!
  • Single data storage
    • Overall integration of data across systems
    • Share information with all university systems and personnel as permitted by security levels as defined by roles
    • Ease of input, eliminate multiple input requirements of same information
  • Robust workflow automation capabilities
    • Alerts/triggers to notify appropriate personnel of action reequired
    • Minimal manual interventions by users
  • Live, real time data interface and processes; thereby eliminating the need for batch processing. Systems would be available 24x7, with extremely minimal down time for upgrades and maintenance rather than for continual information batch processing and manual updates.
  • More provisions for eforms and paperless processing
  • Ease of use, intuitive
  • What-if analysis capabilities for financial aid calculations, degree requirement audits, changes of major or academic programs, payment options, etc...
  • Consolidated and holistic views of critical student information; thereby eliminating the need for multiple systems searches
  • Minimize peripheral systems and need for interface programs
  • Able to manage the "life cycle" of students: from prospects to alumni
  • Support single sign-on authentication across multiple systems
  • Flexible and intuitive portal, user-focuses rather than system focused
  • Supports requirements of Financial Aid
    • Online application (interfaces with Admission, requirements tracking, online authorizations and consent granting)
    • Automated budgeting (supports multiple programs/schools enrollment by same student, capable of handling multiple tuition rates/prorations, etc...)
    • Automated packaging (real time processing, automated renewal, prioritization of sources of funding, etc...)
    • Robust disbursement rules that are user-defined as well as updated regulatory compliance issues
    • Automated refunds of Title IV funds
    • Online loan processing
  • Supports requirements of Student Financials
    • Auto refunds, including direct deposit of student refunds
    • Integrated tuition/fee calculations based on multiple user-defined rules and timeframes
    • Online bills and payments with real time updates to student accounts and other related student information components (i.e. registration holds, loan payments, etc...)
    • Online payment plan selection
    • Full view of student account history
    • Holistic view of student finances, including outstanding net aid, payment options, account balances, financial activity, etc...
    • Flexible bill production schedule and formats
    • Direct and real time updates to university financial systems
    • Integrated with human resources system to calculate tuition discounts when appropriate
  • Supports requirements for student records
    • Allows for non-standard terms in all areas (permit course scheduling, financial aid processing, correct charge applications for tuition and fees, etc...)
    • Forecasting/planning (allow for ease of curriculum planning based on students' enrollment information, classroom and scheduling management)
    • Supports multiple schools/degrees/major requirements, thus allowing for more cross-school degree formations within the University.
    • Self-help degree audit analysis via the what-if scenarios.
    • Holistic view of students' academic progress by student and advisors
    • Allows for multiple course set up attributes, allowing for cross major planning
    • Automated pre-requisite and co-requisite functionalities
    • Co-curricular portfolio building
    • Student Portfolio building
    • Online registration for single or multiple terms by students and/or staff for the students
    • Automated and/or interventive waitlist processing
  • Supports requirements for Admission/Recruiting
    • Online application (including fee payment, essay and recommendations submission, tracking of status of application/missing information)
    • Track marketing efforts
    • Automated/triggered communication plan
    • Online evaluation by admission staff
    • Robust reporting
    • Automated transferrence of information for matriculation purposes
    • Prospect/applicant able to track progress of file

The benefits of a new integrated, web-based administrative system

  • Provides the framework from which we can streamline business processes and strive for common business practices across schools
  • Reduces time and effort spent executing paper-based process or reconciling disparate shadow systems
  • Enhances our ability to serve our students in critical areas like academic career planning and web self-service
  • By moving to 100% internet we’ll expand our capability to provide self-service for all our constituencies – students, prospective students, alumni, parents, donors, staff, faculty, and friends
  • Internet-based systems allow for remote access and work locations (work anywhere, anytime)
  • 24/7 access means no down-time. Our overseas students can register, pay bills and other self-service activities anytime.
  • Modern systems are better suited to support a more student-centered approach to the integrated delivery of student services.
  • Will increase our ability to remain compliant with state and federal regulatory requirements
  • Improves the accuracy and timeliness of the information we use to make financial decisions.
  • Workflow capabilities can enable us to automate processes, eliminate paper and decrease turn-around time for processes requiring approvals (e.g. automated approvals for requisitions)
  • Single data store will improve efficiencies by reducing redundant data and increasing accuracy. Name, address and bio-demographic data will be stored once as opposed to multiple times in our current environment.
  • Reporting and analysis will be less complicated on a new ERP system allowing for more people to extract and analyze.
  • What-if capabilities will allow for better forecasting and planning.
  • An integrated system will increase collaboration and information sharing among functional areas, moving us from segmented silos to an integrated and connected community.
  • Workflow and other automation will allow for staff to spend more time providing high-touch services rather than maintaining paper and manual processes.
  • Allows us to remain competitive by providing services that are now expected in the marketplace (e.g. self-service, web-enabled)

