Advertisement

Becoming Institutional Partners and Brokers: The New Role for IT

min read

IT leaders describe how they are collaborating and cooperating with their campuses as they transition to their new organizational role.

Abstract image of data elements configured in a tunnel shape
Credit: agsandrew / iStock © 2018

This article is the third in a 2018 series that presents case studies related to the theme of next generation enterprise IT:

  1. Building a Technology Strategy to Enable Next Generation IT
  2. Connecting Enterprise IT Models to Institutional Missions and Goals
  3. Becoming Institutional Partners and Brokers: The New Role for IT
  4. Maintaining Business Process Redesign Efforts through Change Management
  5. Using Data from Multiple Systems for Personalized Study Experiences

Traditional enterprise IT is typically viewed as centralized, monolithic, and vendor-driven. In contrast, next generation enterprise IT is characterized by movement toward a multifaceted, interconnected ecosystem focused on advancing the institution's mission and effectiveness. Next generation enterprise IT is mission-driven and client-centric. It is enabled by both a variety of technology trends and the management of those trends, which include cloud computing, business process reengineering, social networks, mobile technologies, analytics, artificial intelligence, enterprise architecture, and service management methodologies. Further, 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; the EDUCAUSE Enterprise IT Program will consider those challenges throughout 2018. In this third set of case studies, IT leaders from Furman University, Wellesley College, Emerson College, and Syracuse University discuss how they use enterprise system sourcing efforts to improve collaboration and cooperation across their organizations. Given cloud solutions and the ease of technology acquisition, each case highlights how these institutions are using enterprise system implementations as they transition from technology suppliers to brokers and partners. A focus on sourcing strategies—specifically, contract negotiations and vendor relationship management—provides a unique set of lessons that are key to each institution's ongoing IT transformation.

Furman University

David P. Steinour, Chief Information Officer

Institutional Profile

Furman University is a premier liberal arts and sciences university located in Greenville, South Carolina. Founded in 1826, Furman offers rigorous academics in more than 60 areas of study along with broad research opportunities, a robust visual and performing arts program, and NCAA Division I athletics. Furman's 2,800 students live and learn on a campus that is internationally recognized for its traditional beauty and modern facilities. At the heart of the university's academic experience is The Furman Advantage, which guarantees every student an unparalleled education that combines classroom learning with real-world experiences and self-discovery. This integrated four-year pathway, guided by a diverse community of mentors, prepares students for lives of purpose and accelerated career and community impact—demonstrating in concrete terms the value of a Furman education. U.S. News & World Report ranks Furman as the number one liberal arts college in South Carolina, number 53 among the 233 Best National Liberal Arts Colleges, and tops the nation's Most Innovative Schools list at number 13.

Project Overview

Furman President Elizabeth Davis announced The Furman Advantage in 2016, promising a fully personalized student experience. Furman was already preparing to replace its 20-year-old enterprise resource planning (ERP) software; further, in January 2017, I was reappointed as Furman's CIO after eight years at George Washington University. With new leadership in place and a commitment to meeting deadlines associated with strategic goals, we had just two years to evaluate, implement, and transform business processes for an initial summer 2018 rollout of a major system that had yet to be selected. Furthermore, the assurances of The Furman Advantage required unprecedented tracking of activities and outcomes across the curriculum.

Early on, we realized that to support the campus-wide initiative to personalize virtually everything about the Furman experience, we needed a store of clean, integrated data, with everything connected to and drawing from a core system of record. The ERP would be the cornerstone of that system, which we named One Truth. Our concept of One Truth is a data store containing a few integrated systems to support The Furman Advantage with reliable, accessible, and appropriately governed information. The system will let us re-envision both the Furman experience and the data to support it. Beginning with a spreadsheet of more than 100 active, largely unconnected enterprise software systems, we quickly realized the enormity of achieving the One Truth goal of having only a few carefully selected and integrated systems.

