Aligning Institutional Processes Through Business Process Redesign

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Key Takeaways

  • System migrations provide an opportunity for institutions to examine and redesign business processes in ways that increase both efficiency and business process alignment with institutional mission.
  • The set of case studies presented in this article describes efforts by five institutions to modify and improve business processes as part of their system migration activities.
  • This is a continuing and ongoing effort that involves documentation of decisions, education about change management, and clear communication with stakeholders.

[This article is the third in a 2017 series that presents case studies related to the theme of integration and partnerships as reflected in enterprise IT.

  1. Communicating the Business Value of Enterprise IT
  2. Integrating Data and Systems to Support Next-Generation Enterprise IT
  3. Aligning Institutional Processes Through Business Process Redesign
  4. Supporting Analytics Through Data Integration and Governance

In this article, IT leaders describe how their institutions took advantage of system migrations to redesign and improve their business processes.]

The next generation of enterprise IT is characterized by an expanding set of services, systems, and sourcing strategies as higher education institutions move away from monolithic enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions in an effort to increase agility and scalability and meet stakeholder demands for new functionality and services. The resulting system migrations provide an opportunity for institutions to examine and redesign business processes in ways that increase both efficiency and business process alignment with institutional mission. The set of case studies presented in this article describes efforts by five institutions to modify and improve business processes as part of their system migration activities.

Ithaca College

Bill Liddick, Interim Director, Engagement and Implementation

Ithaca College (IC) is a private residential institution with 6,700 students located in one of America's top college towns. The IC residential community takes advantage of the college's surroundings — lake, waterfalls, and gorges — and a local community rich in arts and culture. Explore our mission and vision and rankings online, and read more about Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region.

Ithaca College embarked on a multiyear business process reengineering program that has turned into a significant part of our ongoing operations. Although successful, this effort met with many challenges along the way. This case study covers the key factors driving our need, our approach, the impact on the institution, and lessons learned.

Key Factors Driving the Need for This Work

It is always important to start from the "why" for a project. Why take on a business process redesign effort? What problems are we trying to solve or minimize? For IC, three key factors contributed to the need to take action:

  • Deal with budgetary and resource constraints by doing more with less.
  • Improve the student experience by improving our processes. This was key. While many of the processes are "administrative," improving the processes allowed:
    • Students to spend less time walking paper forms around campus
    • Students to receive quicker feedback
    • Staff to spend more time working directly with students
  • Further the IT strategic shift. IT at IC has embraced a strategic shift from service provider (custom solutions) to service broker (off-the-shelf solutions) and a cloud-first strategy. This has changed our focus to integrations, efficiencies, and supporting business process improvement through technology.

Ithaca College's Approach to This Work

IC staff understood this major initiative would require a major effort. Consultants were brought on to help identify the scope of the work and a potential solution, and IC took several major steps to support the effort.

  • Formal governance was established to support the project and provide oversight, set priorities, clear roadblocks, ensure resource availability, etc. This governance included:
    • An Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Executive Oversight Committee made up of the provost, vice presidents, and executive IT personnel
    • An ECM Steering Committee made up of associate VPs, directors, and the registrar
    • An Academic Workflow Steering Committee made up of associate deans, registrar personnel, and an associate director of IT
    • Ad-hoc working groups as needed
  • Key positions were created/filled to support the project:
    • A full-time project manager
    • A full-time QA developer
    • A full-time business analyst
    • Two full-time developers to backfill current developers who would support the project

Impact on the Institution

While we left many opportunities on the table at the end of the project (more on that later), the project was a major success for the college. Most obviously, many processes were improved:

  • Redesign of 35 business processes. Many of these processes were quite complex and reached across campus — Admission, Student Financial Services, Finance, Human Resources, IT, Student Accessibility Services, Residential Life, all five academic schools, and the Provost's Office.
  • Electronic completion of 319,000 workflow processes.
  • Electronic storage of 1,220,000 documents (roughly 2,500,000 pieces of paper).

