IT leaders describe how their institutions are collaborating to help campus leaders understand the strategic value of enterprise IT.
This article is the second in a 2018 series that presents case studies related to the theme of next generation enterprise IT:
Connecting Enterprise IT Models to Institutional Missions and Goals
Understanding the Shifting Role of IT in Institutional Sourcing Decisions
Maintaining Business Process Redesign Efforts through Change Management
Using Data from Multiple Systems for Personalized Study Experiences
Traditional enterprise IT can be considered centralized, monolithic, and vendor-driven. Next generation enterprise IT, on the other hand, is characterized by movement toward a multifaceted, interconnected ecosystem focused on advancing the mission and effectiveness of the institution. Next generation enterprise IT is mission-driven and client-centric. It is enabled by a variety of trends in technology and its management that include cloud computing, business process reengineering, social networks, mobile technologies, analytics, artificial intelligence, enterprise architecture, and service management methodologies. It is driven by the migration of authority and responsibility closer to the edges of organizations, and by expectations such as hyper-personalization of services, a closer link between IT and the institutional mission and goals, and greater system agility, flexibility, and scalability. These trends and drivers are pushing us to rethink enterprise IT.
To take advantage of emerging trends and to meet expectations, IT faces several challenges that the Enterprise IT Program will consider throughout 2018. In this second set of case studies, IT leaders from Bentley University and Calvin College examine system changes and migrations as opportunities to communicate with the institution about the value of enterprise IT. Enterprise systems and services tend to be a major institutional expense. Even though the purpose of a system can be obvious (it's clear to most that you need a student information system to keep track of all those students, for example), its connection to and impact on institutional strategic goals can be less clear. A system migration or implementation is a time of focus on the service provided; IT can use that time to clarify the role the service plays in advancing the institutional mission. That clarity of connection between the work of IT and institutional mission and goals is a hallmark of next generation enterprise IT.
David Norman, Cloud Program Director
Bentley University is an independent, nonsectarian institution of higher education. It currently enrolls approximately 4,200 undergraduates, 1,400 master's students, and 43 doctoral students.
- Bentley University is known nationally and internationally as a business-focused center of learning that operates in an ethical and socially engaged environment.
- It distinctively integrates business and arts and sciences to produce graduates respected for their professional and societal contributions throughout their lives.
- Its identity is based upon promoting principled and transformative enterprise through education and impactful research, building on its historical strengths in accountancy, business ethics, and information technology.
- Thanks to its achievements, Bentley is highly sustainable in resources and scale, and an attractive partner for global centers of teaching and research excellence.
In 2014 we started to look at the role our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system played at Bentley and to assess its value in supporting daily operations and the wider university mission. This case study addresses the opportunities and challenges around identifying and communicating the value of Bentley IT during the initial ERP evaluation and subsequent implementation of Workday, led by Bob Wittstein, our CIO, in January 2016.
Concerns about the value of our ERP system at Bentley resolved into two main categories: the direct costs around growing and supporting the system, and the ability of the system to provide the kind of intuitive, responsive, and flexible service that our constituents had grown to expect from consumer-oriented mobile applications and websites.
Costs to support the sprawl of our ERP system were growing. Over the years, we added many secondary systems to our core ERP to replace or supplement functionality. These additions included several best-of-breed applications such as a new degree audit system, as well as the development of a user staff, faculty, and student portal. Technical debt had grown in the 25 years we had owned and customized the system. Support for the 20-plus custom modules and enhancements became more daunting, as a looming ERP upgrade would require the rewriting of much Bentley-written and -maintained code.
Our ERP system was also acting as a drag on IT's ability to provide a flexible and adaptive service to support core administrative needs at Bentley. The system was no longer providing the experience people had come to expect from their daily online and mobile transactions. The streamlined, customer-focused experience supplied by Amazon, Google, and others had raised the expectations of students, faculty, and staff. A student's experience was not administratively seamless. Students were required to access multiple systems to perform different tasks such as submitting work orders, accessing grade and financial information, registering for courses, selecting housing, or completing assignments. Administrative departments still pushed a lot of paper. Departments struggled to update ERP modules or introduce new processes, and the IT group did not have the subject matter resources to provide support.
ERP Value Assessment
There is no doubt that replacing an ERP system requires a significant up-front investment. We needed a way to assess the cost of continuing operations with our existing ERP system against the cost of implementation and support for a replacement. To build these cost and value estimates, we worked closely with many IT teams including application support, infrastructure, data management, and client services to build a return on investment (ROI) model. In addition to licensing and maintenance costs, we looked at ongoing on-premises costs to support infrastructure, backups, and disaster recovery. We included the costs of satellite systems, such as the staff, faculty, and student portal, that we had developed over the years to improve the user experience. Finally, we factored in the cost to rewrite custom-developed modules if we stayed on the existing system.
