Higher Ed Turns to ERP to Maintain Software

A growing number of higher education users are adopting enterprise resource management software to eliminate problems maintaining heavily customized software or to replace systems that are not Year 2000-compliant.

Frederick Community College in Frederick, Md., installed PeopleSoft Inc.'s Financial and Human Resource systems this year to replace a 25-year-old, Cobol-based homegrown system. The existing system, officials say, had become difficult to maintain.

"Every year, we had more problems keeping it stable. It got to be a big animal requiring a lot of care and feeding. We had a three-year backlog just on enhancements we wanted to make to the system," said Richard Yankosky, chief information officer at Frederick Community College.

The college is installing PeopleSoft's five-module Student Administration System along with a sixth enhancement called Campus Connection. That enhancement provides a World Wide Web interface to an intranet server that, in turn, enables access to the PeopleSoft database.

A determining factor in Frederick's choice of PeopleSoft was IBM Global Services' offer to install the system using its Select Path rapid implementation procedure. The IBM method required minimal code changes to the vanilla system in setting up the college's business rules, Yankosky said.

In addition, Microsoft Corp.'s Excel spreadsheet is built into the PeopleSoft system, and the college's finance staff wanted to use Excel, Yankosky said. The Crystal Reports system also is tightly integrated into PeopleSoft. The system provides two levels of reporting: One is for canned statewide reports that comply with state government reporting requirements, and the other provides reports across interfaces between PeopleSoft and third-party software.

Yankosky said the biggest challenge in installing the PeopleSoft system was finding ways to free up an already thin staff to participate in the installation, prioritizing data in the data conversion process and implementing a complex student system. Once those challenges were overcome, Frederick moved into its plans for increased integration. "We'd like to see electronic budgets integrated across the county, board of education and Frederick College," Yankosky said.

Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant has installed commercial off-the-shelf ERP software to get better control of software maintenance. Upgrading an existing, heavily modified Systems & Computer Technology Corp. (SCT) system had become extremely difficult, said Becky Pifer, manager of business affairs systems at Central Michigan's Business and Finance Division.

Pifer faced the daunting prospect of yet more arduous upgrades. "We would have had to rework all the customizations into the new product. It would have taken a considerable amount of time to upgrade all the modifications to the system," she said.

The university, which also wanted to achieve Year 2000 compliance, chose SAP America Inc. as its consulting partner, replacing its SCT financial and human resource systems with SAP's R/3 financial and human resource software. Central Michigan will keep SCT's student system in place until SAP develops a student system, Pifer said.

"Now, upgrades go pretty smoothly," she said. Pifer is upgrading to R/3 Version 4.5B to take advantage of features such as public-sector links between the funds management and human resources modules that show specific funds allocations in human resources and employee self-service, which provides the ability to do employee benefits enrollments and W-2, paycheck or benefits queries online, Pifer said.

The SAP installation reduced the number of customizations, provided Year 2000 compliance and made information more accessible, but it introduced an integration problem with the mainframe-based SCT student system.

Pifer overcame the integration problem by writing a program on the SAP side that downloads information into the mainframe-based SCT student program. "We created the file in SAP, and then we [copy the file via FTP] to the mainframe side. We were already utilizing FTP in other areas on the mainframe," she said. FTP is used to copy files in TCP/IP networks.

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System also installed PeopleSoft financial and human resource systems and, like Frederick, is in the middle of instituting the Web-based Student Administration System, targeting June 2000 as the launch date. The Kentucky system hired Cambridge Technology Partners to implement the PeopleSoft system, said Jon Hesseldenz, assistant vice president of information technology.

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