Significant positive impacts include: not walking documents around, minimizing lost documents, saved staff and faculty time, and improved response time to students. Additionally, and this is very important, staff (in administrative and academic offices) gained significant efficiencies and had better information for decision making. While it did allow for some reduction in staff, much of the saved time allowed staff to focus on higher value-add work and spend more time working directly with students to support their success.

"Having the Admission process online has assisted administrators by more efficiently and effectively reviewing the applicant pool and selecting the best students to attend Ithaca College." — Bryan Roberts, Associate Dean, Park School of Communications

"The new streamlined process provides a direct link between students requesting accommodations and their professors. When students fill out the form on the IC Workflow website — which incorporates data from HomerConnect — they will have the ability to select accommodations that they are specifically approved for." — Leslie Reid, Manager, Student Accessibility Services

What might not be as obvious is the impact on culture — a major challenge for the project, but also a key benefit to the organization. Initially it was a challenge to change processes. "This is always the way we did it"; "We have to have five approvals"; "I don't have time for this." As we slowly made progress and people could see the benefits, we gained momentum. People in many departments started identifying processes and seeking help to improve them.

Five Keys to a Successful Business Process Redesign

Senior leadership support: Ithaca College was fortunate to have support throughout the college, from the president, provost, vice presidents, and deans. If you take on an institution-wide program, it is critical to have understanding and support from across campus. Taking on a full-blown business process reengineering project is on the scale of implementing a new ERP system. Without full understanding and support from your senior leadership, the project has a high potential of not meeting its goals.

Culture is key: Understanding your institution's culture and the impact this project can have on it is critical to success. To reengineer processes, you need a culture of collaboration and communication (between IT and functional offices, functional office to functional office, and up and down the hierarchy) and a culture that embraces change.

This project initially met with fear and resistance: "How are these changes going to affect me?" "I do not have time for this." If you feel your culture is not ready for this type of collaboration and change, look for individuals and departments that can serve as advocates and aim for quick/early/easy wins. Find departments and teams that want to change, have the time, or have some easily identifiable processes with plenty of room for improvement. Even if a small project is not your top priority for the initiative, showing success with quick wins and growing the advocacy base builds momentum.

Ample planning: While IC spent a significant amount of time in the planning phase (understanding the scope and establishing a plan and resource requirements), we still fell well short of completing the full project. When reviewing the impacts on the institution, it was obvious the project was a huge success. At the same time, we left a huge amount of work and opportunities on the table at the end of the project. We learned several key lessons:

  1. We did not define the work well enough to estimate it accurately.
  2. Startup took much longer than planned — creating the governance, hiring the positions to support the project, and establishing the methodology.
  3. We underestimated the complexity of the processes.

This major and far-reaching program took nine months. Looking back, we realize the program could have gone better with better planning. That said, it is impossible to plan for everything and important to be open to changing your approach and priorities.

Education on change management: The process of reengineering business processes can be a significant challenge. Defining how to manage the change early on will help the project run smoother and be more successful throughout. It took IC a while to define a good process, and it definitely slowed things down at first. One key factor was to showcase the new process early to the stakeholders — somewhat of an agile approach. The sooner you can expose stakeholders to the new process, the easier it is to fine-tune everything, gain acceptance, and move to production.

It is also important to have the right people at the table. You need those who own the policy or process who also have the authority and skills to make decisions, along with those who actually know the process inside and out. IC did not have this at first, and it caused significant delay.

Unexpectedly complex processes: Unless you have your business processes well documented, you will find that they are much more complicated than you think. This can be even more challenging when you have multiple departments completing the same process but in different ways. This was very evident within the five schools at IC. Each school had a course override process, a change of major process, etc., but each school did each process a little differently. We only have five schools, but for one process we had six forms. That became a running joke, but it highlighted the need to simplify processes for the students.

Next Steps for Ithaca College

It is worth noting that while the project has ended, IC has realized the importance of the effort. One of the three-year strategic goals for Finance and Administration, for example, is to "Implement process improvements for efficiency."

IT has also created a Business Productivity Group. A key objective will be business process improvement. Business process reengineering has moved from a project phase to a part of our everyday operations.

Contact Information

If you have questions or would like to learn more about Ithaca College's program, please contact Bill Liddick at [email protected].

