Massive IT Overhaul Helps Ivy Tech Handle Growth
- By Linda L. Briggs
Despite the fact that it welcomed 24,000 more students this fall than last, Indiana's Ivy Tech Community College has managed to avoid any significant tuition increases. A two-year degree at the state-wide college can still be earned for the bargain price of less than $6,000. By leveraging technology, the 130,000-student college has managed to keep education affordable while managing a staggering 45 percent growth rate over the last two years.
Had the college not embarked on a huge $34 million upgrade of its software systems and infrastructure four years ago, "our systems would have been crushed under the growth," according to Ivy Tech's CIO, Tony Harte, who joined the college explicitly to steer the massive upgrade. During the process, the college moved from a much earlier version of SunGard's ERP system, as well as revamping its hardware infrastructure and adding extensive functionality and many new software packages.
The four-year upgrade of the college's infrastructure and many of its biggest software packages hasn't been easy. A key goal throughout, Harte said, was to consolidate business processes across the college's 14 regions, consisting of 24 campuses spanning Indiana. Standardizing business processes, Harte explained, is key to meeting the college's goal of eventually operating as one college.
Harte drew on his background in private industry, specifically his Six Sigma Master and Black Belt certifications, to help move the process forward. Six Sigma is a business management strategy that places high value on business process improvement; someone with a Black Belt is highly qualified in implementing Six Sigma methods.
In hiring him, "Ivy Tech wanted [my expertise in] process orientation," Harte explained, and although the project has proved to be a tremendous challenge, consolidating so many of the college's procedures into a single software suite and a single set of processes has had plenty of positive results. "Consistency is the biggest payback with this system," Harte said. That consistency has resulted, for example, in a single chart of accounts, a single enrollment process for students at any campus, and clear lines of decision-making that didn't exist before in many areas.
At the core of the upgrade is SunGard Higher Education's Banner Unified Digital Campus, an integrated suite of administrative applications that runs on Oracle's database management system. The Ivy Tech project included all new administrative software modules, including finance, student financial aid, and human resources. It also entailed a new student information system and rebuilding the infrastructure from the ground up, including beefing up the network.
In an unusual setup, Ivy Tech is running just one instance of the Banner software suite; all 14 regions use that same instance. That means that users encounter the same software experience, whether it's a student enrolling to attend a campus in Indianapolis or South Bend, a faculty member checking on student enrollments in a class offered on any campus, or a staff member anywhere looking up HR information.
Despite the huge undertaking and some inevitable surprises along the way, the overall 42-month implementation ended both on time and within budget. In fact, it could have fallen well under budget--as it was, Harte shaved a million dollars off the $34 million project--except that Ivy Tech ended up spending saved dollars on additional software, such as an enterprise data warehouse from Banner and other modules not originally planned on. "We were several million under budget partway through," Harte said, "so we purchased some extra modules" and other software to better position the college for current and future needs.
Getting staff from 14 regions to agree on a workflow for each process, with little or no modifications to the SunGard software, was tough, Harte admitted: "It wasn't all holding hands and singing 'Kumbaya,' I promise you." As part of the process, a project management team with representatives across the various disciplines, from HR to finance to student aid, and representing different colleges, met repeatedly with SunGard consultants, who were invaluable, Harte said. Because of their experience in higher education, the consultants were able to offer suggestions from other projects and to describe options to help the team make decisions.
In hindsight, Harte admitted that one poor decision was moving 18 years worth of academic history into the new system. Although Ivy Tech persevered and completed the import, poor data made it a huge challenge. "It became a nightmare to do that many years worth of data migration," Harte said, and while the historical data has been useful, it simply wasn't worth the time and expense.