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A Look at Oracle's PeopleSoft Enterprise Campus Solutions 9.0

Boise State University is the largest university in Idaho with more than 18,000 students. Though perhaps best known for our football team's blue turf and dramatic win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, the university is also recognized for its strengths in geophysics, raptor biology, engineering, set theory, nanotechnology, biomolecular research, forensics, international relations, and other areas, and is well on its way toward becoming a metropolitan research university of distinction.

As at any university, technology plays an important role in supporting all aspects of Boise State's mission. The university's 1995 Strategic Plan established as a strategic priority the replacement of disparate, legacy administrative computing systems with an integrated ERP system to handle critical business needs. Since the late 1990s, Boise State University has worked with Oracle/PeopleSoft to implement applications that help us better serve our constituents while improving administrative efficiency.

Boise State’s Implementation History

After a false start with the soon-defunct TRG system in 1996, the University selected PeopleSoft in 1997.  We went live on PeopleSoft Enterprise Financial Management and PeopleSoft Enterprise Human Capital Management in July 1998, followed by a phased implementation of the Student Administration system (now Oracle's PeopleSoft Enterprise Campus Solutions) between September 1998 and March 1999. The student system was a brand new product at that time, so we were among the earliest pioneers in adopting it--and then in upgrading almost immediately to version 7.6, in February 2000.   

The first highly visible benefits of the PeopleSoft implementation appeared in October 2000 with the implementation of BroncoWeb, our Web-based, self service student registration system. As we had never before had any form of self service registration, this was a huge step forward. Over the next several years, we expanded the system’s functionality to include financial aid, billing and payment, degree audit, employee and faculty self service, and other features.  The success of this effort was reflected in the fact that in a survey of our graduating seniors, BroncoWeb received the highest satisfaction ratings among all University services.

Working with the Higher Education User Group

Boise State has always been characterized by an entrepreneurial but collegial spirit, and its Oracle/PeopleSoft experience has reflected that. Though preferring to avoid modifications and customizations where possible, we found that there were many places where they were needed in order to realize the full potential of the system and to give users the features and clarity they deserved. So we made those modifications--and shared many of them freely with other Oracle/PeopleSoft institutions through the Higher Education User Group (HEUG).   

The HEUG is a remarkably effective, independent, non-profit organization that represents the interests of all institutions of higher education that use Oracle/PeopleSoft applications. Many of us at Boise State have been actively involved with HEUG, through its conferences and product advisory groups (PAGs), and I am a member of the HEUG Board of Directors. In addition to facilitating the sharing of ideas, best practices, and even code among its members, the HEUG has also worked very closely with first PeopleSoft and now Oracle to ensure that the applications continue to improve in quality and evolve in functionality to meet the needs of the higher education community.  

A Giant Leap Forward -- Campus Solutions 9.0

The latest release of Campus Solutions--version 9.0, released in December, 2006--provides particularly compelling evidence of the effectiveness of the HEUG’s advocacy for its constituents and collaboration with Oracle.  Many of the features delivered in this release are the direct result of HEUG members and PAGs identifying and prioritizing issues, and Oracle responding by developing the requested enhancements.  Several Boise State representatives were directly involved in the discussions that led to many of those enhancements, and in providing Oracle feedback during the development cycle.

Boise State was fortunate to be chosen as one of three institutions to participate in the Hosted Beta program for Campus Solutions 9.0, which provided the opportunity to "test drive" the new version preceding its official release. This gave us the chance to get our hands on the features we had helped to advocate for, and see if Oracle had really done things right.  We were delighted to find that they had, and many of the new features will allow us to retire customizations that we created and have maintained for years.

The list of significant new features is too long to describe completely here, but several merit special mention--starting with transcripts. The transcript is arguably the most important document produced by any college or university. The exact content, organization and format desired in a transcript vary greatly from one institution to another.  Hence, implementing a general mechanism powerful and flexible enough to meet every institution's needs is a nontrivial task. Unfortunately, it is one that the Campus Solutions product did not accomplish very well--until version 9.0.   

Responding to numerous concerns and suggestions from the HEUG constituency, Oracle developed a completely new transcript mechanism, involving a set of better designed tables, a much better processing engine, and a powerful new reporting tool called Oracle XML Publisher that allows the institution to design its transcript template using familiar tools such as Microsoft Word. This new Campus Solutions 9.0 approach is incomparably superior to the old one. It should allow us to retire all of our modifications to the old transcript, which were among the most extensive and difficult to maintain of all of our customizations.

Perhaps the most promising global feature introduced in version 9.0 is a very powerful and flexible mechanism known as Population Selection. Until now, Oracle has had to make its best guess as to which particular parameters an institution might wish to use to define the target population for each of the many batch processes found in the system. But higher education has such diverse needs that there is no way to please everyone with a fixed set of parameters for any given process. The solution was to allow institutions to define the population by a text file, a user-defined query, or a tool known as the Equation Engine.  Several delivered processes have now been configured to use this tool, others are planned for future release, and the capability has been provided for adapting any batch process to use this mechanism.  Again, this tool should allow us to eliminate many modified or custom processes that we have developed using hard-coded selection criteria.

Another very extensive area of significant improvement is self service. Enhancements in the student financials area make the functionality much more intuitive and easy to use for students, and should allow us to eliminate the majority of the modifications we have made for that purpose. A new approach to self service advisement/degree audit for students provides a much more concise and easy to follow layout than the previous version. The new Enrollment Backpack and My Planner functionality has the potential to help students plan their course enrollment in a more informed and efficient manner.

There are many other features that will also offer us welcome improvements and allow us to retire customizations. These include major enhancements in the functionality and security of Student Groups (which we use for a wide variety of purposes), Permission Numbers (used to override enrollment restrictions), Service Indicators (holds), admission into and graduation from specified majors, tracking of academic statistics (credits and GPAs), external awards and repackaging in Financial Aid, and a number of other areas. Again, most of these enhancements are ones that Boise State and many other HEUG institutions have asked for, and Oracle has delivered on more of those requests--and delivered well--than in any previous release of Campus Solutions. At Boise State, we are looking forward to taking advantage of all these new features in 9.0 when we upgrade in Fall 2008.

What is perhaps most gratifying and reassuring is that we are in a much healthier situation than many of us anticipated when Oracle acquired PeopleSoft just over two years ago. It is no secret that the HEUG and most of its members were opposed to the acquisition; we were very concerned that Oracle would eliminate the PeopleSoft applications and we would have to switch to the Oracle E-Business Suite applications, or look elsewhere.  Fortunately, Oracle has made a commitment to continue to support and enhance PeopleSoft applications, and the valuable relationships we had built with key PeopleSoft strategists and developers have not only survived but grown stronger. The application is still not perfect--a system this complex never can be--but Oracle appears to be quite serious about listening to us and addressing as many issues as they feasibly can. We look forward to the evolution of the product toward the Fusion release and beyond, and to continuing to play a role in helping to shape, test and find effective ways to use that product.

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