Enterprise Technology: Selling the Vision

The difference between an enterprise technology implementation that soars and one that dies a painful death is planning, people, and—most of all—vision.

There is nothing quite like an integrated information system (IIS) project. In fact, you haven’t really earned your stripes until you’ve been through one. Simply put, the IIS project is not for the faint of heart. There are those who will switch jobs just to get the opportunity to lead IIS projects, and there are those who will retire early, just to avoid taking part in one.

IIS projects can make careers, or they can burn out a whole series of leaders over several years. They can produce headline-making increases in efficiency, or they can tally up awe-inspiring cost overruns.What determines success or failure? If there is a single crucial factor, it is the recognition that IIS projects are about integrating campus functions, not just about technology or software. That is why top-level planning must play a key role; that is why the project has to be tied to institutional priorities.

Examine the Planning Process

If you want your IIS project to succeed, it will pay you to study the top-level planning situation at your campus. Knowing how that planning process works—or d'esn’t work—in your institution can help smooth the way for IIS and similar projects, and can alert you to obstacles that your project might stumble over. If the campus planning process isn’t what it should be, you can add elements to your integration process to make up for the planning deficiencies and make your project more stumble-proof. Here’s how IT professionals and campus administrators at the heart of enterprise integration in diverse institutional types with different planning cultures have met their own challenges.

Northern Virginia Community College:
Turning around a troubled project and low morale

The student information system project at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC, or NOVA, as it is often called) was in serious need of rescue. Over five years of planning and work had been spent on implementing an integrated PeopleSoft (www.peoplesoft.com) student information system (SIS) across the 23-college Virginia Community College system, and the largest VCCS institution by far, Northern Virginia Community College, was still not on board. One deadline after another had passed, and the cutover had been postponed for the third time. Morale was low and fear of catastrophe haunted many of the participants.

That fear was well-founded. Serving over 60,000 highly diversified students across five campuses, and with a medical education center slated to come online, NVCC was virtually a system unto itself. While the smaller community colleges in the state system might have been able to glide over the rough spots by using temporary manual systems, the registrars, advisors, financial aid specialists, and business office managers at NVCC knew that switching to a system that did not work flawlessly might do serious harm to the college.

Countering fear and cutbacks. NVCC’s new president, Robert Templin, understood that “harm” was not just a matter of paperwork that might fail to get done. The very concept of increased integration and imposed uniformity posed a threat, he acknowledged. “NOVA is celebrating its fortieth year,” he explains now, looking back. “It has developed a culture. It looked like we were about to implement a technology that people feared would destroy all our traditions.”

Still, Templin had to deliver the news that there was something much worse to fear: The diversified community that the college serves had expanded by 350,000 residents in 10 years, and to meet the needs of that community and continue to support the school’s mission of access, the college needed to grow by 25,000 students, add two campuses, build one million square feet of new facilities, and raise $100 million. Unfortunately, the week that Templin started as president, he was handed a $9 million budget cut. Help from the budget-strapped state of Virginia would not be forthcoming.

The message from the new president to the college community was, “Old solutions like ‘Do more with less’ won’t work. We have to fundamentally re-conceive how we do our work.” That meant integrating new technology tools into teaching and learning to make more effective use of facilities and faculty. It meant growing more non-traditional learning experiences for students who came from all walks of life.

Yet, he pointed out, none of that could happen unless, at the same time, the college made the transition to a new environment for student information systems; the old system scould not keep up with student information coming in from far and wide, and was in danger of restricting access, not fostering it.

Reinvigorating and empowering. Under a new flag, Templin reinvigorated the entire SIS project, and at the same time, moved the college’s mission of diversity forward. Instead of being known as a technology project that kept running into technical and procedural snags, the SIS initiative became a life-or-death project for integrating and streamlining central college services. Then Templin placed the (somewhat surprised) chief academic officer, Hortense Hinton, in charge of the project. (Hinton is now provost of the Manassas campus of NVCC, but was then the interim chief academic officer and VP of Student Services.) The IT organization was reassigned to a support role, charged with enabling the work of the new committee that represented functional users from across the college.

