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Integrated Systems Task Force (ISTF)

Synopsis of Accomplishments


The Charge 

In May of 1996, senior University executives initiated a venture to define a strategic direction for the replacement of the University's current business applications. The compelling rationale for this initiative is described in "The Case For Change." The applications targeted for replacement support financial, human resource, and student business processes performed throughout the University. The study was conducted by an institution-wide task force charged with evaluating two alternatives for the acquisition and implementation of future core business applications:   

  • Alternative 1. Perpetuate the current best-of-breed strategy whereby applications are either acquired or developed for discrete business functions. Following this approach, technological support for each functional administrative area would be addressed by buying or building computer software, hardware, and database products to meet parochial needs. The University would then contract on a case-by-case basis with a variety of firms as needed to meet the specific requirements of each application. Little if any attention would be given to the potential of the vendor to supply other types of software to the University. Also, incompatibility with the existing supported technical environment and machine-to-user interfaces would to tolerated to a great extent.   

    Alternative 2. Form a partnership with a leading application software vendor to replace all of our core applications with an integrated suite of products. Following this approach, the University's business processes would be enabled and reinforced by an integrated suite of applications and databases that would minimize incompatibilities and data redundancies. While future enhancements to these applications would remain the province of the applications partner, adaptability and flexibility intrinsic to these systems would permit the University departments and schools to be responsive to changing opportunities and constraints imposed by both external and internal forces. 



    Given the strategic importance of these issues, the study was conducted by an institution-wide task force of approximately 65 persons. The Integrated Systems Task Force (ISTF) participants brought an interdisciplinary perspective from academe, administration, executive management, and auxiliary enterprises. The ISTF began its research effort in regard to this very complex set of issues by:   

    • Acquiring current information on integrated systems vendors in the marketplace through solicitation and on-site presentations to view available products and learn about partnering opportunities;
    • Surveying peer institutions concerning their software purchasing strategies;
    • Assembling task forces to probe specific topics in considerable detail. These topics include: current-systems strengths and weaknesses, high-level requirements, order-of-magnitude cost analysis, technical architectures, and business risk analysis. Highlights of the findings are shown below, along with a web link to the full reports.  
      • Group 1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of our current systems and what areas of improvement would help those who use or support them? [click here for more information]  
      • Group 2. What high-level functional requirements would need to be satisfied by replacement systems? [click here for more information]   
      • Group 3. What are the order-of-magnitude cost differences between the two implementation strategies? Estimates showed that a Single Vendor Partnership approach is somewhat less expensive than a Best of Breed approach to implement, and is less expensive to operate over the long-term.  [click here for more information]  
      • Group 4. There are at least four current vendors who have impressive technical strategies that are aligned with the University's technical direction. [Click here for more information]   
      • Group 5. This mission of this study group was to determine the business viability and risks associated with the best-of-breed approach and single-vendor-partnership approach. [Click here for more information]
        Closure of ISTF  

    On March 18, 1997 the ISTF achieved its mission. The work of the task force culminated in a recommendation to Senior Cabinet that the University replace its current applications with an integrated suite of products from a single vendor. It was recognized that, in order to execute this recommendation, decided advantage could be derived from a partnership with a vendor proven in the higher education marketplace. The partnership was to be viewed as an evolving process so as to permit flexibility in capitalizing on future advances in information technologies that can not be anticipated at present.  

    The Senior Cabinet approved to the recommendations of the ISTF.   

    Action Items from the final ISTF:  


    Advantages of Decision    

    The anticipated advantages of the partnership approach toward implementation of an integrated suite of business applications are listed below.    

    • This approach defines a vision for administrative systems that centers on institution-wide objectives. The decision represents the beginning of a major and very positive shift in the University's culture. There will be more focused attention on the administrative computing needs of academic departments, faculty, and students and strategies that address the common good of the University will be given the highest priority. 
    • The outcome will be a set of applications designed for all constituencies and stakeholders (central administration, schools & departments, staff, and students). These applications will be integrated in such a way that they look and behave as though they were a single application. That is, the applications will have a common "look and feel" for the end-user, data elements will be consistently named, transactions will need to be entered only once, etc. The implications for user training are very positive and significant. 
    • This approach would better enable the institution to achieve its goals in the areas of decentralization, process simplification, increased access to data, and in preempting the rising service expectations of its constituencies and stakeholders. 
    • This approach will replace our currently technically diverse applications with applications that are built using common architecture, DBMS, programming languages, documentation, etc. and will operate using consistent procedures and production management tools. Supporting applications in this environment will be less complex.  
    • This is the fastest track for replacing our aging mainframe applications with modern distributed applications.

    Several reflections on this endeavor 

    • The University will be selecting a partner without full knowledge of the ultimate outcome. Using contemporary measurement criteria, we must select a partner today for a venture into an unknown future technological environment. Our success will be linked to the degree of symbiosis evolving from the partnership and the University's willingness to change our current business practices. 
    • This University-wide endeavor will be among the most significant the University will engage during the next quarter century. 
    • "It is impossible to cross a chasm in a thousand small steps"  Old Chinese Proverb #1 
    • "When there is chaos, there is opportunity" Old Chinese Proverb #2



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