Prioritizing relationships. Mirroring President Davis' challenge to break down internal barriers and aspire to excellence, the technology transformation began with Information Technology Services (ITS) leaders conducting a listening tour of department heads, gatekeepers, and student leaders. For the initiative to succeed, ownership of the ERP and its associated systems had to be distributed across the enterprise rather than seated within ITS. Individual departments had been growing the inventory of one-off, siloed systems for years; ending this would require the strategic participation of departments at every turn.

Representatives from key areas participated in selecting the Workday ERP and the implementation consultants. We then held a meeting with groups that were managing and evaluating The Furman Advantage activities to determine what Workday would provide [http://blogs.furman.edu/workday/] and what we needed to add to complete the One Truth data store.

Evaluating contracts. Per university policy, as CIO, I am responsible for evaluating all contracts involving technology, while a contract's legal evaluation is handled by our legal counsel. That is, I take a close, hands-on approach to negotiating terms and deliverables, while the lawyer evaluates the language identifying responsibilities and contingencies. Because the system handles student and institutional information, a high level of trust is required and contracts must be evaluated by a specialist in legal risks.

Keeping the promises. To be considered a vital partner in providing this technology transformation, ITS must be authentically responsive to stakeholder requirements, and the stakeholders must play a significant role in implementing the system.

This technology transformation project requires a major investment of dollars and human capital, and its first priority is helping us keep the four Furman Advantage promises:

  • A personalized, four-year pathway to graduation
  • High-impact, engaged learning through research, internships, and study-away programs
  • A team of advisors and mentors to help students find their path
  • Leading institutes and centers that explore and tackle important issues

Technology will be key to tracking and assessing the project's outcomes. ITS staged demonstrations of current systems and their capabilities to record and report data for evaluating alignment with these promises. Senior administration and departmental representatives participated in discussions on what was currently possible and to identify missing components. These stakeholders reached a broad consensus on five key points:

  • Workday will serve as the core system of record.
  • Salesforce will be licensed as Furman's customer relationship management solution to allow for community and internal mentors, to coordinate other constituency contacts, and to enable integration of Qualtrics customer experience research.
  • Slate and Raiser's Edge will be retained as the systems of record for our pre-student and post-student constituencies, respectively, until the Workday/Salesforce data store is sufficiently maturity to subsume those data operations.
  • Moodle will be retained as the learning management system.
  • All retained systems will be moved from on-premise to the cloud and integrated with Workday.

Figure 2 shows a diagram of the key system inputs. The group also decided to engage the same implementation consultants for Salesforce that assisted with Workday to take advantage of their familiarity with the initiative. Workday's HR and financial services components went live on July 1, Salesforce will go live in late August, and the cloud migration of all other retained systems is complete.

A diamond shape with 'One Truth' in the middle. The four points are labelled (top) WORKDAY; (right) RAISER'S EDGE Post-Student; (bottom) SALESFORCE CRM; (left) SLATE Pre-Student. The line between SLATE and WORKDAY is labelled BI
Figure 1. The One Truth enterprise data store will initially receive input from four key systems

Next generation IT requires not only transforming IT's role from provider to facilitator, but also evolving its primary concerns from operational activities to strategic participation. To support this realignment, Furman is moving its data center off premise and outsourcing its student residential network to enhance internet and online services for students, which also removes the residential internet traffic load from its core university network.

Convening stakeholders and targeting systems. Once we identified our major purchases and work was underway, groups with potentially related business processes assembled to talk about technology requirements. In hopes of consolidating several disparate systems, The Furman Advantage leadership and departments offering high-impact activities participated in discussions and software demonstrations (see Figure 2). Although the goal of having a single dedicated system was not practical, we have fewer systems today and our stakeholders have a new appreciation for each other's challenges.

A large group of people sitting at tables in a large circle.
Figure 2. A stakeholder meeting at Furman University

We have targeted even basic transactional systems for consolidation. For example, our ITS department's work-order ticketing system will also serve Facilities Services and Housing, trading what were three on-premise systems for a single cloud system that interfaces with the ERP. Our consolidation plans are to decrease the total number of enterprise systems from more than 100 to fewer than 15 by 2020.

