Community Colleges and Technology >> Getting the Edge on Institutional Goals

For a large California system, new technology meant dramatic change and enterprise improvement; for a growing Southern institution, solid positioning enhancement was the plus.

LACCD CIO Tony Tortorice:
User resistence could have stopped
ERP success dead in its tracks.
"The technology worked, but
we knew there was a problem
when we had to have
'how to use a mouse'
training."

The Los Angeles Community College District is one of the largest community college districts in the United States. With nine colleges in the Los Angeles area, it serves over 130,000 students and has the full-time equivalent of about 100,000 students enrolled in its programs—one-third of the total number of students in the entire 23-school California State University system. Yet, in spite of its large student population, LACCD receives less than half the per-student reimbursement that the Cal State system receives from the state coffers, and that’s a very real problem for a community college system trying to serve its constituents well.

ERP at LACCD: Moving Users Out of the Dark Ages

Like most community colleges and systems—most institutions of higher education in general—LACCD has long been charged with finding ways to improve operations in order to better serve students, faculty, and staff, and compete effectively in the higher education marketplace. Unfortunately, during an era of serious belt-tightening, the college system had not been able to keep pace with the ERP improvements that so many other school systems had found ways to introduce. The decades-long lag in efficiency was seriously compromising the college system’s ability to compete and deliver.

Simply put, the job of effectively serving its massive user base had become cumbersome due to antiquated technology. LACCD’s DEC/COBOL system for financials and human resources had been state-of-the-art way back in the ’60s, but in the 40 years since, the system had evolved into a brittle and creaky contraption that required a group of “indispensable experts” to maintain it. Even worse, as the system had aged, its inability to respond to real-time needs became not just a frustration, but a liability in an environment where staffers needed accurate information on demand. The ability to track expenses and pay vendors had been seriously hindered, for instance: In some cases, the school system was taking 180 days or more to make payments.

Combating age-old resistance. Remarkably, it wasn’t just the expected obstacles—budgetary constraints and cost—that were hampering LACCD’s move to 21st century ERP; as it turned out, replacement of the nearly four-decades-old system was being seriously hampered by user inertia. LACCD had acquired SAP (www.sap.com) R/3 software for financials and HR in 2000, and had implemented core financial functionality such as general ledger, controlling, materials management, and purchasing the next year. But even though the initial goal was to use the system “out of the box,” without any modifications to the screens or the processes, to the many campus users unfamiliar with newer technology, the prospect was daunting.

Putting it mildly, there was real user resistance, recalls Tony Tortorice, LACCD’s CIO. “We knew there was a problem when we realized we had to have ‘how to use a mouse’ training. The technology worked,” he remembers; “we just had to find a better way to get it to users.” It was then that administrators decided to upgrade their license to the complete mySAP Business Suite family of business solutions. The primary motivation was the desire to use SAP Business Intelligence (SAP BI) and SAP Enterprise Portal (SAP EP), both components of the SAP NetWeaver platform. By improving usability through better data integration and via the Web, administrators believed reluctant users would come around faster and more readily accept an enterprise-wide application system. What’s more, they decided, moving to the integrated suite of applications would give LACCD a stable enterprise platform, signaling the beginning of an organizational transformation to more efficient processes. The school system would finally have better financial control and be able to initiate more rapid decision-making; the reporting system would also be modernized, with increased access to information that users would find easy to obtain and view.

Administrators opted for a gradual installation of suite components, to not only minimize user resistance in general, but also to pave the way for more rapid adoption of the forthcoming HR solution, mySAP ERP Human Capital Management (HCM), which they plan to roll out later in 2005. Initially, HCM will enable employee self-service such as downloading HR forms or accessing an FAQ (frequently asked question) document—all functions that translate directly into cost savings.

Gentle adoption via the portal. Like the financial package, the portal itself was implemented in small stages. The first step was to attract employees to the use of knowledge management features and search capabilities by migrating all of the community college district’s employee forms and documentation to the portal. Over time, says Tortorice, “We will explore using the portal to integrate SAP R/3 with other specialized applications, in a way that is seamless to users. When Human Capital Management g'es live, employees will already be accustomed to using the portal. This should substantially reduce the change management effort,” says Tortorice.

The second step was to make the portal a central management reporting repository by moving all online reporting from SAP data warehousing functions (in financials and HR) and WebFOCUS (legacy student information systems) into the enterprise portal.

“We easily converted WebFOCUS reports into portal information views and incorporated them into SAP EP,” explains Tortorice. “Rather than signing on to separate applications, managers can sign on once, and get access to nearly all of their management reports.”

