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Grand Rapids Community College: Enabling the Collaborative Campus

Initiatives promising major change can often strike fear in even the most mature organizations. A significant transition in an information management system brings with it problems of cost, capacity and culture change. Add to that the anxiety that comes with the unknown, and that’s what we faced at Grand Rapids Community College.

Just five years ago, GRCC was using legacy systems and applications to provide services to students. The College’s data was spread across disparate databases, many of which were homegrown. Services were labor-intensive and provided one-on-one and face-to-face. Students were shuttled from one department to another to do business with the College.

As a growing community institution, GRCC recognized the need to modernize its campus operations. We embarked on the technology overhaul of a lifetime, investing in a scalable, pure Internet system that would grow with our institution. In so doing, we discovered the secret to IT implementation success—a formula that includes careful needs assessment, planning and leadership.

Needs Assessment

With the Year 2000 looming, the college’s information technology office began a project with key campus departments to identify and assess the data, functionality and reporting needs of the college. This 27-member cross-functional team was made up of administrators, support staff, faculty and students. Together, they created a campus-wide needs assessment survey to solicit ideas from every area on campus. The results were used to develop a request for proposal that defined the vision for services and information management at the College. Vendors that responded to the RFP were invited to demonstrate system functionality and features to the entire campus community, which then had the opportunity to provide feedback and make a recommendation. The response was overwhelming, and in 1998, Grand Rapids selected PeopleSoft as a partner to replace its student, human resources and financial systems.


The success of the needs assessment and selection process also led to our decision to implement the system ourselves. Because GRCC had the right combination of in-house technology and departmental expertise, we believed we should invest in our own staff’s learning rather than a part-time consultant’s. Cost entered into the decision as well. At the time, we simply couldn’t support the price of an implementation partner.

We established a leadership team to manage the implementation. From the start, this team determined that end-users needed to drive the work, and implementation teams were established in all service areas. Facing Y2K deadlines and a short time frame, these teams committed to a rapid implementation plan. They also agreed to re-engineer processes as needed and to “stay vanilla” in our solution choices. The decision to not customize our applications offered us flexibility in how we chose to do business, which significantly lowered our cost of ownership and enhanced our return on investment.


Executive leadership and support are critical to any large organizational change, a lesson we learned first hand. Shortly after we began the implementation, GRCC’s president of 27 years announced his retirement, an interim president was appointed and a national presidential search process began. In spite of the change, we felt it was critical to keep up momentum, so while the search continued, so did the project. In February 1999, Juan Olivarez was appointed president of the school and in March, we began the “go-live” process. Nine months later we were in production with admissions, student records, student financials, financial aid, human resources and financials.

Overcoming Challenges

Every major computer implementation project presents challenges, and the first year in production for GRCC was no different. Because of Y2K and the decision to implement only mission-critical applications, our end-users actually lost some of the technical functionality they had with the previous legacy system. Further, the decision to do the project in-house, with little or no release time for employees, was beginning to take its toll. But Dr. Olivarez and the campus leadership continued to demonstrate long-term commitment to the project through employee communications, strategic planning and providing additional resources as needed. Within 18 months, GRCC not only re-instated the functionality lost in the initial implementation, but delivered new applications.

Early Success

Simultaneously, GRCC was involved in a major accreditation project. The College was to participate in the North Central Association’s Academic Quality Improvement Project, an approach to accreditation using a continuous quality improvement model. The re-engineering work of the project, the skills developed by staff during the implementation, and the collaborative, continuous improvement approach we adopted were all factors that contributed to PeopleSoft selecting us for the newest version of its software, Release 8. The pure Internet strategy of the system fully supported our goal of continuously improving our services to our community.

GRCC students have already experienced benefits of the system by no longer having to stand in line for basic registration functions. On opening day of our fall registration, 83 percent of our students used either the Web and/or touch-tone to register for classes. Students are now able to check the status of their financial aid online or view personal tuition costs. In addition, our faculty members now submit grades online, demonstrating our shift to a culture of self-empowerment. GRCC’s new solution reaches beyond the horizons of “business as usual.” And if our implementation has taught us one thing, it is to go beyond what’s comfortable—to face our fear of change and embrace the possibilities that pure Internet technology can offer.

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