Assessing BI needs. Technology requirements often include business intelligence (BI) strategies. Although such strategies are critical for planning and assessment, we will delay formalizing a BI rollout associated with the One Truth model until key systems are implemented. Furman's BI strategy has three outstanding needs:

  • Data governance policies and facilitators authorized to provide appropriate data to requestors
  • Standardized procedures for requesting and monitoring use of private data
  • Business processes to authenticate genuine data from the One Truth store

Although Furman does not yet have an official data governance process in place, ITS and the Office of Institutional Assessment and Research are working together to envision a way forward for data governance. I led a business intelligence initiative at another institution, including a data governance component, and we are engaging in discussions with institutions that have mature data governance processes for guidance as well. The wholesale distribution of One Truth information will be postponed until we can be certain about appropriate use and authenticity.

Lessons Learned

  • Find the upside of challenges. Initially, the requirement to implement a new ERP and customer relationship management solution simultaneously, while also moving several major enterprise systems to the cloud and integrating them, seemed like a disadvantage. Making all of these changes at once turned out to be opportune, however, because the projects were not overloaded with legacy requirements.
  • Seek out leaders with experience. For a project of this scope to succeed, a leader with significant experience in transitioning major enterprise systems is essential. In this case, my prior experience helped Furman implement preemptive measures to reduce variance and risk that a less-experienced leader maybe have not otherwise foreseen.
  • Encourage cross-campus commitment. Removing long-standing business process silos and challenging popular one-off software are more of a leadership challenge than a technical one. To move from a 20-year-old overly customized system to a hosted "vanilla" application to maximize mobility and self-service requires generating strong commitment across the enterprise.

Wellesley College

Ravi Ravishanker, CIO & Associate Provost

Institutional Profile

Wellesley College, located in Massachusetts, is a private, nonprofit liberal arts college for women. It has an enrollment of 2,350 undergraduate students and offers more than 50 departmental and interdepartmental majors, with a student–faculty ratio of 7:1.

Wellesley was one of the earliest institutions to merge library and technology services into a single Information Services department. In 2011, the department was renamed Library and Technology Services (LTS); in 2014, the functional technology staff from the administrative departments joined LTS. This organizational structure helps LTS provide more coherent technology support, and it was tremendously helpful in the technology transitions that I now describe.

Overview

When I began as CIO at Wellesley in November 2010, community members quickly informed me of the urgent need to improve several technology-related matters. Most urgent was the need to examine how best to improve the administrative systems and business processes, and provide more reliable and accurate data to the community. After a quick initial evaluation, it became clear that we needed a drastic change to the way we were doing business.

Setting initial goals. I presented a plan to the senior staff that included three steps:

  • Evaluate whether the current ERP (Banner) was the right one for Wellesley. Given the timing of maintenance renewal and lack of choices, we recommended renewing Banner and beginning evaluation at a later date.
  • Create a data governance committee to assist in the process of creating a robust, reliable, and accurate data warehouse, focused on data analytics rather than on reporting.
  • Create an ecosystem of LAMP stack applications around administrative systems that cater to the institution's needs. Based on my previous experience, I found this to be cheaper than customizing administrative systems themselves to achieve the same result. The plan was to phase them out after transition to a new system.

We successfully accomplished the latter two goals quickly, while continually assessing the ERP landscape's ability to satisfy our needs and strategic expectations. Key needs included simplified support for administrative systems and a shift in both personnel and financial resources to better support the college's academic mission.

