Feb. 4-10, 2000
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Teams get to work on bringing new integrated systems to U.Va.

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Teams get to work on bringing new integrated systems to U.Va.

By Anne Bromley

The day goes like any other for Alice Smith, an office worker at U.Va., as she updates the department's budget, sends the finished report to her supervisor, orders supplies and approves travel requests, among other activities. Except that a workload that might have taken three days to complete now takes one or two. This dream could become reality in the near future under the new Integrated Systems Project. The streamlined process will save time (and money) for other important tasks such as providing more and better service to students, faculty and others, according to William Randolph, project director for the Integrated Systems Project.

Having gotten the green light from the Board of Visitors in the fall, the project became official Dec. 1. The $58 million overhaul of the University's outdated information systems will replace them with a state-of-the-art group of integrated software applications that will provide the administrative foundation to carry the University into its third century. The plan calls for implementing new systems for finance, human resources and student services with Oracle software.

Oracle Corp. was chosen for its successful experience in higher education, especially grants management, Randolph said. Other universities using Oracle include Cal Tech, Stanford, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, George Washington University and Yale.

"The ISP includes a grants management program that has the potential to greatly improve our ability to support the research enterprise at the University as it expands and becomes increasingly interdisciplinary," said Vice President and Provost Peter W. Low. "We also are anticipating a student information system that will facilitate the flow of information on students from admissions through graduation and beyond."

Although the ISP was not included in Gov. James Gilmore's budget, U.Va. will keep trying to get state support and is proceeding with the project, which will take at least five years to fully implement, said Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget.

"This is a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous challenge," said Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer. "Over the next five years, we will be replacing 24 different central information systems plus over 120 supplemental ones with integrated systems that facilitate the entry and exchange of information between all parts of the University. It will give us the tools to meet our objectives of increased efficiency and effectiveness, improved customer service and better ability to adapt to growth and change."

About 35 people are now dedicated to the project, some of whom are with KPMG, a consulting firm experienced with Oracle software that is helping U.Va. make the transition. Teams of U.Va. employees working on parts of the project will probably expand and shrink as needed, Randolph said.

"We're on the leading edge of creating solutions for this University. It's very exciting and creative work," Randolph said. "The software needs to be adapted to the University's needs. ... There are many steps to implement a new set of applications. We will be putting a huge emphasis on training. Everyone needs to have the training and skills they need to be successful in the new environment."

The area of financial systems will be handled in two phases, encompassing everything from the general ledger (the University's accounting record, which is like a highly sophisticated version of an individual's checking account) and grants management to accounts receivable, departmental accounting, financial reports and purchasing.

"We've begun mapping the Ćas-is' processes, and some of them have never been documented before," Randolph said. Then the teams will compare what the ideal processes would be with the best practices or best functioning of the software. Along the way, his group anticipates that issues will have to be sorted out, and some of the old ways of doing things will have to change. Many people will be glad to see that'll mean getting the processes to make more sense, according to Communications Manager Carole Horwitz and other team leaders.

"The biggest benefit will be that all the administrative systems will be able to talk to each other in the same language and at the same time,≤ said Shy Hicks, leader of the general ledger team, who was the director of financial reporting for 10 years before switching to the ISP. Hicks' team will analyze how things are done in the present system compared to how they could be done in Oracle. After the team creates a working prototype, data will be keyed in and tested. U.Va. employees who use this kind of data or system will try out the new processes and give feedback to the team.

Virginia Evans, who had been the chief operating officer of ITC for four years, leads the technical team working behind the scenes to make sure hardware and software are working properly so that "people can get the information they need as soon as they need it," she said.

The technical team will work on the numerous steps it takes to implement a system this complex. They and the rest of the ISP team will be working in a controlled environment that includes many "checkpoints" that ensure that any changes or additions to the Oracle system are fully tested.

"This is the biggest system change ever done at once here. It's an exciting atmosphere. The teams are working well together," said Evans, who has been involved since June 1999, through the planning and business case preparation phases.

People working directly on the ISP are not the only ones involved. The coming changes won't be a surprise to the University community. An advisory committee with liaisons representing every unit is in place, according to Horwitz. "We want to make sure that information gets out and comes in," she said. The advisers are identifying people who are experts in the subjects covered in the processes, as well as bringing in unit administrators, to get their input and to make sure everyone gets trained when the time is right.

"We're charged with a heavy responsibility," Randolph acknowledged. "It's up to us to make this work and work well for the University. And we're prepared to devote the time and talent it takes to make it happen. This is definitely an 'us' project, however. We need the cooperation of all areas of the University to make this project a success. It will be much like a construction zone for the first couple of years as we begin to implement the new systems gradually. The new Oracle applications will have to coexist with the older systems until the full transition has been made."


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