IT, with Honors
An equally important benefit was the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience in Oracle’s higher education consulting practice. Oracle’s ability to provide both the software and the implementation team reassured Dobrin that the sheer scale of the implementation wasn’t likely to topple the effort.
Oracle’s record of success in helping campuses of all types and sizes made it an attractive choice for implementing the PeopleSoft solution that would be responsible for everything from student registration, financial aid processing, and student demographics to human resource and financial operations.
An added appeal was Oracle’s willingness to provide ongoing support, including training, user productivity kits, and access to user groups. The ecosystem of expertise extended beyond Oracle to encompass its entire customer base, including many of the world’s leading academic institutions.
Recognizing User Needs
Throughout the procurement process, CUNY had more than 800 people provide knowledge and information on requirements and how the evaluated solutions met the university’s needs. With this level of involvement, CUNY leaders had a pretty good idea what the solution might look like and how it might transform the university into a more efficient, more agile, more student-centric educational leader.
The result was a very inclusive RFP that thoroughly reflected the needs and concerns of every department and entity across the university, says Brian Cohen, CUNY’s CIO and one of two CUNYfirst project leaders. It established a baseline work plan that became a solid starting point for the Oracle team’s development work.
CUNY’s inclusive approach to shaping the enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution allowed everyone to accept the notion that rethinking the university’s business processes was essential to success. Job titles were simplified, reports standardized, and accounting and budgeting practices made consistent. Duplicate efforts were consolidated, paper forms eliminated, and information channels streamlined. Business unit vice chancellors and their staffs worked closely with CUNYfirst team members to ensure that in the course of this effort, their community’s key needs were met and their less essential but nice-to-have needs weren’t overlooked.
“Without that kind of involvement, these projects can spin out of control,” says Ron Spalter, CUNY’s deputy chief operating officer who served with Cohen as the other CUNYfirst project leader. “It was the business process community who made it happen. They shared a common vision of excellence and a commitment to the institution and improvements for our students.”
Making the Grade
The overarching goal of the CUNYfirst team was to have every institution running on a single instance of Oracle, with some customized capabilities to meet diverse academic needs and allow each campus to maintain its local identity, but enough standardization to allow data and business processes could be shared across the entire enterprise. Clearly, such a sweeping result would take time and a willingness to adjust course, as needed. The team set an ambitious implementation schedule of five years, with completion scheduled for 2012.
So far, so good. The general ledger system went live in June 2008, followed by Oracle human capital management solutions (HCM) in June 2009. To reach that point, the CUNYfirst staff had to corral data hiding in disparate homegrown systems into a unified ERP database. Not surprisingly, that proved to be a major challenge. Immediately preceding the selection of PeopleSoft, CUNY had undertaken an initiative to develop a data warehouse, which proved to be an invaluable tool for data conversion and correction.
“We found problems with the data—but the CUNY team did a stellar job in converting and validating the data in a short span of time,” noted Ginger Waters, CUNY’s vice chancellor of human resources. “No matter how confident you are that the data is in good shape, you always find some surprises.”
Better Information Universitywide
But the rewards of database conversion were sweeping. Virtually every aspect of the university’s operations are being simplified and improved.
Users are now able to access complete, accurate and comprehensive data. With more accurate information about employees, university management is able to assign faculty more effectively to manage class size and better meet student needs. Universities deal with such challenges all the time, but seldom across the number of locations and with the number of people that CUNY has.