Edmonds Community College, Peninsula College, and Seattle Colleges

Ligia Cicos, Project and Organizational Change Manager, Edmonds Community College

Monica Roberts, Project Manager, Peninsula College

Daniel Cordas, Project Manager, Seattle Colleges

The Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges ("State Board") includes 34 public community and technical colleges with a total annual headcount of 381,000 students. Each college operates under the oversight of a board of trustees, which receives its authority through the state legislature, and the overall system operates as a loose federation. The college presidents gather on a regular basis to discuss issues and agree to actions when there is common impact. The State Board maintains the legacy information systems on which the community and technical colleges have conducted student, instructional, human resources, and financial activities.

Common Process Development: An Opportunity for Standardization

The PeopleSoft implementation in Washington State includes the 34 community and technical colleges and the State Board. The project, named ctcLink, is led by a State Board project team. Three PeopleSoft pillars — Campus Solutions, Finance, and Human Capital Management — will be implemented simultaneously in a "big bang" approach.

When the project began in 2013, the colleges agreed to 10 principles to support the project's success. One of these principles was to work together across colleges to develop common processes. In 2013, an attempt at common process development was led by the project integration vendor. The effort was unsuccessful and abandoned. In August 2015, PeopleSoft was implemented at three colleges without agreement on common processes. Stabilizing these colleges proved difficult, and, as a result, in November 2016 future implementations were put on hold. Gartner Consulting was engaged for an independent verification and validation. Moran Consulting was engaged from the project's inception to oversee its quality. Both Gartner and Moran highlighted the need for common processes across the system for this project to succeed.

With new college implementations on hold, a core team of ctcLink project managers from several colleges collaborated to design a methodology to develop common processes. The chair of the project governing board approved the initial proposal. The core team evaluated the problems with the 2013 effort and brought in experience using Lean methods, organizational development theory and tools, and IT software implementation experience to design a three-day workshop called the Common Process Development Workshop and a post-workshop testing methodology. The core team engaged a larger group of project managers to test elements of the design. The ctcLink governing board reviewed the full proposal, and the core team received approval to conduct three proof-of-concept workshops. Figure 1 illustrates the entire history of activities leading to the first workshops.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Activities leading to the first workshops

The objective of the workshop design was to create a common process in which 80 percent of the colleges agreed to support and implement the new software. The core team wanted to build confidence in the workshop methodology so that participants would feel comfortable with the results of future workshops, even if their college did not participate. This was key in controlling costs of travel and participation for any one college.

To determine the scope of each common process workshop, the project managers brought in college subject-matter experts to review PeopleSoft functionality and existing process documentation to identify 40 "value chains." Each value chain consisted of multiple steps, with the goal of aligning these steps into end-to-end business processes. "Value chain" was used as a term to avoid confusion with previous business process development efforts.

The Common Process Development Workshop was designed to support anywhere from a minimum of 8 participants to up to 60, as it was not known how many colleges would be willing to participate. Flexibility in the design of workshop activities was critical to allow the facilitators to change the approach if needed to achieve the objectives. Experienced facilitators were essential to the methodology's success.

The workshop employs an overall schedule of activities intended to support success. Figure 2 illustrates the entire design.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Design of the Common Process Development Workshop

The Common Process Development Workshop is a three-day event, with the first day being a review of current processes and overview of PeopleSoft functionality. The intent of this day is to acknowledge the expertise at the colleges, educate the project functional analysts on college processes, identify common elements in the process across the colleges, discuss significant differences, and identify best practices to bring forward. To prepare to engage in this discussion, participants bring documentation of all their related existing processes. Up to four colleges present their processes. This activity was missing from the 2013 common process effort, and the core team felt it was a key reason for its failure.

The PeopleSoft overview is important to establish a base level of knowledge across participants, so they can engage in the process discussion. At the end of the day, the group creates a list of benefits to be realized in the new end-to-end process or value chain. The Benefits Realization is used to validate the new process through testing and final approval.

