Are Our Old IT Systems Ready to Graduate?

A new school culture found in the cloud.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jo Ellen DiNucci

CREDIT Boise State photoTechnology is permeating every market – and higher education is no exception as institutions work to replace aging infrastructures and establish a modern IT climate and efficient business environment on campuses across the country.

The higher education culture is one that fosters individuality, diversity, and growth – and the technologies and processes that support these institutions need to accommodate this culture. However, in the past and continuing today, higher education institutions struggle with disparate legacy systems and antiquated business processes that have fueled a cumbersome and paper-based experience.

While it’s easy to stick to the old, tried, and true, change is good and necessary in today’s innovative market.

Today, academic enterprises do not have a comprehensive approach to providing a frictionless administrative experience and they should invest in a strategy to build critical relationships with their constituents.

Boise State University, a public research institution located in Boise, Idaho, found that its legacy on-premises enterprise resource planning (ERP) environment, which required ongoing investment as well as time-consuming and expensive upgrades, did not enable it to keep pace with changing needs.

In addition, the system was built around poorly designed processes. As important, it prohibited the university from quickly adopting and benefiting from powerful new functionality.  The growing university needed to find a solution to move into the future with greater agility – enabling it to adapt to the rapidly changing dynamics in higher education and at its own institution.

Out with the Old, In with the New

It’s no secret that it’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks – and it’s no different trying to re-configure a legacy on-premise ERP to handle today’s rapid pace of change in higher education. Today’s institutions face a multitude of challenges such as restricted state funding, and more expensive programs (i.e., research PhDs) as well as a complex, ever-changing regulatory environment. Boise State is looking to spend less on infrastructure while improving service in order to re-allocate funding to strategic needs that better serve its students. To do so, Boise State is making the move to the cloud. By implementing Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning Cloud, Boise State will streamline all financial processes campus-wide.

With its ERP system in the cloud – which is slated to go live in spring 2016 to more than 800 users, including the central finance team, university administrators, departmental staff, and academic faculty – Boise State will transform core business processes and advance strategic goals. The new solution will provide much stronger reporting capabilities to deliver information that is timely and valuable to its end users – including managers and division heads – who do not have accounting experience, ultimately enabling them to make better decisions about how to manage their budgets, and more.

In addition to replacing the on-premise system, the campus is using this opportunity to redesign processes that interact with the technology. A customizable on-premise system, by its nature, plays to the unusual transaction. The system becomes the tool to meet all needs, rather than truly adopting best practices. The result is a cumbersome and expensive exception based environment. The entire campus has embraced the cloud concept whereby a consensus is developed around process and the technology is used in its vanilla state.

Change is Good

Through this approach, the university will automate all of its financial, purchasing, and payment transactions – including consistent approval workflows and usage of attachment functionality, eliminating a heavily paper-based process, and driving new operational efficiency. Boise State also expects significant improvements in grants management, redirecting efforts to serving the research faculty; a capability that is increasingly important as the organization rapidly expands its research and graduate programs. Improved reporting and data access, including dashboards, will allow researchers and scholars more time to work in their disciplines.

By choosing to implement this cloud-based solution, the university will also eliminate the initial and ongoing costs of purchasing, building out, and modernizing hardware infrastructure, reducing its data center footprint and IT burden while delivering a robust, flexible, and reliable system. Once fully live, Boise State University’s IT ERP resources will be free for mission-critical activities in learning, teaching, and research.

While it’s easy to stick to the old, tried, and true, change is good and necessary in today’s innovative market. It’s time for higher education institutions to further demonstrate innovation by moving to a sustainable IT design and truly examining business processes to shift focus and resources to projects that drive institutional innovation and excellence – offering students and staff new agility to advance educational opportunities.

Jo Ellen DiNucci is Associate Vice President of Finance and Administration at Boise State University. She has over 30 years of experience in industry and higher education. She joined Boise State University in 1998.

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