We ended up with a financial model that evaluated the 10-year costs of staying with our current ERP system against costs incurred in the implementation and support of a replacement. We ultimately partnered closely with the university's finance team to develop this model into a budget that tracked the transition from the existing ERP and its satellite systems and incorporated these "savings" into support for the new ERP. As we developed a cloud-first IT strategy, this effort became part of a larger IT financial model that documented the shift from capital to operating spend as Bentley's on-premises infrastructure shrank and systems moved to the cloud.
By its very nature an ERP system touches the everyday experience of all staff, faculty, and students at the university. The potential replacement of an ERP system at Bentley was an opportunity to assess and address the value of IT services we were providing to all constituents. We could look at what our systems and services should be, rather than what they were. As a business school, we also recognized that exposure to a modern ERP system at Bentley could help prepare our students for the corporate workplace. Our new system, and relationship with the vendor, could play a more central role in the university's educational mission. This became a key consideration over the two-year period during which we looked at product demonstrations and worked with a third-party vendor to evaluate the existing landscape of higher education ERP and student systems.
Having narrowed the field to Workday, our teams visited other schools employing Workday and spoke to them about their experiences around the transformation of business processes and institutional value. A key focus of these visits was the change in IT departmental and staff support roles for Workday and ways in which staff and Workday could more directly support the mission of the school. For example, we identified many paper-based transactions at Bentley, such as expense reporting, budgeting, and vendor payments, that would become streamlined and, essentially, self-service and would improve the online experience of users. We also talked with Workday directly about ways students could become part of the Workday project and contribute to the development of a modern ERP system of the kind already widely used in business. These discussions and reviews with other schools generated a lot of excitement and interest around the future role and value of Bentley's administrative systems.
ERP Strategic Value
Because the ERP system at Bentley is a cornerstone of IT service and support, our decision to switch to an ERP based on Software as a Service (SaaS) had a significant impact on our IT strategy. With his arrival in late 2015, Bob Wittstein led our effort to develop and communicate the value of Bentley's IT enterprise program by publishing an IT Strategic Framework, IT Strategic Plan, and IT Top Ten Goals. This effort helped to situate the Workday implementation as a central effort within a move to common platforms—primarily the cloud and SaaS. A key tenet of Bentley's strategic plan was to "… develop a Cloud computing strategy for services that leverage shared infrastructure and applications, which by design minimizes risk and provides greater functionality and agility in support of the work of faculty, students and staff." The Workday initiative became a foundational part of Bentley's SaaS-first roadmap to leverage the scale, flexibility, and reliability of the cloud.
Once we made the decision to implement Workday at Bentley, the communication of value became an integral part of the project. Bob Wittstein and Luluah Safri, Director of Human Resources Operations, led our communications in the crucial first phase of the Workday implementation: HR and Payroll. Several noteworthy highlights of the communications to constituents deserve mention.
Generating Excitement: Bentley used monthly newsletters and a website to communicate about all aspects of the project and to provide answers to the "Why Workday?" question and generate excitement. Key themes were
- Workday as an enabling system that supports all aspects of teaching, learning, and administration
- Providing enterprise information in a centralized and consistent manner
- Improving controls over budgeting and monitoring spending
- Changing the culture of Bentley
- Leveraging modern technology and best practices with intuitive mobile tools on every device
As we moved closer to implementation, HR ran many training sessions and workshops for faculty and staff to communicate new processes and answer user questions.
Communicating Process Value: Bob Wittstein communicated 10 principles to establish the value of the migration to a new "configuration not code" ERP system. Key among these principles were "When in doubt follow Workday and change Bentley" and "We will use the tool as-is whenever possible: BUY not BUILD." Our goal was to standardize and simplify, and allow business owners to create and maintain their processes. Bentley also took advantage of the transition to consolidate existing processes—for example, the standardization of two weekly payroll periods for staff and faculty.
Minimizing Uncertainty and Disruption: The message was that we would minimize the parallel systems period and any attendant uncertainty and disruption. We completed the initial Workday Human Resources and Payroll implementation within nine months, from March to December 2016, and celebrated the processing of our first payroll in Workday in January 2017. Since then, we completed our Finance implementation in December 2017 and have begun work on the conversion of our Student systems to Workday.