Changing the ERP. In late 2014, I wrote a paper to the senior staff, highlighting why we needed to change our ERP:

  • Having the same ERP for more than 25 years created barriers to changes, which were almost impossible to achieve.
  • Rather than simply forklift the current system to the cloud, we needed to move the ERP to the cloud to take full advantage of what the cloud has to offer and to ensure a system that is mobile first, intuitive, and secure.
  • We needed a system that was easy to support and configurable and that didn't require complex technical expertise.
  • Managing the ERP system locally was very costly in terms of the personnel needed to support it and the time and effort it took to negotiate and coordinate upgrades and changes.
  • We had several staff members who were Banner experts and critical to its support; this put the institution at risk if any of these experts were to retire or move on as we might not be able to find similar expertise in the market.

In short, we wanted to transform the administrative support to be very much like the academic support. Most academic computing groups in small liberal arts colleges comprise subject-matter experts who research and recommend existing or emerging technologies based on their relevance to teaching, learning, and research. They work with the faculty and students to adopt or experiment with those technologies. They rarely program or customize systems.

Administrative systems support needed to parallel this model in that we needed more business analysts who understood how technologies can improve the business processes in functional offices they support, not more DBAs and programmers. We are simply too small to be able to sustain the existing model.

We chose Workday as our ERP system based on these criteria and internal discussions. It is not a perfect system, but it satisfied most of what we were looking for and had great potential to help us continually improve business processes. Obviously, being an early Workday adopter entailed its own risk, but we were willing to take that on.

Negotiating contracts. Contract negotiations, as you might imagine, were a difficult process. Because Workday uses a single codebase for all users, the company is typically unwilling to negotiate individually because, if it agrees to changes with one customer, it will likely have ripple effects with its other existing contracts. We collaborated with another institution and used the same attorney to negotiate for both of us, which somewhat reduced our costs. Thanks to that attorney's good work, we were able to affect some changes, which we believe found their way into the vendor's master services agreements, benefiting future higher education customers.

Implementing the system. Implementing Workday requires working with an implementation partner, which has developed specific methodologies we need to follow to meet standard institutional budgets and goals. One of the Workday methodologies is the Lifecycle Development Program (LDP). We used LDP to successfully implement the Workday Human Capital Management (HCM), which consists of core HR, payroll, and benefits. The implementation took nine months, and HCM went live on January 1, 2017. We then immediately began implementing Workday Finance, which went live on July 1, 2017. Next, we began implementing Workday Student in a limited fashion. We use Slate for admissions and PowerFAIDs for financial aid; we chose to defer implementing them in Workday for a later time while implementing all other student modules, including course catalog, advising, academic planning, registration, and student financials. These modules will be rolled out in phases from July 2018 through July 2019.

Making it work. The changes we engaged in are complex and required both strong governance and a willingness to rethink business processes and workflow; the support of senior leaders helped us on both fronts. We also worked hard to ensure strong change management and training. The collaboration among various administrative departments involved in these implementations has been superb; without it, we could not have accomplished all that we did.

Lessons Learned

Implementing new technologies is very much like playing golf! Every round has its ups and downs, and every bad shot and bad putt is a learning opportunity. Following are some of the lessons we learned on this project.

  • Accept mistakes and correct them quickly. These complex projects affect a wide range of users, and it is impossible to capture all of the use cases and user needs up front. You should develop appropriate response strategy after the initial roll out by anticipating that you will hear complaints—especially from users who cannot do what they used to do in the older system. When this happens, accept responsibility for it, offer alternatives, and prioritize their delivery based on the institutional impact.
  • Never underestimate the importance of change management. No matter how much you prepare, you will always fall short in managing the change and you will always receive complaints about issues ranging from communication style and frequency (for some it is too much, and for others it is too little) to too many new terminologies to not enough training or training at inconvenient times. To prepare, you should over-communicate, create targeted communications, and offer a lot of training, both for groups and individuals. You should continue these activities beyond the initial rollout and for however long it takes to help users acclimate to the new system. Also, where possible, ease users into the new system rather than cutting over everything one fine day.
  • Establish clear governance and goals. It is very important to set achievable goals and make sure the community understands them. Further, having a clear governance structure is crucial for such a major implementation. Ensure that your governance body can make decisions quickly and that the implementation team can rely on it for crisis management, because plenty of crises will arise all along the way!
  • Time your training appropriately. Staff members will be eager to get as much training as possible as quickly as possible. Timing the training in such a way that your staff can put it to use as soon as possible is essential. Avoid sending staff to training too early at all costs; waiting too long to send them is also unproductive. Choosing the optimal time—typically, within 60 days of rollout—is key.
  • Praise the staff often and reward their efforts. Some staff members will enthusiastically participate in the project and view it as once in a lifetime opportunity. Because the work will be very demanding, praising your team members for the good work they do is critical to keeping morale high. Plan to reward staff performance as well, which will be very much appreciated.
  • There will be staff turnover, so plan for it. At the most inopportune times, you will encounter turnovers. Some people will not want to go through an ERP transition and will leave midstream; their loss will likely be hard. Others will move on after gaining experience in the new system. These departures will diminish team morale, so planning ahead, having a strategy, and being up front and open with your entire team about these events—and how you plan to respond to them—will serve you well in the end.

