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UConn: Kuali Community Supports Move to Open Source Financials

The University of Connecticut is among the most recent institutions to go live with the Kuali Financial System. During the Kuali Days conference in Austin this fall, Campus Technology interviewed Charles Eaton, UConn's controller, to get his comments on "the buzz" at this year's show and what it means to be a member of the Kuali community.

At the annual Kuali conference in Austin this fall, more than 850 attendees from 40 states and 8 countries met to discuss Kuali administrative software development and to share their expertise with institutions that have either implemented or are considering an implementation of the open source software.

The Kuali project was started in 2004 by IT leaders from a small cadre of academic institutions wanting to create an open source community to develop a suite of administrative software applications specifically for higher education. Now, many institutions are live with the Kuali Financial System (KFS), the first of the Kuali application suite. There are also institutions live with Kuali Mobility, Kuali Coeus (research), Kuali Student, Kuali Ready (business continuity), and other production applications in the growing Kuali administrative suite. In total, nearly one hundred institutions are running Kuali software in production.

The University of Connecticut is among the most recent institutions to go live with KFS. During this year's Kuali Days, CT interviewed Charles Eaton, UConn's controller, to get his comments on Kuali Days and what it means to be a member of the Kuali community.

Mary Grush: When did the University of Connecticut implement the Kuali Financial System (KFS)?

Charles Eaton: Over a year and a half of planning and implementation culminated with a go live of July 1st of this year.

Grush: What financial system did UConn have previously?

Eaton: Financial Records System (FRS) was our mainframe application, for approximately 20 years. It was no longer supported, effective last year, so it had clearly run out of its useful life. Of course, we had to replace it.

Grush: What were some of the main factors influencing your choice to go with Kuali?

Eaton: Three factors, mainly: cost considerations, functionality and usability, and the Kuali community. We were very attracted to the Kuali concept because of the open source nature of it and because of the community that supports the open source software.

And we were somewhat concerned about continuing with a vended ERP approach to a financial system because of the high cost of licensing and the fact that it's difficult to impact future development of that software. With a vended system, the vendor controls what gets changed and when future releases get done. Depending on your service level agreement, response time and the attention you get will be limited.

What really attracted us to Kuali was the fact that higher education institutions developed Kuali software for the benefit of the entire education community. So the functionality is geared toward higher education--we believe the functionality of KFS is more specific to our needs.

Grush: And I'm guessing Kuali Days is a good example of how this community interacts to help institutions with Kuali....

Eaton: We were very impressed by the community and what we had seen participating in Kuali Days for a number of years--I think the first people from UConn attended in 2007 to begin to evaluate the system. We eventually became partners in the KFS project--even if you are not a partner, you get assistance from the community, but as a partner we have realized the benefit of talking to, and collaborating with, other partners basically every week.

At Kuali Days 2012, I spent the first 24 hours--other than sleeping--networking with schools that have gone live and are very familiar with the software, about some issues that we are facing ... to go home at end of the week with an answer. It's the kind of response and fast turnaround that's just not plausible in the vended ERP world.

Grush: What are some of the key things discussed at Kuali Days 2012, and how do they relate to your implementation at UConn?

Eaton: At Kuali Days this year, we've seen a large number of sessions on Kuali in the cloud, and they were overflowing, out the door--there is a lot of interest in Kuali in the cloud. In terms of the cloud, UConn is sort of a hybrid, where the primary instance is on campus and disaster recovery is in the cloud. We have Kuali software implemented on site in UConn's data centers, and through an agreement with rSmart, a Kuali service provider, we have contracted for a disaster recovery instance of the software and data in the cloud. Some other institutions run fully in the cloud. For example, the Stevens Institute, which went live a year before UConn, is running the same Kuali Financial System fully in the cloud, including their primary implementation and their disaster recovery in a geographically distributed cloud environment.

Additional interest is in middleware updates. The Kuali middleware and development suite has just implemented a brand new look and feel/user experience layer--Kuali Rapid Application Development (KRAD). It gives Kuali applications a very fresh, modern look and feel, plus some new capabilities from the user experience perspective. Also, there's a whole new business rules management system that integrates with all Kuali applications and gives institutions greater control over managing and changing business rules and how they affect processes within the applications--and you control that right through the user interface.

There is a complete middleware suite that sits under Kuali financials, with a business process automation workflow capability. UConn's implementation includes this middleware, and we have also developed a number of automated business processes outside of the Kuali Financial System, leveraging the same technology that was implemented with KFS.

Another area of great interest is mobile--and Kuali Mobility is one of the Kuali community's newest projects. The Kuali Mobility software is used to run the Kuali Days conference experience, adding to the buzz about mobility at the event.

Grush: How would you characterize the way the Kuali community helps institutions very new to, or considering, Kuali?

Eaton: There are a lot of schools considering Kuali right now, to be sure. For the past two years, the growth in Kuali Days has been enormous. For me, just three and a half months out of go live, I'm still engrossed in the implementation details and some very specific challenges. But there's another, massive group of people just considering KFS, and a large number of Kuali Days 2012 sessions and partners happy to share their experience to help those people.

UConn initially took advantage of this kind of help from other institutions. We also did a proof of concept with rSmart before we selected Kuali financials. They provided the software loaded with some of UConn's data to help us more thoroughly evaluate it. And, a rather large entourage of UConn staff made a site visit to Colorado State University, one of the first institutions to go live back in 2009.

In the Kuali community, there is plenty of help available for those considering the software.

Grush: What is one of the best values UConn gets from being a part of the Kuali community?

Eaton: Being able to influence future software updates, even with subgroups of institutions interested in very specific functionality, is pretty unique. For example, UConn was part of a project where five or six schools came together to develop a module to provide greater functionality on travel and entertainment reimbursements. Given our input up front on two major modules coming out in the next year or so, we'll be looking at far fewer software modifications in the future.

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