What Templin did was nothing less than endow the student information system committee with real authority to take action. “At one meeting, someone referred to us as the ‘all-powerful SIS committee that is changing this institution.’ I had no idea we wielded such power,” laughs Hinton. “All I knew is that we had a charge to get things done.”

The people part. Part of the SIS committee’s effectiveness came from its organized effort to involve everyone through a formal communication plan. Town meetings, a Web site, and collaborative planning exercises brought people together to deal with the differences in how they did business.

Hinton says that she now sees that her personal people skills were at least as important as her executive title. “I was encouraged to use my abilities to reach out to people, to deal with motivational issues and anxiety as much as with the technology, skills, and training issues. My background in counseling and my coming from student services helped me there. I had been on both sides of the house.” Yet, even she admits that none of those efforts would have worked without some changes in the strategic and institutional planning structure.

“The constant in all this,” Templin maintains, “was the horizon that we fixed through our strategic planning.”

Strengthening the strategic planning process—and the project. Hinton notes that Templin’s strategic changes also “fixed” a real disconnect in the existing collegiate strategic planning process. Prior to her heading up the new SIS committee, she says, “I had served on the planning committee, which was made up of many college representatives. But the real decision-makers,” she recalls, “were the Administrative Council, the provosts of the campuses, and the vice presidents, not those of us sitting on the unwieldy planning committee.” The new president elevated strategic planning to the Administrative Council, defined a clearer relationship between the division deans and the vice president who represented them on the council, and brought the institutional researcher into the council for strategic planning purposes.

This realignment gave strategic planning a more effective role in guiding college decision-making. It also meant more overlap between those performing college planning and those who were coordinating the SIS project.

Moving forward. The new student information system finally did go live at NVCC, with an enthusiastic IT team right behind it. This fall, it registered nearly 5,000 students in a single day using the Web and IVR (interactive voice response)—the largest number ever registered in a 24-hour period.

“We’re connecting with students from all over, and moving forward our mission of diversity,” says Templin. “Old work processes are dying; new ones are being invented. Sometimes there are workarounds; sometimes students stand in line and overloaded servers crash. But we’re pressing on, and it’s getting better. Our eyes are fixed on the destination, not the bumps in the road.”

Lessons Learned:
Credibility

James Alfini, Dean and President,
South Texas College of Law

Understand the importance of the planning leader’s credibility

South Texas College of Law went through both the development of a strategic plan and a new integrated information system (IIS) selection in the first year of James Alfini’s tenure as dean and president. “Technology was not on our radar screen during planning,” he realizes now. “But when I think about the process we went through, I realize it helped us develop a culture that allowed people to think across departmental lines. Everyone had been involved in brainstorming sessions on issues, informing others what they do and how they could be helpful to each other. People came to realize that they genuinely needed an integrated database.” Lessons learned: “During planning, the leader’s style is being tested for credibility. The content of the message could change, but other things come into play: your genuineness, your lack of guile.”

Marygrove College:
Rescuing online study chaos

When Marygrove College (MI) initiated a distance learning version of its Master of the Art of Teaching (MAT) program, it was quickly overwhelmed by its success. While the undergraduate enrollment at the college was about 1,000, in a few months the new study-at-home program had ballooned to 2,500 students. For a college that has a long history and tradition of service to its students and to the community, the new program was straining the school’s ability to meet its own standards. And as administrators were discovering, serving students who never set foot on the campus required a whole different set of resources. To meet the new program’s demands, the MAT program was forced to borrow people from other departments to work part-time during the registration crunch; it was even recruiting senior citizens to help open the mail. The result was chaotic, says Director of Technology David Schulte.

“We’d have a case where a student was working with the books and videos, and would submit her work to the faculty mentor. But there would be no record of her having enrolled; the systems weren’t in sync.”