Acknowledgments

I want to thank the Workday implementation team, the governance team, and the senior leadership at Wellesley for their dedication and hard work to make the project successful. This has been a community effort, so I also want to thank the students, faculty, and staff for their patience and cooperation as we transition to this new system. I thank Nephellie Dobie, Wellesley College, and Veronica Brandstrader, WPI, for reviewing this piece.

Emerson College

Brian Basgen, Associate Vice President, Information Technology

Institutional Profile

Emerson College is a comprehensive, masters institution in downtown Boston that focuses on communication and the arts in a liberal arts context. Emerson has 4,400 students and a 36% acceptance rate. Annual revenue was $194 million in FY 2017.

Overview

It began with a data problem. Answering both critical and routine questions in HR, finance, and academic affairs was sometimes a laborious process. Further, at times, questions would yield inconsistent answers. This lack of data fluency frustrated stakeholders across campus—none more so than people in the functional areas themselves, who yearned for better tools.

The root of Emerson's data issues was the Banner ERP system. Specifically, the implementation of Banner did not consistently create processes that prioritized data integrity across functional areas. Compounding historical implementation problems was a lack of strategic engagement with Banner-related consultants. Some functional areas engaged consultants to address Banner operational needs, but this tactical approach did not resolve underlying structural issues with business process, which only a complete reimplementation would correct. For these and other reasons, Emerson decided that the best solution forward was the Workday ERP system.

Analyzing existing systems. This decision to change ERP systems required that we thoroughly analyze our campus systems. Over the past decade, two trends created a mosaic of different enterprise applications at Emerson:

  • the availability of cloud solutions offering best-of-breed solutions reduced traditional barriers to entry; and
  • the proliferation of these cloud systems created interoperability and data integrity challenges.

This dichotomy creates an illusion that major system changes are easily achievable. This deception comes with a modicum of truth: systems are much easier to use and deploy, never mind that connectivity is more challenging! The question thus becomes: who on campus is best situated to dissect vendor solutions to identify a sustainable path forward?

Defining IT's role and project partnerships. Historically, when solutions were on premise, the IT department led such projects by necessity because deployment required IT. With cloud solutions, however, the role of IT as a gatekeeper was made obsolete. Some vendors recognize this and target functional areas to avoid IT entanglements.

During the assessment of a new product, vendors help campus stakeholders focus on the solutions that a product provides, with less interest in the process of implementing that solution. Since the cloud application provides the necessary ends, consultants may encourage the notion that the means do not merit a similar level of investment. But, as any student of Hegel understands, means and ends are inseparable!

The most valuable resource an IT leader can offer in this environment is saving stakeholders' time. Campus stakeholders should drive process, but IT leaders can ensure that vendors are in alignment with campus objectives. IT leaders are highly conversant in the vendor management process because it's a regular part of how technology interfaces with the campus. IT as developer is largely a relic of the past; today, the majority of solutions that IT provides are vendor created. Thus, while post-cloud enterprise IT continues to provide solutions, it increasingly emphasizes data integration and vendor management. In this way, IT can help make the journey to the cloud easier for campus stakeholders.