BI, bit by bit. As for LACCD’s implementation of SAP Business Intelligence, it took a mere 120 days, says Tortorice, thanks to consulting support from the SAP Services Partner, BIS America (www.bisamerica.com), and by concentrating on creating just 10 reports across the mySAP ERP financials and legacy HR data sources. Tortorice chose to limit the scope of the reports in an effort to get the technology right, but will expand them, going forward. After HCM g'es live, he says, LACCD plans to migrate all of its management reporting and analysis into the data warehousing functions of SAP BI.

“With its ability to integrate data from previously stove-piped applications, combined with its rapid development framework and user friendliness, SAP BI has given us a powerful management tool,” says Tortorice. “The on-demand reporting enabled by SAP NetWeaver has substantially improved management control over the organization.”

Users get on board; improvements surface. Although HCM will not be fully live until July, there has been immediate and substantial improvement in the use and acceptance of the ERP solution at LACCD. The access to financial reports—specifically, the Budget Availability Report—has created a “truth-in-spending” culture. With two clicks, users can access the system rapidly and drill down to detail quickly. That means, says Tortorice, that error detection and correction now happen much faster than was previously possible. What’s more, he adds, users can drill down to specific transactions and analyze them without having to traverse the entire system. And because the presentation layer is entirely Web-based, reports can be peeled off and distributed faster than ever before.

But man d'es not live by reports—or technology improvements—alone. People and process change carry their own impact. “The installation of mySAP ERP HCM and the go-live later this year is a major exercise in organizational change management,” says Tortorice. “But that change would not be possible were it not for a slow and deliberate approach taken toward change—after, of course, the initial resistance from our users.”

ePortfolios at Surry CC: Documenting Learning Outcomes

Surry Community College (NC) is a growing institution with approximately 4,500 curriculum students each year and more than 9,000 area residents taking one or more continuing education classes each year. Over the past two years, full-time enrollment has increased 16.5 percent.

By way of differentiation and distinction, Surry has positioned itself as a “learning college,” and has developed the Surry Community College Learning Initiative with the goal of fostering the development of a true learning-centered community college. Surry, in fact, is actively cultivating a culture in which policies, programs, and personnel all support learning as the major priority. Three objectives provide the framework for this goal: Improve student engagement through critical thinking, assess learning outcomes, and reform the campus culture. Not surprisingly, technology has played a key role in the objectives, and notably, in the assessment of learning outcomes.

Assessment via portfolio. The college created learning outcomes relevant for all degree programs and chose as their assessment process the Institutional Portfolio model developed and piloted by Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS (www.jccc.net/ home/depts/6111/site/assmnt/cogout). Via this model, attainment of learning outcomes is documented through the use of individual ePortfolios created by Surry students using the Blackboard Learning and Content Management Systems ( www.blackboard.com). Students incorporate projects and class assignments into the ePortfolio, demonstrating their attainment of learning in an ongoing fashion. The model also provides students a means for documenting (for potential employers or four-year colleges) competencies and accomplishments acquired at Surry. Importantly, the Institutional Portfolio model provides an opportunity for students to engage in meaningful class projects while simultaneously providing assessment data for general education outcomes.

Steve Atkins, VP and CAO, and Candace Ring, director of Distance Education, are overseeing the ePortfolio program at Surry. Atkins explains, “Interdisciplinary faculty teams review students’ ePortfolios and apply learning outcomes rubrics, created by SCC faculty, to evaluate students’ work. This data is then provided to the Office of Institutional Planning and Research for inclusion in an institutional portfolio, providing opportunities for development of strategies for improving students’ academic performance.” The assessment results are also reported for the college as a whole, he says, but may be disaggregated and analyzed by a number of demographic variables such as location, minority status, and so forth.

Integral, not tacked-on. The core feature of the Institutional Portfolio model is the true integration of performance-based assessment projects. Surry students are required to take what they have learned and apply their knowledge and skills to complex performances. In fact, one of the greatest benefits of the Institutional Portfolio, says Atkins, is that assessment is not “an add-on”— rather, classroom projects are used to provide ample evidence of student learning and success that evolves from an authentic context. The Blackboard content systems, he adds, provide Surry faculty assessment teams with the ability to easily manage, assess, and communicate student performance.

Moving forward, the Institutional Portfolio developed by Johnson Community College, coupled with a comprehensive Blackboard content system setup, will go a long way toward assuring that Surry Community College continues to build on its position as a true learning college.

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