Integrating systems via improved strategic planning. The answer was to integrate the ad hoc systems that had been developed to administer the MAT program, into the Datatel Colleague system (www.datatel.com) that was used for the on-campus undergraduate program. But the requirements of the two programs were quite different, and it took a year of effort to mesh the two. Aiding the challenging transition was the framework of strategic planning that had been developed at Marygrove—along with a systematic application of the Excellence in Higher Education program—Excellence in Higher Education 2003-2004: A Baldrige-Based Guide to Organizational Assessment, Improvement, and Leadership by Brent D. Ruben http://www.nacubo.org.

The job at Marygrove was not to develop a sense of institutional purpose and dedication to mission. That was already a strength of the institution, because of its history and heritage. Nor was the idea of broad participation in planning difficult to sell.

“This has always been a campus in which the faculty and staff have been participants in deciding what had to occur,” says President Glenda Price. “People always want to be involved, to be consulted.” The challenge, says Price, was helping people to develop the skills to make the needed changes happen.

The college created a managers’ group (a formalized structure that had not been in place before), provided training for first-line managers, and conducted a business process analysis aimed at moving the entire institution toward online registration. The planning framework did not eliminate stress, however.

Lessons Learned: Discussion and Consensus

James Brock, Dean, Sigmund Weis School of Business, Susquehanna University
Take the time for university-wide discussion and consensus

Susquehanna University (PA) business school dean James Brock was asked to lead a university-wide project to determine the best way to replace the campus’s legacy systems, after the hardware manufacturer announced the end of support for the platform they were running on.

“We started our intenal discussions early in the game, at a retreat,” remembers Brock. “We became convinced that this was a healthy way to start, after we heard horror stories about IIS selection. We would visit another school, and there in the bowels of some building, the registrar would spill her story about how wrong things had gone with their selection of a particular system.” Did SU’s long period of planning end up making a difference? “Who knows?” admits Brock. “Could a committee of three have selected the same software package [Datatel; www.datatel.com], maybe a year earlier, with less self-examination? Perhaps. But I have the feeling that everybody feels their thoughts were heard; that we were anticipating consequences. Many people experienced that ‘aha’ moment, when they suddenly realized how their processes looked through the eyes of the people who worked with their output.”

“We’ve lost some people,” admits Price, “and in an environment like this, that is not easy; everyone is shaken up when we lose people. But we lost them for a variety of reasons: In some cases, people were not up to the task that was before them with the changes, or we redefined the jobs and didn’t need certain positions any more. Yet because this was an open process, we talked to everyone, and nothing was hidden. So they knew what was happening and understood, even if they were not happy.”

Fewer calls, less person-hours. Schulte notes that the MAT program used to be inundated with four-to-five thousand telephone calls a month, and manual entry of student registrations required 1,800 person-hours. With the new system, incoming calls have been cut by 50 percent, and now that students register online, the task of assigning students to cohorts is done via a batch process that takes just six person-hours. It’s no surprise that with the changes, the program has now grown to 5,000 students. Most importantly, from an institutional strategic goals standpoint—service to students and community—students receive their study materials and group assignments much more quickly, and lost registrations are a thing of the past. Clearly, Marygrove’s approach to their integration project was right for the college.

Bucknell University:
Integration through conversation

The University Relations division at Bucknell (PA) is housed in one of Lewisburg’s landmark mansions, a 10-minute walk from the center of the main campus. That’s far enough for the people in University Relations to refer to the central administration building as “up the hill.” But until recently, they were separated from the central campus in at least one other way: They did not use the same administrative software system that united the rest of campus.

Lessons Learned:
Accountability

Linda Delene, Provost and VP/Academic Affairs, Western Michigan University
Accountability is the driver; “How are we doing?” is the planning strategy

“We are putting in a student information system, but it is clearly much more than that. The goal is to improve the learning environment for the students with the use of technology, by accelerating or enriching learning,” says Linda Delene, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, Western Michigan University. (WMU recently acquired student information, portal, and business intelligence software from Sungard SCT (www.sct.com).