The evaluation and implementation of Workday at Bentley was an excellent opportunity to communicate IT value and strategy to university stakeholders. The following summarizes lessons learned:
- Partner with Finance to identify costs and ROI early. Developing a cost model early helped focus discussion on long-term value and return on a significant investment. Our finance group became real partners (and leaders) in developing a budget roadmap for the Workday implementation. This trend will likely continue as we move to the cloud and assess the financial implications of SaaS implementations. There were some unanticipated costs: for example, we purchased a tool for running test cases during the twice-a-year Workday updates.
- Use the ERP implementation as an opportunity to discuss IT services and value. The opportunity to engage your service consumers in a discussion and debate about the future of ERP does not occur frequently (perhaps once every 25 years). Engaging in what-if discussions and looking at new, modern mobile-based systems generated a lot of excitement and interest in what, up to that point, had been a matter of indifference or frustration to our customers.
- Discuss value as part of the wider IT strategy. We engaged in the ERP evaluation before being able to fully communicate a comprehensive SaaS-first IT strategy that sought to shift resources away from infrastructure support to more direct support of university teaching, learning, and research goals. In an ideal world, this would have helped with communication of value to stakeholders.
- Let the business lead. Communication of enterprise IT value is much easier if your departmental leadership is an enthusiastic partner. Workday and other SaaS ERP systems place more power to configure, maintain, and innovate in the hands of business departments. These systems rely less on the role of IT to customize, maintain, and upgrade. It is critical that departmental leaders understand the scope and value of this transformation. At Bentley we were lucky to have such leadership in both Human Resources and Finance.
- Don't ignore data management and reporting. We did not have a fully formed strategy for data management and reporting prior to beginning our Workday implementation and could have done more to communicate its importance and value to Bentley. Workday and other SaaS products introduce integration complexity, and we are still evaluating to find the best post-Workday reporting strategy. Do not let reporting become an afterthought during the implementation.
Where to Learn More
- Bentley University Information Technology Strategic Plan
- Bentley IT Top 10 Goals
- Bentley Workday Information [https://www.bentley.edu/offices/workday]
- Bentley Workday Guiding Principles for Success [https://www.bentley.edu/files/Guidingprinciples.pdf]
Richard DeVries, Associate Director for IT Business Services
Calvin College is a selective Christian college located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Founded in 1876 and inspired by the 16th-century reformer John Calvin, the college is ranked #1 among Regional Colleges in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report. It offers liberal arts and professional programs in more than 100 majors and programs to 3,840 students.
Calvin Information Technology supports all aspects of technology in helping to facilitate the mission of Calvin College. Our staff of 36 professionals and 75 students strives to be both a service provider and a strategic differentiator by providing operational efficiencies, reliability, and security as well as introducing innovative solutions and technologies to campus.
Betty was an elderly woman in my neighborhood who spent her time on the front porch watching, listening, and talking to the neighbors. She knew who was on vacation, who had a remodel project under way, and whose teenage son was coming home late on summer nights. If you wanted to know what was happening in the neighborhood, you only had to stop over and visit with Betty for a while.
In many ways, Calvin Information Technology (CIT) plays the role of Betty—watching, listening, and talking to nearly every department on campus. CIT is uniquely positioned to know who is planning projects in almost any area at the college.
A sense of community and strong relationships are deeply embedded in the culture at Calvin College. Transparent communication is a value we discuss, which means there is generally a good flow of information. Couple that with a common mission and a strategic plan that is embraced across all college divisions and you have a good foundation.
In many ways, CIT is organized for good alignment with the business units. Our CIO sits on the president's cabinet, we use feedback loops, we have advisory groups, and we are actively engaged across the organization through both formal and informal channels. We have worked hard at shedding the mantle of the department of "No we can't" and instead use the phrase "Yes, and …" ("Yes we can do that, and these are the resources we will need" or "Yes we can do that, and this is when we can get it done").
Sometimes we are not as aware as we want to be. A few years back this became clear when Calvin College began work on a new, groundbreaking program. This program was to be innovative and very different from previous programs. As a result, communication did not follow normal channels. Indeed, early on it was not clear that this project even included a significant technology component. CIT was not aware of the project during the early, formative stages.
Program planning and content development were well along when the team realized that they would need an LMS and systems integration, which would require CIT's coming on board. Forward progress stalled for a bit as CIT was brought into the project and as we came up to speed. There would be some back-pedaling and reworking before the project could get on track again. It was clear that we had bumped into a communication gap that could affect the outcome of this project.
The first thing CIT did was to discern the strategic importance of the project. This was a co-curricular program that would involve cross-divisional support and would be run from the Student Life Division in collaboration with the provost and with full support of the college president. Once fully implemented, the program would engage most students over their entire four-year college career. It was well funded and strategically important to the college.
