Roy A. Gruver
Group Leader, Technology Management Services
Information Strategy Case Studies:
This report deviates somewhat from the “case study” format because it is important to capture the initial intentions of the institution’s leadership and the associated project activities, as well as to describe the dramatic shift in scope and direction which occurred in the Fall of 1997. Essentially, Section I describes the omnibus project, with its associated process reengineering and institution-wide information goals. It depicts the project as envisioned from its inception (early 1996) and traces the process by which we worked through to its initial implementation. Section II describes the more recent history and the current thinking at the institution. It describes the evolution of SAFAHRIS from an institution-wide reengineering effort to a scaled back re-automation project.
The Omnibus Project.
The SAFAHRIS Project is intended to establish an entirely new institutionwide networked information infrastructure based upon redesigned nonteaching processes and recreated student, advancement, financial and human resource information systems. The primary motivation for SAFAHRIS was to dramatically improve our operating practices, our client services, and the use of enterprise information as a strategic institutional resource to improve our decisions and provide new and enhanced services.
Our SAFAHRIS initiative is expected to encompass many if not all of the key resource dimensions enumerated in the IWIS white paper: (1) We will be establishing for the first time, an institutionwide technology platform designed to facilitate the strategic and tactical use of enterprise information. And we will employ that platform to deliver a new set of “administrative information systems.” (2) We believe that we will have to be extremely creative in applying our financial and human resources to this effort given the competing needs of the institution. (3) Organizationally, we expect the redesign of nonteaching processes will create opportunities for new internal alliances which didn’t exist before and the opportunity to create an entirely new group of information, rather than process, workers. (4) Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this project will be the ability of the institution to create and sustain policies and practices which will result in better information, more accessible information, and simpler processes. We expect this to be a major challenge, perhaps the most difficult challenge of our initiative.
SAFAHRIS is a work in progress, not a lifeless plan on a drawing board. It will challenge us in many ways and it will reward us as well. While this is a real life experience for us at Lehigh, it can be considered as an open lab experiment for others to view and even participate in. Lehigh would welcome others to be involved in this experience either in an advisory or in a more direct, participative role. In addition, we expect that certain aspects of SAFAHRIS will provide more focused learning opportunities, both for Lehigh and others.
B. Problem Statement
B1. The Institution
Lehigh University, a Carnegie II Research Institution, was founded in 1865 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Lehigh is a highly selective, private, coeducational institution with three undergraduate colleges (Business & Economics, Engineering and Applied Science, and Arts & Sciences) and a graduate College of Education. The undergraduate population numbers approximately 4,300 with around 2000 graduate students. The annual institutional budget is currently around $200 million with endowment over $400 million. Lehigh’s web site (http://www.lehigh.edu/) contains a great deal of information about the University which might be useful as further background.
B2. The Situation
During 1995 and 1996, Lehigh University undertook a number of organizational changes, including: the shifting of Student Affairs to the Offices of the Provost and to University Advancement; the decentralization of Graduate Studies to the colleges; restructuring of Finance and Administration and University Advancement; and the creation and restructuring of Information Resources. The ostensible purpose of all of these changes was to change how we at Lehigh conduct our business.
At the same time these changes were occurring, other changes were occurring nationally that were having a profound impact upon higher education. Increasingly, Lehigh must respond to an increasingly competitive market in which we recruit and retain students. The World Wide Web (WWW) has had an explosive impact on expanding access to what had been proprietary information, and for using that information as a strategic resource.
The SAFAHRIS project was developed in early 1996 in response to these factors. The primary motivation for SAFAHRIS is to improve dramatically our operating practices, our client services, and the use of enterprise information as a strategic institutional resource to improve our decisions and provide services. The creative application of information technology will be an essential enabler of this change, but the improvement of information technology alone is not a primary goal of SAFAHRIS.
B3. Strategic Significance
SAFAHRIS links to the strategic plans of the institution and to the Information Resources plan along four dimensions: customer service, operations, information, and technology.
