University $84 million tech upgrade chugs along

The project is still in the planning stages after six months.
January 31, 2013

Although it’s been half a year since the University of Minnesota’s $83.5 million technology upgrade began, there’s still a long way to go.

Visible changes to University web pages won’t take place until the end of 2014, when the Enterprise System upgrades all at once.

The University’s massive Enterprise System includes the computer programs that handle every transaction, like financial aid, registration for students, payroll and purchasing for employees.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the administration decided how to pay for the upgrade early this fall.

Currently, the University pays for the Enterprise System by assessing each department a fee equal to 1.25 percent of its salaries.  Pfutzenreuter said the rate will rise to 1.75 percent, which will pay for the project by 2019.

“Units will have to find this additional half a percent in their existing budget; there’s not money to pay for that,” Pfutzenreuter said. “So it’ll be another example of the University having to tighten its belt financially.”

The last major upgrade to the system was in 1999. Since then, the University has made its own upgrades, customizing things when companies didn’t have what they needed.

A study identified the University’s system as the second-most customized in the country. While customization was necessary at the time, project director Andy Hill said each difference between the University’s system and the new version now has to be analyzed.

This includes re-evaluating historical decisions, he said, like all satellite campuses having different academic calendars.

“We don’t do this very often,” he said. “Basically, we’ve done deferred maintenance, for lack of a better word.”

Planning

Most of the upgrade teams are finishing up the “Plan and Discover” phase, where they identified all of the processes that will have to change in the upgrade.

William Dana, project director for the student team, said they had about 80 meetings in the last six months. In these meetings, the team filled a 500-page book with processes they have to evaluate.

The teams have their calendars posted online and encourage University community members to attend the meetings, but the majority of those in attendance were required to go, Dana said.

This was because this phase looked more technically at each individual process, he said.

“The next phase will have a different sort of approach toward doing this work, because this is where we’re going to be changing,” Dana said. “So there’ll be a lot of different outreach mechanisms for students, faculty and staff.”

Dana said he hopes students, faculty and staff attend more sessions in the future so they can tailor the best end product for them.

The finance team hasn’t started its first planning phase yet because it last updated its system in 2008. Finance project director Dan Hemauer said because of this, they’ll have fewer changes when the upgrade happens.

Hill said the teams are following the plan from CedarCrestone, the consultant company working on the project, and that they are on schedule and on budget.

Decisions

The biggest challenge, Hill said, will be deciding whether to continue with any given customized process that the University uses, or upgrade the software.

In upgrading to the new software, the University will have product support from the company that makes it.

When the University customized programs — like Graduation Planner — staff members had to maintain them. This meant that the University didn’t receive the occasional update or help from the company because they didn’t make it.

Hemauer said he’s looking forward to having the complete support.

“The idea that we’re going to be on a supported version of the software from the vendor will be a comforting thought,” he said.

But they’ll keep some processes that University staff developed, Hill said, if the change might be too drastic that it would sacrifice usability.

Once the majority of the system is upgraded, Hill said it’ll be easier to make smaller upgrades since it won’t be making as large of a jump.

“That’s the new model,” he said, “so we don’t have these gigantic, super costly upgrades.”

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