08 Sep UW-Madison’s IT Metamorphosis
MADISON, WI – Imagine taking the whole UW-Madison campus and transporting it to the moon. That’s just about the Herculean task faced back in 1995 when university officials began looking at replacing their IT systems with ones that were Y2K compliant. A recent article in Syllabus magazine, a monthly focusing on high tech in higher education, describes how a campus-wide IT systems upgrade to modernize all student operations on campus, from admissions to enrollment to student financial processes, was completed last year with campus-wide collaboration and project management that included not only IT staff but representatives of all functional end-user departments that utilize the system.
Back in ’95 however, officials did not have the luxury of time. “Our legacy system was getting brittle,” said Tom Scott, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and co-director of applications development and integration. Every year the financial aid software underwent maintenance because federal financial aid formulas would change, he said. And they started looking for a way to reduce that headache, but came up with a solution to the entire migraine ISIS—Integrated Student Information System..
“PeopleSoft had a contract in place with the hospital,” Scott said. There weren’t many vendors, and still aren’t. By the time they had decided to go ahead with the project, it made sense to replace the whole she-bang—every system on campus because the year 2000 was fast approaching. The previous system was COBOL-based and written in about 1960, he said.
The original deployment on campus of PeopleSoft’s Student Administration System was up and running in 1998. However, there were many kinks. “We were the first school of any size to implement this,” said Ilene Seltzer, project manager. “The first few months were very rocky.”
“We replaced everything the faculty use on a day-to-day basis,” Scott said. “How they get class rosters, everything. At base, we shook up the world.”
“This was the way things were for 20-25 years,” Seltzer said. “For some people, that was their entire professional lives. I think they felt as though we ripped the rug out from underneath them.”
In 2001, 15 months after the first implementation, the University began a major upgrade that was disruptive at first, but it was necessary because the functionality of the initial system wasn’t up to speed, Seltzer said. “Core business pieces were not delivered. We had no choice about it.”
Then, after that upgrade, the next step was to move to web-based capabilities. “We knew we didn’t want to be a part of another system change of that nature,” Scott said. “We had to find another way to involve our investors. We began to see that our decision to move to Student Administration was right.”
The University spent a year planning the current upgrade covered in the Syllabus article, Scott said. The ISIS teams and committees sat down in forum-type meetings with a few hundred people and got their feedback, and then took that to one-on-one meetings with the heads of departments, Scott said. By the time the University said it was ready, and realized what was needed, the implementation group was ready and “we hit the window ready to go,” Scott said.
Financially, Scott said he believes the university is “noted for getting an awfully lot done on just-adequate resources.” And implementing ISIS was no different. He said the implementation group got tremendous help from the campus Division of Information Technology (DoIT). “DoIT was with us all the way through,” he said.
As a result of the system, processing undergraduate admissions applications has gotten much easier, though the volume of applications continues to increase. Financial aid processing has “never been easier” and students no longer wait in line to pick up their financial aid checks. “Due to the modernization of our systems, our campus is enjoying a collaborative campus,” according to the Syllabus article.
What happens if Oracle buys PeopleSoft?
Recently Oracle Corporation has mounted a hostile takeover of PeopleSoft Inc. Oracle maintains that if successful, it will support PeopleSoft products, but PeopleSoft has publicly questioned this.
While Scott had no comment about the potential Oracle takeover of PeopleSoft and its affect on the university, the PeopleSoft Higher Education Users Group President Ola Faucher, said in a press release, “As part of Oracle’s hostile takeover attempt, their threat to terminate development of our higher education applications is appalling. The offer to help us migrate our applications onto a different suite is unacceptable in terms of impact to our students, to our faculty, and to our staff,” Faucher said. “A migration to an ERP suite we purposely did not choose in the first place would force our institutions to expend vast amounts of money, precious staff time and talent, and place our core business processes at risk.” The HEUG, of which Scott is a board member, represents institutions with approximately 1.8 million faculty and staff, over 8.9 million students and 650 campuses worldwide.
Jennifer Braico is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Wisconsin Technology Network. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org