SAFAHRIS is necessary because “it is a jungle out there.” Competition for qualified students, faculty, staff, and research opportunities has heightened to a level which requires dramatic efforts just to maintain one’s position and even more significant efforts to make progress. Our customers want services made more comprehensive, easier and more convenient, and less costly. Our processes are fraught with inefficient interactions, too many handoffs, limited to specific times and places, and are too complicated for customers and process staff. Information is often unavailable, inaccessible, not in sync across sources, and maintained in a combination of centralized institutional databases and departmental shadow systems and databases. We are struggling to keep up with the changes and the power of desktop applications, dealing with an aging mainframe and its associated inflexible operating and application systems, and solving the year 2000 problem on all institutional platforms.
Each dimension is significant in its own right. Some have broader implications than others, but all are serious challenges. And they are all related. Consequently, we are trying to craft a solution which deals with all dimensions simultaneously. The danger in this project is that the scope may be just too broad and deep, limiting our ability to develop sufficient political and financial backing for the project. Additionally, the sheer complexity of this project may translate into risks so large that success will be difficult.
It is important to understand that while SAFAHRIS is clearly an institutional project with information technology as a major enabler, as an information and technology project it is also a major part of our Information Resources strategic plan. We developed our new strategic plan in the spring of 1996 and subsequently restructured our entire organization to meet the objectives of that plan. In creating our new organization we felt so strongly that there was a need to develop particular infrastructure and support structures to assist end users in using current and future institutional information that we assigned enterprise information consultants to each major university organizational element (each college, and major administrative departments). SAFAHRIS is, if you will, a leading indicator of our new organizational direction.
C. Objectives: Desired Outcomes
The vision for the 21st century was developed by the SAFAHRIS Process Reengineering Team (PRT), a cross-functional team which developed a high-level vision of reengineered non-teaching processes during the fall semester of 1996, at the request of the University’s top administrators. The vision as stated in the PRT’s final report is:
The SAFAHRIS vision is of a university in which relevant and accurate enterprise information is widely and easily accessible in a useful form. Redesigned service processes, operations, and technology improvements will enable Lehigh to address strategic activities in a unified way. In this environment, prospective students will vie to study at Lehigh as an institution recognized globally for its superior, balanced living and learning environment. Lehigh faculty, staff, students and alumni will have the information and technology they need widely and easily accessible to support living and lifelong learning experiences. All users of this information will be empowered to do business with Lehigh when they want, using any medium or form of interaction they choose, and with duplicative efforts reduced or eliminated.
The desired end-state of SAFAHRIS is to achieve the following:
1. Services. Services will be client focused to meet the needs of individual students. Services will be available anytime and anywhere. Student services will be available by phone (via a single phone number with automated call distribution), and via computerbased Webenabled integrated systems (virtual or real). Students will be able to conduct their business at one or more comprehensive service centers that provide assistance to students in registration, financial aid, billing and collections, food and housing services, and telecommunications and other Information Resources services.
2. Operations. University staff will be trained to provide operations that are crossfunctional and process oriented. Staff will become empowered caseworkers who accept responsibility for the primary intake of requests and who deal with the complete scope of issues related to a process. We will engage in continuous monitoring and predicting of client needs and preferences. We will establish specific, measurable process targets that are linked to University objectives and focus on clientdriven outcomes. We will eliminate or automate nonvalue added functions.
3. Information. We will capture as much data as possible from the source without the need for rekeying (e.g., applicant and inquiry information). The system will be processdriven, with the sharing of information facilitated by technology. University information will support enterprise targets, with information accessible across the university on a timely basis.
4. Technology. We will standardize our technology platforms. Technology will be transparent to the user. Whenever possible, information will be input, stored and retrieved through an integrated system (actual or virtual) with a unified and useroriented interface, with data located in one place and shared by all. We will eliminate manual handling and increase data accuracy. It will be possible to provide decision support analysis and to analyze financial and student information to generate trend and decision making information. Appropriate desktop computers will be a available to all staff and clients who need them.