Negotiating contracts. Contractual review is a natural source of IT expertise. IT leaders can assess a contract's business terms including: What are the service and delivery guarantees? How are responsibilities and accountability aligned? Business assessment should precede a contractual legal assessment so as to establish an appropriate context. Next, legal advice from counsel on areas such as liabilities, warranties, and insurance coverage is essential. IT can then become a strategic broker, articulating both the business terms and legal risks to campus stakeholders to ensure effective institutional decision-making.

Identifying key vendors. To prepare for Emerson's Workday implementation, we built a systems integration diagram showing the data relationships between 72 enterprise applications on campus. Just over half of those applications are in the cloud. Of the remaining applications, 25 are on-premise vendor applications and 10 are custom applications. This diagram offers a contextual landscape of the different vendors involved. So, while Workday replaces a substantial part of one large system (we have not yet decided to move away from Banner student), the project results in a cascading series of changes to 67 distinct data integrations. Of those, we identified 32 integrations as essential for basic product functionality, all of which impact different vendor relationships.

Managing the vendor. Prima facie, vendor management requires strategic orchestration. ERP system change requires a layered approach of peeling off the pieces of different vendor applications. Prior to negotiating our new relationship with Workday, we identified a series of applications that our advancement office uses that must be replaced as a prerequisite of our future work. We also adopted a replacement workflow solution and an integration platform to provide IT staff with more agility in our Workday engagement. Finally, the decision to go with Workday is concomitant with choosing both an implementation consultant and a change management consultant.

The ideal role of IT in vendor management on behalf of stakeholders is to validate the vendor itself, rather that the vendor's particular product. To evaluate vendors who are positioning themselves as strategic institutional partners, we can examine:

  • the competency of the individuals who will provide support and/or assistance (both with their own product and in understanding our business process);
  • their level of commitment as individuals and as a team to our institution; and
  • their legal and contractual commitments to our institution.

IT cannot fulfill this evaluation role alone, but it can play a leading role in orchestrating this process effectively.

Finally, it is important to note that vendor management is not limited to onboarding, but also includes assessment during an engagement. At Emerson, our implementation consultant experienced extraordinary difficulty. The original consultant project team suffered 100% attrition in a short period of time, and the quality of the replacements did not meet our expectations. Because we had established a good vendor relationship and had clear contractual terms, we were able to move quickly to terminate the relationship and limit the harm to our project.

Lessons Learned

Emerson's journey in transitioning to a new ERP system is not yet complete, so we still have many lessons to learn. But, in transit, we have learned a few already:

  • Consultants require intense scrutiny in the initial months. These early months can effectively serve as an evaluation period. Trends must be prospectively identified and extrapolated. Communication about challenges must be clear and continual.
  • Consultant management intermingles with staff management. Unexpected staff turnover is quite disruptive, particularly among key players. Losing even one key lead position could set a project back by months and be sufficient to cause project failure. Engaging in an early risk-mitigation exercise on this subject with respect to critical teams is a valuable and important exercise.
  • Reading a statement of work (SOW) is like magic: both a science and an art! Evaluate vendor performance against the SOW, monitor progress, and, most importantly, communicate risks and developing issues to all key stakeholders. The termination clause of a consultant SOW may be the most important part of the document (more so than scope and deliverables). Further, it is possible and even ideal to design an evaluation phase with a consultant so that if a termination is required, it can be done in a relatively planned manner.
  • Changing consultants is hard; retaining a failing consultant is much harder. As time-consuming and difficult as it is to change consultant vendors, the alternative of staying with a failing vendor is significantly worse. The earlier the decision to change can be made, the better.
  • Modern vendors take an active role in project planning and scoping. This is helpful and necessary due to the far-reaching complexity of modern ERP. Yet it is essential to avoid relying too much on the vendor's scoping work and thereby fall prey to assumptions; focus on the balance between vendor work and work done internally. Failure to do so can lead to a variety of issues—from not being able to adequately compare consultants in a bid process to over-reliance on internal capacity for issues such as data integrations or backfilling functional areas.
  • Change management is similar to project management in its importance. While project management fits squarely into existing IT proficiencies, change management likely belongs elsewhere; in Emerson's case, HR took on this role. While HR leads our change management efforts, IT serves an important role in vendor management.

