21 Dec Alumni Association extends database help to university
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has dropped a PeopleSoft database for tracking alumni in favor of a system the Wisconsin Alumni Association has used for 12 years.
Schools and colleges can access alumni information through the association’s database, a custom software system based on a database from 4D, Inc.
The Wisconsin Alumni Association, or WAA, is a non-profit organization separate from the university. When the central database failed to meet the association’s needs in 1992, it broke off to find a program that would better suit its needs. The WAA found that 4D offered an application that could be easily customized.
“It’s weird how we started out; we were a totally Mac company, and 4D at the time was the leader of the pack on Macintoshes, so that’s how we homed in on it originally,” said Angie Nash, vice president of information systems at WAA.
In 1997 the university needed a system that was Y2K compliant and chose PeopleSoft. The University bought several modules from PeopleSoft, including one for alumni relations, hoping they would be able to serve all of its information management needs on campus.
After a few years the customer relations module from PeopleSoft was no longer meeting the university’s needs.
“Since the software has a heavy emphasis on fundraising, essentially 90 percent of its functionally was not being used,” Nash said.
Last year the university began looking for other options under the direction of Chancellor John Wiley. It decided that the WAA’s 4D database would be a much better solution. The university kept all of the other PeopleSoft modules.
The WAA has been working to adapt its database to be used by all of the different sectors of the university. Some staff requests go through through the Alumni Association’s request list, and about 11 departments have purchased licenses and have become clients of 4D, using the database with the software on their own desktops.
The UW Foundation is the source for the 4D database “They actually keep the core demographic information for us, and there’s a lot of communication between our two systems, so they’ve been a big player in this too,” Nash said.
4D Inc.’s software provides the base on which the Alumni Association and others can make their own software.
“Organizations like the WAA either have a programmer or they hire a consultant who uses [4D] to customize a program that they need to simplify their databases,” said Kevin Ferguson, a marketing specialist for 4D.
The WAA did just that, hiring programmer Jerome Schuh, who worked with the 4D database in 1992 and is still with the association.
While the credit for the specialization of the 4D database goes to the programmer, Nash said that the database has had a tremendous effect on the WAA’s information technology.
“It has the ability to easily store the many ways that the alumni and friends are involved with the UW-Madison. So it makes it very easy to track the members of boards, participants, and everyone involved with events,” Nash said.
WAA employees have learned to record information at every event they host. This is made searchable by the database. With this heightened awareness of the importance of data, as well as with the ease with which it can be put into the database, the WAA has decided to upgrade to 4D 2004. While this change will require WAA employees to adapt to the new system, it’s an upgrade they’re eager to make.
“The exciting part of the story is that we’ve been able to transform our business to be a marketing, customer-oriented business,” Nash said. “Since we are non-profit, we have to make every dollar count, so we’ve been able to drastically reduce mailings that we put out and get the same response, because we’re targeting the right people. That’s the sexy part of it.”