For Phase 1 of SAFAHRIS, a Process Reengineering Team (PRT) was appointed in September 1996 to develop an expanded vision of the SAFAHRIS project, to identify the key processes to be redesigned, to establish a priority order for selecting processes to redesign, and to identify the preferred order of implementation of the new systems required to enable the redesigned processes. The PRT specifically was not to engage in detailed process redesign, to make proposals to reorganize operations, nor to prepare detailed system specifications for system selection or development. Also excluded from their scope were “teaching” processes and the technologies that support the instructional process.
The goals of this project are very ambitious, and attaining these goals is a complex process. The SAFAHRIS project is envisioned not as a single project, but as a series of coordinated efforts that will occur in multiple phases over a number of years.
Key to the next steps in our project was the establishment of a vision for the future service and information environment. SAFAHRIS envisions a university in which relevant and accurate enterprise information is widely and easily accessible in a useful form. Redesigned service processes, operations, and technology improvements will enable Lehigh to address strategic activities in a unified way. Prospective students will vie to study at Lehigh as an institution recognized globally for its superior, balanced living and learning environment. Lehigh faculty, staff, students and alumni will have the information and technology they need widely and easily accessible to support living and lifelong learning experiences. All users of this information will be empowered to do business with Lehigh when they want, using any medium or form of interaction they choose, and duplicate and unnecessary efforts will be reduced or eliminated. The desired end-state will be to achieve services that are client focused, customized, and available anytime and anywhere. Staff will be cross-functional and process oriented. We will capture information at its source and minimize the need for reentry. Our technology will run on standardized platforms, and the technology will be transparent to the user.
This vision was established by a cross-functional team appointed by the university’s top administrators (President, Provost, Vice-Presidents, Vice-Provost). The University engaged Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) to train and facilitate the activities of our internal Process Reengineering Team (PRT). CSC is world renowned for its expertise in process reengineering and the creative application of information technology. Our team worked with CSC for almost five months to establish this vision and to determine how we might use networked institution-wide information, informated employees and reconceptualized processes to achieve the vision. Referred to as Phase 1- Global Visioning, this process resulted in a campus-wide assessment of current non-teaching processes and information usage; a set of priorities for implementing a new process, information, and technology infrastructure; the depiction of the desired end-state view of the use of institution-wide information; and the development of the strategies and the high-level plan for creating the desired end-state.
Currently, we are wrapping up Phase 1.5, the Transition, during which we: (1) issued a request for information from system vendors and potential partners to gather information about systems and technology which will help us make better decisions about architecture and costs; (2) selected two vendors for further study; (3) continued to carry the progress of the project to institutional constituents and provided information about benefits, effort, and expected cost of SAFAHRIS; (4) finalized our project plan and organization; and (5) developed the strategy for Phase 2, Student Services.
The organization for the remainder of the project was tentatively decided which continued to use an interim SAFAHRIS project manager, delaying the hiring of a dedicated project manager until final funding for the project has been approved. In addition, several groups were established to support the project at various points in its future life–SAFAHRIS Advisory Committee and Student Services teams.
A SAFAHRIS Advisory Committee was established in July 1997 to serve as the primary group for providing advice on decisions related to SAFAHRIS. Among its ten members were eight executive level staff members and two senior faculty members. Their responsibilities included:
- provide advice on project goals
- provide advice on implementation issues
- assist in communication with stakeholders and other campus decision makers
- review project plans, budget, and progress
- consider the relationship with other initiatives
In addition to the above items, the committee led the evaluation of RFI responses, interviewed vendors, and recommended semi-finalists and finalists.
The Student Services Team was selected to begin Phase 2, Student Services. The team efforts began in July 1997, but did not really get moving until the beginning of the Fall 1997 semester. The project team members were selected and an appropriate advisory team was assembled. The Student Services Team consists of eight members from the principal student service providers on campus. Their charge is to: (1) test the end-state vision established by the Process Reengineering Team and to translate it into more specific goals and objectives; (2) lead the investigation of current student services processes and determine what changes are necessary and desirable; (3) work to create and implement process reform. The Student Services Team will provide the primary effort of evaluating student-related information and systems. In addition, it is expected that most, if not all, of the members would be involved in the implementation of a new student services system.