Acknowledgments

Emerson's Workday project is fortunate to have a highly engaged Steering and Executive Committee, as well as great partners with Workday and our new implementation consultant Alchemy. Leadership in our functional areas has enabled us to weather early storms due to the energy and passion that the HR, Payroll, Finance, and IT teams have invested in this project. Large enterprise projects require a coordinated team effort, and while we experienced vendor challenges, we have been fortunate with strong internal stakeholders and teams.

Syracuse University

Sam Scozzafava, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer
Kalpana (Kal) Srinivas, Director for Retention

Institutional Profile

Syracuse University (SU) is a private, international research university with distinctive academics, unique offerings, and an undeniable spirit. Located in the geographic heart of New York State—but with a global footprint and nearly 150 years of history—SU offers a quintessential college experience.

SU's scope is a testament to its strengths: a pioneering history dating back to 1870; a choice of more than 200 majors and 100 minors offered through 13 schools and colleges; nearly 15,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate students; more than a quarter of a million alumni in 160 countries; and a student population from all 50 U.S. states and 123 countries.

Overview

When he joined Syracuse University (SU) in 2014, the present chancellor had a key set of information: an organizational assessment of the institution performed by an external group. Drawn from conversations with the campus community, an external market review, and months of effort, that assessment revealed several areas that offered improvement opportunities. To apply these findings, we developed "Fast Forward Syracuse," a framework of interrelated components that would help SU improve by both embracing change and making students our primary focus.

The 2014 Fast Forward exercise revealed, among other things, a clear need for more systematic data about academic progress. Recognizing that true undergraduate excellence can be achieved only when we pay attention to the whole student, SU launched the Orange SUccess initiative, a university-wide overhaul of advising practices aimed at improving

  • training of and support for advisors,
  • coordination of advising across all schools and colleges, and
  • integration of advising and career services.

One priority that arose from our academic strategic planning process was to select a vendor and implement a centralized advising system; the goal was to provide intrusive advising to improve student persistence and streamline the advising process across schools and colleges.

To address this priority, SU decided to explore available advising software to better track students' skills and interests. Our goal was to focus on student persistence, retention, and graduation as we continued our journey to better support student success. Recognizing that this new technology would transform our student support by virtually touching every student, every school and college, and many support units, we realized that understanding organizational needs was a critical success factor.

Building a team and choosing a vendor. We quickly realized that the extent of the change, the required campus leadership and support, and the need to align our advising approach across all our schools and colleges would mean that our ITS organization had to do more than simply help select and implement a piece of software. To help ensure success, ITS had to be a broker and partner with many units across campus and with the selected vendor.

We carefully assembled a cross-functional team to identify and explore the leading advising platforms and vendors. Staff from ITS and each of our schools and colleges identified key features and functionality for SU, including accessibility, compatibility with our ERP system, security, integration capabilities, and user friendliness. The team then researched software products and companies, consulted with potential vendors, gathered additional input from across the campus, and selected three leading vendors/platforms.

At this point in the process, the product selection team asked ITS to facilitate the final review and selection. We then augmented the original selection team to include additional representatives (faculty and staff) from all schools and colleges, other offices within Academic Affairs, and ITS. The final selection came after a series of product demonstrations, vendor interviews, reference interviews, and further internal discussion. Ultimately, one solution rose to the top.