To do that, she says, “We had first to demonstrate that the modules would be able to account for how we were spending our dollars more effectively. Better information leads to more transparency, which responds to the national push for more accountability. We ended up saying to ourselves, if we buy this package, we will be able to have greater accountability with parents, legislators, and students. Word of mouth among students is very powerful.”

She continues, “We don’t have a strategic planning process that I would call formalistic; rather, it is inclusive. We look at ‘How are we doing?’—not at reams of material and shelves of documents. Our approach is opportunistic: given our problems, what are our opportunities? How can we increase the number of faculty, the quality of the student body, external research funding? With the championing by a new president, we were able to adopt this project, even in a difficult fiscal environment.”

That changed recently when University Relations performed an analysis of its software options and decided to switch to the same system as the rest of the institution. SunGard SCT Banner (www.sct.com) had been in place for years at Bucknell, so UR would be joining a user community that had long ago decided how it wanted to configure the system. Unfortunately, the university’s strategic planning process at that point was not suited to serve as a framework for integration, so the Information Services & Resources division (ISR) and the team working on the Banner project developed an alternative planning method—a framework far from IT-centric.

A plan based on conversations. “Our division’s plan has to respond to everybody else’s plan,” explains Gene Spencer, associate VP for Information Services and Resources. “So we regularly engage the campus community in many conversations. What do you want to achieve over the next five years? How could your work be easier if only technology didn’t get in the way? We also carry on conversations through three advisory committees, a Web leadership group, and the president’s staff.”

Cross-unit cooperation. The credibility and collaborative relationships that this ongoing dialogue generated set the stage for the UR implementation of Banner. “We set it up as a campus project aimed at solving problems for University Relations,” says Spencer. “At least half of the people working on it were not part of the UR Division. Two of the three major committees were led by people not in UR. One of the people who led the project works in Human Resources, and her director freed up her time so she could work on the UR project.” What was ISR’s role? “We position ourselves as a critical partner, not the owner of processes,” insists Spencer.

Campuswide benefits. The result was not only a successful integration of University Relations into the campus mainstream, but benefits for the rest of the campus as well. It turned out that UR’s interest in the capability of tracking personal and family relationships among constituents (which had obvious fundraising and alumni relations benefits) was also useful to other units on campus. Ironically, one such beneficiary was the ISR division itself, which gives accounts to faculty and staff children, but needed a more effective way to track parent-child relationships. The technology organization’s belief in cross-unit cooperation had paid off in more ways than one.

Lessons Learned:
People Are Key

Jeffrey Bartkovich and Marie Fetzner, Monr'e Community College
People—and the mix of people—are key

“The marriage of the mission of the college, strategic planning, and the college information technology plan,” is how Jeffrey Bartkovich describes the IIS project at Monr'e Community College (NY), where he is vice president for Educational Technology Services. The most recent fruit of that marriage is MCC’s plan to convert from SCT Plus to SunGard SCT’s Banner suite.

“By integrating all systems, you also integrate all people,” says Marie Fetzner, assistant to the vice president, and Banner project manager. Her advice for those who will manage a project like hers: “Secure executive-level support right at the start. But make sure the operational decisions are made by a base of people who actually work with the system and know how its parts are interrelated. Involve a mix of people with technical savvy and those with functional expertise; make sure everyone knows the benefits. We also brought in people from other public and private institutions that had already implemented Banner to tell us how it supported their mission.”

Seeing Through to the End

IIS projects, by their very nature, voraciously consume resources and monopolize people’s attention. They are so demanding that they only succeed if they are successfully hitched to the driving goals of the institution. NVCC President Robert Templin is one CEO who understands the consequences of not seeing that big picture: “We are in the process of transforming the institution. If we don’t succeed, we leave 25,000 people without an education.” The upshot? If you want your project to cross the finish line, you’ll have to achieve that kind of clarity.

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