The student services effort will implement a life-cycle approach to the student experience, encompassing all processes and information related to our students from recruitment to bequest (“cradle to grave”). Future phases will include: (1) Decision Support Enterprise Information; (2) Finance and Human Resources information; and (3) Advancement information. This major effort was originally expected to be completed by the end of the year 2000, obviating the need to dedicate significant effort to repairing Year2000 problems in university systems. Given where we are today and what still remains to be done, it is almost certain that the broad scope of SAFAHRIS will not be completed by the end of the year 2000, but most likely one year later. This recognition has translated into increased planning and programming to meet Year2000 requirements in a subset of university applications.
E1. Benefits/Successes: This project, above all else, has brought greatly needed university-wide attention to the issues of information, information architecture, and process support. There have been isolated efforts at improvement previously, but embodied in SAFAHRIS is the recognition of the value of institutional information to the future of the institution. It has become much clearer to all campus constituents that everyone’s future is tied to certain strategic assets and their appropriate use. Information is now perceived as one of those strategic assets.
E2. Failures: SAFAHRIS has faltered over time due to lack of sufficient resources, proper coordination and high-level support. The PRT members had at best a 50% effort responsibility. Project management is being conducted on a part-time basis. The Student Services Team is comprised of 50% effort members. Little or no clerical support has been provided; little project funding has been provided.
There have been significant changes in the leadership of the institution over the past 6 months resulting in a dramatic change in the composition of the SAFAHRIS Leaders group. Our president left, we have a new provost, two deans left, one vice provost was reassigned, one vice president left and another new vice presidential position was created. Most reengineering projects fail due to lack of top management support. We have taken a significant hit and will spend a great deal of time rebuilding and realigning before we are able to make significant progress.
F. Lessons learned
While we are still a long way from implementing the vision of the SAFAHRIS Leaders and the PRT, we have made some observations that may have value to others.
1. Importance of top management support
- . SAFAHRIS started to build momentum only after their was good alignment of the leaders on the objectives of the project. As long as the SAFAHRIS Leaders were actively and regularly involved in providing direction, support, and making decisions, the project was able to make progress. At times where differences surfaced about issues, the project had a tendency to slow or stagnate. During the time that the PRT was actively meeting, the project made great progress because there was considerable effort and visibility associated with the project. However, after Phase 1 was completed, there was less of a sense of urgency. In addition, with the dramatic changes in institutional leadership (described above) came considerable recasting, review, and reluctance to move forward.
2. Calendar works against you. At our institution, no responsibilities were eliminated and no tasks were dropped to permit the campus to engage in the effort to move SAFAHRIS along. There was so little time available to concentrate on this very important task that the project calendar was bound to stretch out. In addition, working with committees and work groups where the lines of supervision are blurred at best and focus is not assured, only added to the sense of stagnation. But perhaps the most important impact of lost time is that enhancements and new solutions do not get implemented when they are considered, but get delayed for a period of time causing loss of value.
3. Limited success of part-timers. We used part-timers for every role associated with SAFAHRIS up to this point. We did, however, hire two full-time consultants for a four-month period. Their role was to facilitate the efforts of the PRT. The PRT members did commit much greater levels of effort to the project than they were asked to commit. They all continued to have some elements of their previous job responsibilities. Making meetings and completing assignment was difficult. The result was burnout of the PRT members and consultants being used to support lower level team activities than planned.
Project management for SAFAHRIS has also been part-time. The project manager has also been responsible for leading the Technology Management Services Group in Information Resources. Project leadership and coordination of activities has often taken second priority to other duties and responsibilities.
The current Student Services Team is a group of individuals working at 50% effort on SAFAHRIS and 50% (or more) back in the office. It is expected that the success of this group will also be tempered by their assigned level of effort.
4. Take advantage of inertia. Our inertia was greatest at times of greatest activity. As we moved from one phase to another, we lost the minds and bodies of team members, Leaders, and the interest of the campus. This was particularly evident after the PRT finished its work (January 1997) and we waited for the development and approval of the project plan for the next phases. Time squeezes through any small opening available. We lost several months and the opportunity to build a solid base of support.