Negotiating contracts. Once the preferred option was agreed upon, we began the work of contract negotiation and execution. SU requires that all IT-related contracts be reviewed by the CIO's office, which had historically served as a broker between IT service vendors and various internal offices to help ensure the best possible outcome in contract language and risk mitigation. In this role, a key ITS leadership team member serves as the "central hub" between the vendor contract team and university offices, often including our general counsel, risk management, information security, purchasing, and the sponsoring group or groups. This process has worked well for us, partly because ITS has collaborated with those various offices on many matters outside of contract negotiation.

Implementing the system. Once we signed the contract, the primary role of ITS switched from broker to partner alongside Academic Affairs and a broad-based implementation team. The overall implementation followed our standard approach, which uses a formal project governance structure that includes executive sponsors (the CIO and associate provost), project sponsors, a variety of project implementation experts, and an informed advisory council.

A key to our overall success was that we kept the project's strategic goals in mind whenever deciding how to best implement and use the new technology; we thereby avoided the potential "technology for technology's sake" trap. The strong partnership between ITS and Academic Affairs (as well as other stakeholders) helped to ensure this alignment. At the ground level, ITS provided project management and system integration resources, relying on subject matter experts from within Academic Affairs and the individual schools and colleges to guide those efforts.

The partnership extended to vendor management as well, with ITS leadership leaning in on technical matters, while Academic Affairs focused on system functionality. Vendor responsiveness was excellent throughout—largely, we believe, because of the transparent and collaborative approach both sides took when challenges arose.

Assessing outcomes. This process resulted in the implementation of and ongoing improvement to a technology platform that serves as a foundational underpinning for a university-wide strategic objective. It has also offered a valuable reminder of what a true partnership between IT and any non-IT department or division can accomplish. In SU's case, ITS's involvement as both a partner and broker helped to ensure success from start to finish, thereby helping the entire campus begin to transform its student success culture. The model will surely be used again at SU, and we encourage all campuses to leverage their central IT teams and leadership in these broker/partner roles.

Lessons Learned

  • Ensure that IT and academic affairs (or any business/academic unit) are strategically aligned. Organizational partnering and implementation transparency will create and maintain trust across the institution.
  • Carefully consider contracts and vendor management. Contract negotiation and vendor management are important elements of every software product effort. To do both well, you must involve the proper stakeholders, clearly understand why you are seeking the change, remember that efforts largely succeed or fail because of people, not technology, and decide what success means at the start of your effort.
  • Let the academic or business goals drive the effort. This should be true even when a central component for success is technology-centric. Setting these priorities will help the campus community better understand and appreciate the effort, which will translate into the support and buy-in critical to the initiative's success.
  • Ensure high-level support. To succeed, projects must have the unwavering support of executive sponsors (the CIO and associate provost).
  • Start with "why" not "what." Understanding organizational culture; remembering and learning from your history; making informed, data-based decisions; and focusing on—and especially, communicating—the enterprise benefits are key to success.
  • Examine existing policies and practices. Use any campus effort to assess and appropriately revise institutional policies, processes, and practices.
  • Avoid customizations. Any implementation effort should attempt to realize the maximum number of features and potential and minimize or eliminate customizations. The more potential you realize, the better accepted a system will be and the more people will use and support its use.

Conclusion

As these case studies and lessons learned show, enterprise system implementation efforts entail numerous challenges, as well as abundant opportunities for IT leaders and their teams to enhance collaboration with and cooperation among stakeholders across their institutions. Such efforts also further support IT's changing role from that of supplier of technology to technology partners and brokers who can guide and manage everything from contract negotiations to vendor relationships in complex campus-wide implementation projects. Check out additional resources and tools on this topic.


David P. Steinour is Chief Information Officer at Furman University.

Ravi Ravishanker is CIO and Associate Provost at Wellesley College.

Brian Basgen is Associate Vice President of Information Technology at Emerson College.

Sam Scozzafava is Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Syracuse University.

Kalpana (Kal) Srinivas is Director for Retention at Syracuse University.

© 2018 David P. Steinour, Ravi Ravishanker, Brian Basgen, Sam Scozzafava, and Kalpana (Kal) Srinivas. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 International License.