The next two days are spent developing the new common end-to-end process with the intent of gaining participant and college buy-in for the new process. Workshops generally include 30–55 participants from 20-plus colleges. Depending on headcount, participants are randomly separated into four to six teams, each assigned to create a best-practice process. Participants are instructed to identify both roles and steps within the process. After teams draft the new process, the teams are combined with the instruction to synthesize the processes. After the synthesis has occurred, the resulting processes are presented to the whole group. All semifinal processes are presented before the participants work to synthesize them into a final common process.

If a workshop has a small number of participants, the entire group will work as one to develop the new process. As highlighted by one of the initiative's principles, if a college does not agree to implement the common process and cannot provide a solid business case for deviating, they have responsibility for the implementation and maintenance costs associated with their unique process.

The executive sponsor is encouraged to attend the workshop in person, fully or partially, and the workshop design includes several opportunities for the executive sponsor to engage. For example, the sponsor is asked to provide opening remarks the first day. On the second day, as part of workshop activities, a meeting with the sponsor is held to discuss workshop progress, and participants may ask for assistance if needed. At the end of the workshop, the participants present the common process to the executive sponsor.

After the workshop, testing of the process in a PeopleSoft production-like testing environment commences. A test lead chosen during the workshop guides the testing, and select attendees participate. Testers engage in virtual meetings to kick off the testing and work together on issues. The testing produces a validated process, configuration, recommendations for updates to the common process map, and training materials.

At completion of testing, the workshop facilitators hold a closeout meeting with all the participants to review the testing results and the final proposal for the executive sponsor. The executive sponsor presents the final proposal to the project governance board for approval.

Lessons Learned

Many lessons have been learned from each of the workshops conducted so far, with feedback received from executive sponsors, workshop participants, project functional analysts, and facilitators. The overall design has proven conducive to successful outcomes and remains solid. The flexible approach allows for adjustments during the sessions and is important to ensure success in the moment and continuous improvement going forward.

Key Learnings

  • The workshop design is robust and can accommodate different audiences, variations in process length, and skills of individual presenters and facilitators.

  • There is an opportunity to capture both benefits from the PeopleSoft software and from designing the end-to-end common process.

  • Having an executive sponsor (usually a college president) assigned to each workshop has proved to be one of the key success factors in a successful outcome: reaching agreement among college participants.

  • The presence of the executive sponsor in person is important, even if they can only attend some segments of the workshop.

  • There is significant value in having the PeopleSoft functional analysts participate in the entire workshop. They begin building relationships with the colleges' subject matter experts and gain an understanding of the business process and the value the process delivers to colleges. As a result, they can better consult and advise the colleges on the best way to implement PeopleSoft.

  • The workshop schedule does not allow time to establish a common configuration. Post-workshop effort lead by the Common Process Team and college subject matter experts with the PeopleSoft functional analysts is required.

  • Philosophical differences on the value of establishing common configurations still exist. This area still requires effort.

  • Three days are optimal for most value chains. Participants' energy to engage in this intense activity, along with the ability to be away from their regular jobs, make additional days unworkable. It remains to be seen if common processes for some value chains can be done in two days.

  • Common Process Development is the primary vehicle for organizational change management because it builds buy-in for PeopleSoft adoption and allows college subject matter experts to process the changes with their peers and begin planning for how their college will be affected.

  • Workshops allow for cross-college peer collaboration, the genesis of communities of practice that will be leveraged throughout the implementation and beyond for information sharing and continuous improvement.

  • Importantly, this is an educational service and business process reform project supported by IT, and not just an IT project, as it tends to be perceived. This orientation encourages a broad range of participants from all functional areas.

  • It is important to remind college leadership of the agreed project principles. Among other things, this ensures that appropriate college resources are assigned to support all aspects of this major implementation.

  • Facilitators should provide instruction on roles in a process, rather than people or positions.

Vassar College

Elizabeth Hayes, Deputy CIO and Director of Enterprise Services

Vassar College is an undergraduate, private, coeducational, liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York with 2,450 students.

Vassar College used Ellucian Banner Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software for 20 years. Over that time, our business processes morphed to meet the changing needs of the business. With a legacy system like our Banner implementation, business processes were not included in the software. We used Banner as more of a transactional system of record. Business processes were on paper and included four-part carbon paper forms, pen and ink signatures, and paper attachments that were both scanned and filed.

