The Voyages of Project Enterprise
— Aaron Sullivan, Assistant Editor
As part of an on going effort to bring technology-related topics into the Faculty Herald, this issue explores Project Enterprise, a major initiative aimed at replacing and integrating the University’s databases and information systems. The Herald spoke with Barbara Dolhansky, the Project Director, and Tim O’Rourke, Vice President of Computer and Financial Services & CIO, to learn more about the project.
First off, the bad news: Project Enterprise has nothing to do with the old Star Trek television-series, although it does involve a 5-year mission and a good bit of advanced technology.
The good news is that, even though it won’t seek out new life and new civilians, Project Enterprise will, eventually, upgrade Temple’s aging computer infrastructure--streamlining processes, increasing efficiency, and making information easier to access and share for everyone at the university.
The goal of the project is to set up an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for the university. Essentially, this means creating a central database that stores all critical information and implementing vendor-supported, integrated, consistent programs and procedures for interacting with that information.
Presently, the information that makes the university run is fragmented, spread out across multiple databases, and accessed by a truly bewildering array of different programs. Not only does this situation result in spaghetti-like organizational diagrams, it also makes the entire system extremely unwieldy, expensive to maintain, and difficult to upgrade.
Project Enterprise will create a more efficient, reliable and responsive system infrastructure. The simplified structure will make problems easier to diagnose and upgrades easier to implement.
In deploying an ERP system, Temple isn’t exactly going “where no man has gone before.” Truth be told, the university’s information systems are currently a bit behind the times. The core set of administrative systems that run Temple’s Finance, Human Resources and Student related processes are older than most of the university’s undergraduates. Many of them were written in a programming language called COBOL, which was created about the time Captain Kirk made his debut on television, and is one of the oldest programming languages still in use. Hundreds of other universities are already using a system very similar to that which Temple plans to implement, and of the Urban 21, a group of universities all comparable to ours in terms of student population and location, Temple is the only one without an ERP system.
Faculty have already experienced some changes as a result of Project Enterprise; the Online Grade Book that went live last semester was part of the ERP transition. The roll out of online grading was remarkably successful from an administrative and student perspective: more faculty submitted grades on time than ever before. Anyone who has been to TUportal recently will also have noticed some significant changes. As each new aspect of the ERP system rolls out, it will be accessible through the new portal.
Most of the big changes Project Enterprise has in store for Temple faculty are still to come. Here are a few on the horizon:
· On July 1st the new Finance System will go live. Accounts Payable will be reworked and schools will be better able to track grants.
· About six months later a new online system for travel and expense reimbursement will become available; getting reimbursed will be easier and faster.
· In January of 2010 the new Human Resources system will go live. There will be a new employee self-service system for checking benefits, getting pay stubs online…etc. Unlike the current system, which experiences occasional downtime, the new system will be available 24/7.
Other systems will make it easier to advise students about what courses they should enroll in and prevent them from accidentally registering for classes for which they lack the prerequisites. The new Student Module will be integrated with Blackboard in real-time so that things like changes to class enrollment will be immediately visible to the instructor.
Enterprise is the largest technology project Temple has ever undertaken, and all these changes come with a cost. Financially, the project will set the university back about $38,000,000. Thus far, Enterprise has been excluded from any budget cuts and the project leadership feels their funding is secure.
Other costs related to the project involve time. Overall, the Project Enterprise will take about five years to complete: four years to implement all the modules and one year of fine tuning to ensure that they meet Temple’s requirements.
It will also take time for members of the university’s administration, faculty, and staff to adapt to the new system. Some familiar resources and processes will change, and there will be new ways of completing old tasks. Training will be provided for each transition, but the new system will still take some getting used to. The online tutorial for the new electronic grading system was both effective and well received, and the faculty can expect to see more online training in the future. Some things are just easier to learn in person, however, and the project will provide face-to-face instruction when necessary. Either way, training will begin 6-8 weeks in advance of any changes.
Throughout the course of the project there will be a series of informative town-hall meetings which will provide project updates and answer questions people may have about future changes. Several of these have already taken place and the next ones are scheduled for the spring semester of 2009. Tim O’Rourke and Barbara Dolhansky will also continue to bring updates to the Faculty Senate; the next such update will be delivered on December 12. Anyone looking for more information on the project should check out the website at www.temple.edu/cs/erp.
If all goes according to plan, the last of the old systems will be decommissioned in June, 2011 and Temple will have a shiny new ERP system that will help take the university into the future.