Technology Memo: Enterprise Management Systems

 

Brandeis Technology Memo

No. 2 Topic: Enterprise Management Systems at Brandeis, Recent Oracle Insight Discussions

ERPs and “Shadow” Systems

Enterprise Management Systems (also known as ERPs: Enterprise Resource and Planning systems) have long been characterized as single-vendor solutions for multiple business functions. At Brandeis we use Oracle’s PeopleSoft products for our core applications for human resources (BUSS), student services (Sage), finance, the data warehouse, and other major administrative activities. Broadly speaking, administrative technology organizations at universities and elsewhere have regarded their ERP systems as the systems of record and viewed add-on systems from other vendors as “shadow systems.” While rarely beloved, ERPs are extremely powerful toolkits, and ERP systems from vendors like PeopleSoft and SAP power many large multinational corporations.

ERPs at Brandeis

Brandeis began its PeopleSoft implementation in 1998, and by 2004 had migrated the majority of its central administrative computing activities to that platform, replacing a host of homegrown and small-vendor systems. In 2012, at a savings of about $300,000 a year, LTS moved from Oracle support to Rimini Street support for the PeopleSoft systems, locking us into the then-current PeopleSoft version. We continue to pay licensing fees to Oracle, and those fees increase yearly.1 Rimini Street keeps our PeopleSoft systems up to date with regulatory releases and tax updates, but they do not provide any functional enhancements to PeopleSoft, and Rimini support for aging PeopleSoft infrastructure is a temporary expedient rather than a sustainable long-term posture. The decision to freeze PeopleSoft at its current version and move away from Oracle support was made not only for the savings, but also because after 16 years, enough has changed in the world of ERP, and in Brandeis’s own administrative requirements, that it is time to review our strategy for this aspect of the university’s operations. Doing that will take time and effort from the same people—in LTS and in the business units of the campus—whose time might otherwise be needed for testing and implementing PeopleSoft upgrades.

Co-evolution of Norms, Technology, and Priorities

In recent years, the norm for enterprise systems in higher education has been rapidly changing from a monolithic, single-vendor implementation to hybrid solutions involving ERP, best-of-breed, and cloud-based solutions.2 Some institutions have arrived at this landscape by design, and others  in less intentional ways, by responding piecemeal to the demands of individual business units. Brandeis, so far, is in the latter category, but we need to take the opportunity that a necessary change presents, and begin working more deliberately within our resource constraints, not only when it comes to purchasing systems, but also when it comes to LTS support for those systems, and when it comes to the all-important testing of changes to those systems by the staff in other administrative units.3 And ultimately, our spending on administrative overhead should be appropriately balanced with our spending on the core academic mission of the university, whether for faculty salaries, library collections, research facilities, or academic computing.

“Shadow” Systems at Brandeis

Currently LTS maintains in excess of 70 systems—in addition to our PeopleSoft systems—to provide core administrative services. Some notable examples include:

  • University Healthcare Partners: a cloud-based product used to facilitate the purchase and/or waiving of health insurance by eligible students.
  • Coupa: a cloud procurement solution that provides online purchasing of products via online catalogs and allows for payment via departmental charge lines.
  • Budget Maestro: a client-based product that allows for budget planning (replaces some parts of PeopleSoft’s EPM Budgeting).
  • OrgPublisher: a cloud product that produces organizational charts using data from BUSS.
  • Slate: a cloud-based, best-of-breed admissions system used by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions as well as Rabb, GSAS, and Heller.

Other new systems are on the horizon—for document management, for support of the capital campaign, for pre- and post-award grant administration, for online course evaluations, and so on. This evolution of services and the systems that support them is not only inevitable; it is also a good thing—but it needs to be informed by an overall institutional strategy, sequenced according to agreed-upon priorities, and represented in a clear roadmap. This is the goal of IT Governance (ITG), and the ITG Steering team4 will be working toward those goals in the coming year. We need senior management (or their designated representatives) to be a part of these conversations.

The Role of Senior Leadership and IT Governance

The ITG Steering Committee requests that Brandeis University’s senior leadership participate in a process of analysis and planning for administrative systems at Brandeis. To facilitate this process, LTS has engaged the research and consulting services of Gartner, an IT research and advisory firm well known in both business and academic circles, and we will also hear from a number of others, including vendors of current and potential ERP systems, current clients of those vendors, and peer universities.

Because we cannot remain on a 2012 version of PeopleSoft forever, we face some important choices, and these choices must be made fairly soon, because implementing any of them will take several years, whether we choose to move to a new ERP product like WorkDay, or shift our center of gravity to emphasize best-of-breed and minimize the ERP footprint, or redeploy PeopleSoft (as they shift their business model to focus on their new cloud product, Oracle Fusion). A logical place to begin to size up the choices would be with an examination of our current state.

Oracle Insight Meetings, November 11, 12, and 13, 2014

Oracle, the vendor of PeopleSoft, has its own research and consulting arm, and delivers a service called the Oracle Insight program. This is a “comprehensive business strategy development program in which customers work closely with Oracle business and IT strategy experts to identify the critical objectives and challenges for their unique business needs.”5  The goal of this service for Oracle is to demonstrate how current or future clients could get the most out of PeopleSoft, and how PeopleSoft can support the client’s business goals. However, Brandeis’s participation in this program is not a commitment to Oracle (or PeopleSoft), but rather an exercise in articulating our own business strategy in order to align our decision-making on technology with that strategy. We believe that conversations like the one with Oracle Insight will help advance that process, and we will have similar conversations with Gartner and with others.

From the three-day Oracle Insight engagement, we hope to reap some expert advice on the costs and benefits of choosing to continue with PeopleSoft, and in the process, we expect to hear some useful third-party observations on how we are now using administrative systems to manage our business operations. Each day began with a meeting between the Oracle team and senior university leadership. The remainder of each day was an extended working session with the primary functional leads for the three domains of Finance, Human Resources, and Student Services as well as the current PeopleSoft area managers. We will share with the broader community any artifacts or insights that result. The program culminates with a report of recommendations and observations by the Oracle team presented to the university’s senior leadership. We anticipate receiving that report in early January 2015.

Conclusion

Developing a technology strategy for Brandeis in the 21st century requires from all of us an unwavering focus on the mission of Brandeis, a commitment to our clients (whether they are students, alumni, faculty, or our staff colleagues), and, most important, the discipline to live within our means, in terms of the budget that we are willing to commit to administrative technology and its support. We intend to leverage the IT Governance (ITG) framework as we conduct this critical review of our administrative computing services and the business processes those services are meant to enable, and we further intend to use ITG, going forward, as the forum for rational resource management and the source of collective recommendations that will feed into the re-designed Integrated Planning and Budget Committee. In all of this, the support and participation of the University’s senior leadership is a critical ingredient, so we thank you in advance for your time, your expertise, and your perspective.

Author(s): Lisa DeMings, John Unsworth
Reviewed/Approved: 1/1/2015
Published: January, 2015


1Licensing fees are calculated based on increases to student and staff FTE, and operating budget, as reported by Brandeis. For the current FY our aggregate license and maintenance fees to Oracle and Rimini is $303,399.
2Alexander Drobik, Nigel Rayner. “Develop a Strategic Road Map for Postmodern ERP in 2013 and Beyond.” September 2, 2013.
3Quality assurance (testing) of changes to major administrative systems as well as reporting is by and large the responsibility of the functional units (HR, Finance, and Student Services).
4The IT Governance framework is in the midst of being reconfigured based on the lessons learned from the last year. Please watch the IT Governance website for forthcoming information. http://go.brandeis.edu/ITGovernance.
5Quoted from the Oracle Insight website.