The timeline was tight for implementation. To be ready for the first cohort of students by the fall semester, CIT worked quickly to come on board and bring resources to the table. CIT resourced a project manager, internal technicians, and outside consultants. The consultants proved to be an effective extension of CIT's staff by providing specialized skills and additional capacity with the peak workload.
Stakeholders, such as the college president and major donors, maintained high standards for the project and were commissioned routinely to provide prototype feedback. Today we can report that the program is meeting objectives and will successfully bring on a new cohort of students this fall.
The value IT organizations bring to our institutions is ever changing. Two decades ago we were the gatekeepers of technology: IT decided who and what technologies would be resourced. Today, rather than serving as gatekeepers, we need to bring value to the organization as an effective partner in a relationship built on trust, a common sense of mission, and transparent communication.
To strengthen our partnership, CIT reorganized to create a Project Management Office. Both the framework and the language of the PMO have become commonplace across campus, creating a nimble structure for operational resources to be more responsive to the demands of delivering innovative solutions.
More recently, the PMO is working with the president's cabinet to help coordinate projects and resources across every division of the college. This includes talking to divisional leaders to collect their goals and objectives, assembling a master list, building a timeline, helping identify resources, and creating dashboards for the cabinet to visualize progress for the projects listed. As the cabinet sets priorities, they can better understand the interdependencies of the many projects.
- Previously invisible stakeholders will appear. While not initially identified, they will be discovered or self-identify. Once they do engage, their new perspective could bring you back a few steps or even derail a project. Spend some time identifying all the stakeholders.
- A systems approach is essential to brokering relationships with stakeholders. Just as a systems approach with data governance (identifying owners, custodians, stewards, etc.) has proven to be beneficial, identifying various stakeholders and their roles is essential. Who will make decisions, who will influence those decisions, and who needs only to be informed of the decisions?
- All stakeholders have a goal. Determine stakeholders' goals and keep them at the forefront of your planning/brokering. Keep stakeholders engaged and be responsive to their feedback. If you spend as much time or more engaging your stakeholders as you do planning your project, you will increase your likelihood of success.
- An attitude of "Yes, and …" brings more value than "No, we can't." When CIT communicated that we were eager to do the project and that we did not have enough resources, additional funding became available to add capacity and specialized skills with outside resources. A positive attitude can make the difference between project success and project frustration.
- Learn, grow, and transform. Our team learned a great deal from the outside consultants, and we are bringing this knowledge to other projects. As an IT organization that strives to be always learning, we find outside consultants can be a positive way to build our knowledge, which eventually leads to transforming ourselves.
- User experience trumps all. Each user should find delight in using the product. Because participation in our new program is voluntary, we want to present an excellent user experience to our students. With the help of a local user-centered design consultant, using feedback loops and gamifying outcomes with badges and rewards, we delivered a delightful user experience. This in turn helps to fuel the success of the program.
- Communication takes work. You cannot put communication on autopilot. Be intentional about being open and honest. We could not have achieved the outcomes or met the timeline if there had been hidden agendas, mistrust, and poor communication. The effort will pay dividends.
- It's like a marriage. To be a good partner, you need to listen, understand, and trust each other. Not every aspect of a project is going to be sunshine and roses. There will be differences of opinion from time to time. Our project was able to move further and faster because our baseline was to assume good intentions of each other. When you work from a basis of trust, you waste little energy on doubting motives and questioning intentions.
- Feed the "trust bank." Just as you can put money in the bank, you can build your organizational trust bank by inspiring confidence between IT and your business units. Projects can either feed the trust bank or drain it. In demonstrating our willingness to partner and our ability to deliver as promised, we created a sense of trust—we fed the trust bank. For those inevitable times when you need to make a withdrawal from the trust bank, you want to make sure there is trust capital in reserve.
- Hold all members accountable, including executive leadership. Set clear expectations for those in leadership roles: Do not assume they know what you expect from them. You do not want absent leadership, nor do you want helicopter leaders who swoop in, create a whirlwind, and fly away. Expectations of leadership often include bringing the right people together, communicating common goals, and providing sufficient resources. Let your leadership know how they will be involved, what decisions you will ask them to make, and when they will be engaged in the project. It is amazing how this will lead to fewer surprises.
What lessons have you learned from your projects? Are you interested in learning more about the work we are doing at Calvin Information Technology? I would love to hear from you. Contact me at [email protected].
David Norman is cloud program director at Bentley University.
Richard DeVries is associate director for IT business services at Calvin College.
© 2018 Richard DeVries and David Norman. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 International License.