Integrated Systems Project
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ISP News
July 10, 2000

"We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are." Max DePree, Leadership Jazz

No More "Hurry Up and Wait"
Debate is inherent in a university culture, so deciding to make changes can be a slow and tedious process. Once a decision is made, however, everyone wants it done yesterday. Let's add a new object code, or make a center a school, or add a new curriculum or a new type of employment, or change our fringe benefit offerings. We've done the hard part. We've made the decision. That should be it.
     In fact, making the decision is often the beginning of another long wait, as the new information is programmed into each and every system that requires it. The new Oracle integrated system will take much of the time and frustration out of that process.
     The University's Integrated System will be built using "lists of values," which are essentially drop down lists from which a user can choose to complete a transaction. Object codes, employment types, and organizations (e.g., schools, departments, administrative offices) are three among many lists of values that can be added to or changed with relative ease by employees with that responsibility, once the integrated system is up and running.
     To add a new entry to a list of values, a designated "superuser" logs on to the appropriate application and goes to the set of screens entitled "setup". Then, a new entry can be made into the appropriate list of values and saved. It is then immediately available to all users of that application. Interestingly, it is not possible to delete an entry from any of the Oracle lists of values. Instead, the value is "disabled" which means it still lives on in the database with all of its history but is not available for use until the superuser "enables" the value, and then it is once again available for use.
     So, as the University pursues the initiatives that arose from its strategic plan for the new century, we can be assured that the time investment will be in planning, building, and hiring, not in configuring our administrative systems to recognize and process information related to those initiatives.

On My Honor
The University of Virginia is renowned for its honor code. The Oracle work environment will extend the relevance of that code a bit further. In the case of the Integrated System, however, we will not be dependent on reports of misbehavior. The offender's fingerprints will be on the transaction.
     A significant difference between how Oracle applications work and our current business processes concerns the ability to transact business beyond one's own business unit. "If you visualize a pie that has been cut into slices, that could represent our current operations," suggests Bill Randolph, ISP project director. "Information flows back and forth between the unit and central offices, with walls between the separate schools and other business units. Each person can see data and perform transactions only for his or her own unit.
     "The new environment will look more like concentric circles. Everyone with a given 'responsibility' has access to the same information, University-wide. For example, when employees with the responsibility 'Purchase Initiator' log on to the system and choose a project to which to charge an expense, they will see all the University's projects on the screen. They will pick the project of their choice, and then the awards and tasks associated with that project will be available for selection."
     While this will be a change from our current environment, it is consistent with our culture as a public university. "People will be 'on their honor' to restrict their transactions to what they are authorized to do," says Randolph. "As a safeguard, however, the system does record who performed each transaction, so it will be easy to trace if someone inadvertently or purposefully crosses into unauthorized territory."

Set Up Is Strategic
Setting up the Oracle applications would be time consuming, but easy, if it only required plugging in known values to set-up questions. Some steps are that easy, but far more require deliberation, consultation, and decisions, because the information required for the new system is not the same or used in the same way as in the current system.
     Set-up is also an opportunity to problem-solve, to figure out ways to use a field to generate information we would like, even if that is not the stated purpose of the field. As a result, the ISP team members are pooling all their creative and analytic forces in the design of the Integrated System.
     One of the lessons from Oracle training in December was "It's all in the set up," so the teams' efforts now, as they work with each other and with expert users throughout the University community, are determining the functionality of the system for the future.

More Decisions - What to Modify
All universities that decide to implement an ERP system vow there will be no customizations because of time, expense, and the resulting difficulty in installing upgrades. Yet all universities that have installed an ERP system have had to make some changes that have, in fact, made the project longer, more expensive, and more difficult to upgrade.
     So what will make U.Va. different? Some of it is semantics. A "customization" is going into the Oracle code and making changes. A "modification" is an application extension that requires programming, but does not touch the Oracle home code.
     "Some amount of modification is expected and budgeted into the project," says Bill Randolph. "We knew in advance that any compliance requirements from the state or federal government would have to be met, even if it means modification. We are working very hard to avoid any customizations. The decisions come in regard to attributes we may or may not have today, but would like to have in the future. The teams are attempting to accomplish some of those as they set up the applications (see article above). We are focusing on trying to limit modifications to those that have the greatest impact on the greatest number of users and have set an extraordinarily high bar for any customizations."

What is the process?
The first step in considering a modification is determining its impact and its cost. Any proposed modification that is considered high impact is given to the technical team for a review of the people-hours it will take to build the solution. Following this technical review, "a proposed modification may be reconsidered if the solution will require a considerable amount of time and is not a real requirement," says Virginia Evans, ISP technical lead. "At that point we have to choose to proceed or attempt to find an alternative solution."
     The next step is for the functional teams to design the solution, presenting to the technical team what the screen or report will look like that will fulfill the business requirement. "If the detail design demonstrates that we underestimated the resources required to build the solution, we may have to reconsider whether we will be able to do the modification," says Evans. Once a decision is made to proceed at this point, it will probably be completed, according to Randolph. "But what ultimately gets done must fit within our time and budget constraints" he adds.
     We are currently at the first technical review step that will yield an estimate of the people-hours it will take to build each proposed modification.

Getting Ready for the People Side
Ultimately, the Integrated Systems implementation is about people - how our work will change and how to make the transition as smoothly as possible. What will each of our future responsibilities be, how does that fit into what we are doing today, and how will we be certain to receive proper training for those responsibilities?
     The first steps are being taken to gather the information to facilitate that transition. The ISP Human Resources Management (HRM) team is working with central office managers to identify all their current employees and the tasks and procedures they now perform. Once the Oracle responsibilities are clearly defined, current processes will be mapped to Oracle responsibilities, and the individuals who do that type of work will be identified for training.
     Soon this plotting of current to future responsibilities will be undertaken throughout the University, with the assistance of the ISP advisors. They will be working with all the unit administrators within their areas to identify employees doing work related to the financial applications to be implemented in July 2001.
     "We want to be certain every person affected by the implementation is considered and prepared as we move forward," says Leah Goswell, ISP associate director and HRM team lead. "The information we gather now will help make that goal a reality."

ISP NEWS FROM OTHER PUBLICATIONS
Inside UVA February 4, 2000 Teams get to work on bringing new integrated systems to U.Va.

Go to ARCHIVED ISP NEWS DIRECTORY

 

" The University's Integrated System will be built using 'lists of values,' which are essentially drop down lists from which a user can choose to complete a transaction."

 
 
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2001 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia
Thursday, 22-May-2003 14:31:08 EDT
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