5. The challenge of priorities. While the initial effort was small, SAFAHRIS has been a word in the campus vocabulary starting way back in late fall of 1995. It has been almost two years getting to where we are. All along the way we have had to fight other competing priorities and continue to sell the value of institutional information and process redesign. There is only so much money and the demands on it have been overwhelming–lots of people wanting attention, lots of projects needing resources, lots of ways to lose focus. The longer the project exists, the more likely it will be challenged successfully.
6. The world doesn’t stand still. The competitive landscape has moved right along with us in time. As we are organizing and planning to act others are acting or have acted. Technological changes and human resource changes can have a dramatic impact on a project which spans years, not months.
The Project Divided
A number of events occurred at Lehigh between the summer of 1997 and the fall of 1997 which resulted in a dramatic change in the character of SAFAHRIS. Senior management support for the project was significantly eroded by numerous changes within their ranks. The project lost history as well as sponsorship. Another significant change was the action of decoupling the component processes that comprised SAFAHRIS into smaller, narrower, less costly and less risky projects.
First, Peter Likins, longtime president and enthusiastic supporter of the project, left to take the reins at the University of Arizona. Lehigh’s provost, also on the SAFAHRIS Leaders Team from its inception, retired in December of 1996. Of the four remaining members, one left the university, one changed positions, and two remain. Because SAFAHRIS was an institution-wide initiative, it needed an equally broad commitment at the highest level. In the space of a few short months, the team that had carried the seed of the idea to the campus in such a big way was decimated. Most importantly, they were not there to maintain the inertia of the project.
The change in top management has had a dramatic impact on SAFAHRIS. We lost considerable momentum and the sense of SAFAHRIS as the omnibus project to implement an institution-wide information system has been lost. That is not to say that all has been lost. On the contrary, we continue to make good progress, only in a different form.
At the same time we had entered what was intended to be a very different phase of the project. It was, in fact, different, but it was also different than intended. The process reengineering team (PRT) had completed its work by the end of January 1997. From that point until the summer of 1997, the SAFAHRIS Leaders were the primary active body working on the project. The group was struggling with issues of scale, budget, communication, direction, and campus buy-in. There was disagreement over how best to proceed and other campus priorities diverted attention from the project. Phase 1.5 which was originally intended to be a major refocusing from the global reengineering and visioning effort, did not result in the creation of a project infrastructure and the assignment of process teams. The primary project activity during this time was the issuance of a request for information (RFI) to solicit from higher education software vendors detailed descriptions of their current and future products. Then in the fall of 1997, SAFAHRIS, as a global project, ceased to exist. The major process areas within the initiative were decoupled into their narrower, component parts with individual sponsors and independent project teams. The umbrella project, with its central coordination, consolidated budget and institution-wide view was terminated.
B. Request for Information (RFI)
The RFI was developed with the intent to gather information about the current and future state of higher education administrative software. Only a handful of Lehigh University faculty and staff were familiar with new products on the market. Most of those, however, had not seen current products or experienced current technology. In addition, no one understood how the vision of the different vendors corresponded with ours or even how their products compared.
We set out to communicate our vision for institution-wide information and information systems to any of the product vendors who were interested and solicited their comments and proposals in response. (http://www.lehigh.edu/~safahris/reports/rfi.html) The document conveyed the rationale for SAFAHRIS, a capsule project history, and the projected end-state and outcomes of the project. Further, the RFI specified the format of responses and laid out the information, process and technology framework within which their proposed product would need to operate. Great care was taken to avoid imposing restrictions which might artificially limit a vendor’s response, or even worse eliminate some vendors from participating. At the same time we realized that every vendors’ solution might not be amendable to our needs and environment. The RFI did carry one critical condition, however:
While it is not essential that respondents be capable of supplying an integrated suite of applications that encompasses all the process areas indicated [in the RFI], it is desirable that the solution suggested be capable of working in an integrated fashion. Further, it is desirable that each respondent identify how it would satisfy the need to supply software in support of all process areas, even if it does not market products in all areas. Respondents should also consider this an opportunity to propose development of process areas that it currently does not support.