Vassar moved from Banner to Workday software for Human Resources and Finance in 2017. As part of the process of preparing for the move, we needed to consider how our business processes would change. One thought was to map and engineer all of our processes before implementing the software, but with so many business processes that had evolved over such a long period of time it was a daunting task. Since Workday contains best practice business processes, we decided to use them as a starting point instead.

Business Process Workshop: An Approach to Business Process Redesign

Early on in the project as we were deciding how to input business processes into Workday, we held a two-day workshop where we reviewed all the major best practice business processes. Our system implementer was familiar with the Workday best practice business processes and helped us identify which processes to review, and then walked us through each. We included the functional employees who actually managed the processes and the software as well as the senior staff. The senior staff articulated strategy and direction on what they needed to do their jobs from a business perspective. For many inflection points functional staff thought that senior staff would not want to be bothered with involvement; senior staff countered that they did want to be involved and would benefit from the information. For example, there was a discussion about whether to include a senior staff approval step in the business process for hiring temporary workers. They had not been included in the old system, but senior staff requested to be added because they would find it helpful to know if multiple temp staff hires could be combined.

It took much planning and coordination to bring the workshop together. Calendar invitations had to be planned far in advance so that everyone could attend. We found an offsite room with space for a large U-shaped table configuration and two large screens to show the software and business process setup. We considered seating people to encourage discussion. We ended up using an online meeting format as well, not so that people could attend remotely — we knew it was important to be co-located — but so that everyone in the room could read the screen easily. Given the intensity of the work, scheduling breaks was important. We brought in lunch and served it in a nearby room. By being offsite, we succeeded in keeping attendees engaged for the whole day.

Lessons Learned

The takeaway message is to beware of differing perspectives and not make assumptions. Have open and candid discussions about the steps across a wide group of people, both across the organization and at all levels of the hierarchy. Everyone brings a different focus, and all are needed to determine the best result. We included most of the president's direct reports as well as lead staff from the HR and finance departments to participate. Staff from other areas was invited to review and comment on the work. The workshop format was useful because it brought all the involved parties together for a defined period. It gave everyone a voice and allowed for documentation of the discussion and the outcome.


  • Hold dedicated workshops for business process review, preferably offsite

  • Invite staff from across the organization

  • Invite staff from all levels of the organizational hierarchy

  • Document the decisions

  • Create a process to review changes to the decisions

It's important to continue to review changes to decisions as they evolve throughout the project. We sometimes found it necessary to add extra steps to business processes to account for special cases. When we reviewed these with a broad group, benefit came from the additional input, and it saved us from having to rework the changes.

In conclusion, a dedicated offsite workshop format to review business process at the beginning of an ERP implementation can help bring together all the needed parties. It can improve communication, define strategy, and make decisions needed to smooth the path forward for a project that brings much change.

To learn more, visit Workday at Vassar.

Concluding Thoughts

As these case studies point out, successful business process redesign can lead to both an increase in operational efficiency and a closer alignment between processes and institutional goals. The case studies describe a pattern of considerations that are important for the success of the process improvement work. Each case study points to the need for senior leadership support at the highest level. Executive leadership support not only helps promotes buy-in, but it also conveys the critical sense that the work of business process redesign is not an IT project but rather one with broad impact and strategic importance. The case studies also describe the need for cross-institutional involvement that formally engages individuals from many different layers in the institution and across many different functions and departments through workshops or a formal governance process. Finally, these IT leaders note that this is a continuing and ongoing effort that involves documentation of decisions, education about change management, and clear communication with stakeholders.

Ligia Cicos is project and organizational change manager at Edmonds Community College.

Daniel Cordas is project manager at Seattle Colleges.

Elizabeth Hayes is deputy CIO and director of Enterprise Services at Vassar College.

Bill Liddick is interim director, Engagement and Implementation, at Ithaca College.

Monica Roberts is project manager at Peninsula College.

© 2017 Ligia Cicos, Daniel Cordas, Elizabeth Hayes, Bill Liddick, and Monica Roberts. The text of this article is licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.