Macro-level action steps

  • Perform industry analysis, including new ERP technologies, trends, operational structures of peer institutions, and available software providers. Engage services of industry leader in technology consulting groups in assisting us with this critical analysis.
  • Assess current technological infrastructure of organization (hardware, software, peripheral systems, organization chart, staffing, management).
  • Evaluate current institutional information technology strategic plan with regards to what steps are being taken to keep up with technological changes that would better meet our needs.
  • Develop new strategic plan that is more in line with current technology as well as the vision for future technology.
  • Acquire conceptual approval from University Steering Committee for the process of pursuing a new ERP suite.
  • Form project steering committee to work with project manager. The committee represents user groups throughout the institution as well as the interest of the institution as a whole.
  • Engage the community of users in evaluating our current practices as they relate to our current uses of technology from all levels. This is a critical step in the process, which requires involved conversations to gather complete information, possibly yielding important information regarding redundant processes and cumbersome practices that could be re-engineered with the assistance of new and better technology.
  • Engage the community of users in "dream sessions"... to think beyond what we currently have and to create future scenarios of how our practices can be shaped by technology.
  • Set scope for project. Use qualified industry consultants to engage a representative group of users from throughout the University to collaborate on the design of the scope of the project. Based on the dream list that had been previously compiled, it is the group's job to determine what would be in-scope and what would be out of scope. Technology Requirements need to begin to be specified at this time... This is one of the most critical steps... What do we want the new system to be able to do for us.
  • Send out Request for Information and Request for Proposal to selected vendors that had been narrowed down for us by previous research by internal people as well as consultants.
  • Steering committee determines evaluation criteria based on industry consultants' analysis, strategic plan components, culture and need of institution, and congruent visions between our institution and providers of ERP software.
  • Dog and Pony Show: Vendors demonstrate what they can do... and we get to evaluate how well they meet our needs...
  • Evaluate vendors based on established criteria, including functionality, risk factors, vision, ability to execute, etc...
  • Make recommendation to University Steering Committee regarding critical affordances and limitations for each ERP package and its respective provider.
  • Executive decision based on information provided. Once the decision is made, it is critical for institutional executives to support and remain committed to the process of implementation.
  • Evaluation of business practices and determine business process changes to help us best leverage the new technology. At this point, it would be important to engage professional implementation partners who are experienced with the chosen software to assist us is two critical areas:
    • Readiness assessment: Determine our current information technology (IT) infrastructure and staffing. What do we need to do to gear up for the implementation process (i.e. staff training, moratorium on new projects, certifications, etc...)
    • Fit/Gap Analysis: Determine what the software can provide with regards to our current practices. Determine what we are currently doing that will not be supported by the new software without customizations. Determine what must be changed: the software or the practices.
  • Implementation will be based on what we have decided as the business practices model. Each step will be evaluated against the agreed upon scope and the pre-established business practices.
  • Training will take place during implementation... The most difficult part will be the maintenance of current operations while the new operation is being implemented. Some things to consider: 1) increased backfill staff, including training time for temporary staff to assist current staff during training and implementation 2) extra support staff to maintain parallel system during the cross-over 3) commitment to sticking to project scope with extremely little to no changes in software and systems 4) moratorium on new projects on old system.
  • Pray... pray a lot... throughout the process!!!
  • Consistent communication to user groups throughout the process to let everyone know what is going on and the progress of the project... Minimize surprises!!!

Budget Considerations

This plan calls for the most significant technological investment we will be making in almost two decades. The abovementioned benefits of this investment cannot be understated. In order for us to effectively conduct business, it is necessary to move in this direction. While there will be some cost savings in increased efficiencies produced by a new administrative system, there is no denying the inherent costs in making such a change. Following are some important components to be considered in formulating the budget:

  • Software and licensing: This will be one of the least expensive of all components. The price for these items are negotiated upfront and will stay fixed once the contract is signed. It is critical to complete the fit/gap analyses prior to contract signing so that certain required customizations can be included in the fixed costs, requiring vendor to honor the contract for the life of the system. This will mean that the vendor must include these customizations in each of their upgrades in the future. If this is not done, costs will continue to increase with each system upgrade.
  • Implementation Cost: This is where the biggest risks lie. Industry experience shows that significant cost overrun occurs during implementation because 1) scope was not clearly defined at the outset, 2) lack of excutive support for commitment to project or to established scope, 3) customizations of software 4) lack of effective communication, leading to redundant work by consultants as well as internal staff, 5) inadequate internal staffing to continue to manage daily operations while training and implementation are going on for new system. The risks can be mitigated by effective preparation such as a thorough readiness assessment and fit/gap analyses.
  • Business Process Redesign (BPR): The fit/gap analyses will reveal some critical business processes that will need to be evaluated and redesigned to be more effective in providing services under the new system scenario. The cost of resources, both staffing and materials, must be considered here as well.
  • "Back-fill" Staff: During the implementation and training phase, line staff as well as management will need to be thoroughly involved in the process while still maintaining operation and service to the community. It is critical to provide for back up support for the staff who are involved with the implementation. Costs must include recruiting and training of the temporary staff who will serve as back-ups.
  • Maintenance of dual systems during implementation, testing and training.

Some of the cost of the new system will be offset by the foregoing of peripheral or shadow systems that are currently in place with the legacy system. The new software suite will provide enhanced and more robust technology management tools that will render such add-on systems obsolete. In addition, the maintenance costs for the multiple peripheral systems will also be eliminated, offering more savings to the overall technology budget.

How will we know this plan is a success?

  • Students will be able to access their information from anywhere in the world at any time.
  • Staff will be able to access student information easily and have full view of information necessary to effectively serve students.
  • Business processes will be streamlined; workflow will be ubiquitous.
  • Staff time will be spent in advising students rather than maintaining paper trails
  • Staff is enabled to serve students anywhere there is a PC.
  • Integrated delivery of student services will be ubiquitous among university personnel.
  • "I can't do that" will become an anomaly in staff's service vocabulary.

Back to top