Kara Saunders is assistant vice provost for undergraduate education and project manager of the Student Systems Transformation Project, part of the IT Transformation initiative of the UB 2020 strategic planning process.
What is the Student Systems Transformation Project?
The Student Systems Transformation Project seeks to fundamentally transform the ways that faculty and staff deliver-and students access-the tools and services that support their university lives by evaluating the multiple components of our current student system and exploring ways to improve and integrate them. For the purposes of our project, the student systems include those that support activities in admissions and recruitment, advising, career services, course scheduling and curriculum, data warehouse (reporting), degree audit, grading, housing, registration, self-service (MyUB), student accounts, student financial aid, student health and student records. We are beginning this project with the Student Systems Assessment phase, where we are reviewing our current systems, forming an understanding of our business processes and the related needs for the system, and deciding which vendor solution will best meet our needs. The Student Systems Transformation Project will continue as we implement the chosen vendor solution.
What are the project's guiding principles?
The project's executive steering committee and project team have worked with members of the UB community to develop guiding principles that serve as the foundation of our student system selection and implementation. The guiding principles set the direction and goals for our project, highlighting the need for common processes across UB that emphasize customer service and enable students, faculty and staff to have electronic access to the information and services they need. They also help to set guidelines for how we will work through this project as a campus, acknowledging the importance of consistent communication, full participation and prompt, effective decision-making. Finally, the guiding principles set expectations for how we will implement the new software that we choose, minimizing costly, inefficient customizations and maximizing self-service. A complete list of the guiding principles is available on our Web site at http://www.buffalo.edu/ub2020/itst/ssa_guiding_principles.html.
The Student Systems Transformation Project has been moving quickly this summer. What has happened since the project kickoff in April?
We already have completed many of the steps of the Student Systems Assessment phase of the project. We started our project developing our transformation strategy by establishing the guiding principles and a decision-making framework. With those as a basis, we conducted high-level IT and change-readiness assessments, where we gained an understanding of UB's strengths upon which we can capitalize and the potential obstacles that we may confront as we move forward. We then mapped our business processes and developed the related system requirements in a series of workshops with representatives from across campus. Following these workshops, the UB community was given an opportunity to comment on the requirements in a survey that was circulated in July. We had an excellent response, with more than 350 individuals completing approximately 90,000 individual items.
The results of the survey formed the basis for the request for information (RFI) that was released to software vendors and the request for proposals (RFP) that was released to software integration firms. The survey results also will be an important part of the model that we will use to evaluate responses to our RFI and RFP, and the project team currently is working to develop that evaluation model. The documents that are a result of these activities are available on our Web site.
What are the next steps in the project?
As responses to our RFI and RFP come in, the project team and individuals that have been identified as subject matter experts will begin a thorough review of the responses, which will include evaluation of the written responses, a fit/gap analysis of our functional and technical requirements, and conversations with references from peer institutions that the vendors will provide. An additional evaluation component is the scripted vendor demonstrations, where we will ask each vendor to demonstrate how specific scenarios would be carried out using their proposed solution. The project team will use the information gathered from these activities to make a recommendation to the executive steering committee on which software vendor and which integration firm UB should use. Our goal is to make that recommendation in October.
How can members of the UB community get involved?
We already have had a very high level of participation from all across the campus, with all colleges and schools represented at our workshops and in our survey participation pool. In addition, the project team and executive steering committee draw membership from across the university. The next opportunity for faculty, staff and students to become involved and provide input is through our scripted vendor demonstrations. The demonstrations will be open to anyone who would like to attend, and we will have an online tool for providing feedback to the project team. Each vendor will be on campus for three full days to demonstrate the same software functions. The demonstrations will be held Sept. 11-13, Sept. 18-20 and Sept. 25-27. A more detailed schedule, including which vendor will be on campus during which time frame and the topics to be covered will be posted soon to the project's Web site.
There have been rumors that UB already has made a decision about which student information system software the university will use. If that's the case, why are we going through this selection process?
The three major vendors that have solutions that potentially could meet UB's needs are all on New York State contract. These vendors-Oracle's PeopleSoft, SunGard's Banner and SAP Campus Management-are all options available to us, and we have yet to determine which vendor we will use. More information about these vendors is available at http://www.buffalo.edu/ub2020/itst/ssa_system_vendors.html. Our selection process is based on a best practice used at many higher education institutions. When we investigated the best approach to vendor selection, our research, including discussions with colleagues at our peer institutions, revealed that successful implementation projects are based on campus-wide collaboration with the goals of gaining a thorough understanding of the institution's policies, processes and improvement opportunities; developing functional requirements specific to the institution; and conducting a fit/gap analysis of how each vendor meets or fails to meet each of those requirements. We're engaging in the Student Systems Assessment process in order to meet these important objectives, and keeping an open mind about which vendor we ultimately will choose is crucial to ensuring that we find the student systems solution that is the best fit for UB.
Where can I find additional information about the project?
The Student Systems Transformation Project documents, committee membership and archive of updates are available at http://www.buffalo.edu/ub2020/itst/ssa.html. On the Web site, you also can sign up to receive email updates that are sent frequently at key points during the project.