The goal of this condition was to ensure that an institution-wide information system could result from our RFI efforts. It had the effect of excluding certain vendors without an integrated solution but, paradoxically, including others also without an integrated solution, since it did not require that a single vendor provide them all. In fact, the idea of a partnership of several strong providers had the appeal of potentially combining the benefits of “best-of-breed” solutions with the consistency and commonality of “integrated” solutions.
The RFI mailing list was generated from several sources. First, we went to the CAUSE Website (http://www.cause.org/memberdir/cusclass/corporation_members.html) and collected potential respondents from the pages of corporate members. To that we added a few more which were suggested by contacts within higher education. The RFI was mailed in print form to each of some sixteen (16) software vendors and an electronic invitation was sent to their email contact. The RFI was mounted on our website for viewing. The entire document was forwarded electronically to anyone who requested. We received five qualified responses, that is, either the vendor offered a suite of integrated applications or proposed a partnership of integrated-like applications. The responses were received in late June and were initially reviewed by our SAFAHRIS Advisory Committee (SAC) who had effectively become the sponsor for the RFI review process. The proposal review required about a month of study before we were comfortable inviting first round selectees to campus. During this time we also made some preliminary contacts at vendor reference sites.
Because all of the proposals were relatively strong the SAC felt that we should invite each of the respondents to campus to introduce their company to our campus and to present the highlights of their proposal. This activity was completed by very early September 1997, with most vendors using between 4-6 hours for initial product and corporate reviews. While the meetings were open to all campus constituents we focused on process owners, departmental decision-makers and their staff. The next cut we made reduced the number of vendors to two. The decision process was a combination of the vendors response to a checklist of foundation requirements from the RFI (both functional and technical); the vendors presentation of their corporate vision and their products; and their ability to answer questions posed by the Lehigh audience. Cost, while included in the vendors’ responses, was not yet considered.
Once the final cut had been made in late September and we were down to two continuing participants, we invited both finalists back to ask us questions. This visit served two purposes. First, it enabled the vendor’s representatives to learn as much as they were able about us and how we do business. Second, it enabled them to walk away with a very detailed set of questions and expectations which they were to address on a subsequent visit. Thus, their future efforts could be tailored to our expressed needs, yielding a more effective interchange. At this point we were still exploring all application areas so each vendor’s discussions took several days to accomplish. We experienced a high participation rate by Lehigh invited staff and faculty and we were treated to excellent access to vendor experts.
Concurrent with the beginning of detailed conversations with the two finalists, staff from Information Resources started the laborious process of establishing project cost descriptions for each of the finalists. While the project team had the cost information on all RFI respondents, we were able to ignore costs until we have narrowed the field based upon our process and information requirements. This saved an enormous amount of time in developing project expense projections. Because the cost of this project was expected to be quite substantial, the project costing effort was timed to coincide with the Fall 1997 Board of Trustees meeting. There was no expectation that the matter would come up for vote during this meeting, but the vendor evaluations and cost projections were to serve as rich background information for the Trustees. The time to vote would come later.
One might ask why we chose to go with an RFI, rather than an RFP (request for proposal). We did not prepare an RFP, because we were not prepared in all process areas to submit a detailed list of requirements. The Global Reengineering Phase of SAFAHRIS focused mainly on student services and less on advancement, human resources, and finance. Consequently, by the Summer of 1997 we had a much more developed list of needs within Student Services than within any other project area. Further, we wanted the opportunity to explore the various vendor offerings without a strict timetable and without making any commitments to vendors. And if after some period of investigation we felt writing an RFP would be to our advantage, we could.
C. Transitioning to Individual Service Teams
In early October 1997 the SAFAHRIS Leaders, including the new members of the top administration, assembled to discuss the present status and future direction of SAFAHRIS. This first meeting included our interim president and our new provost. It was here that the decision was made to focus specifically on Student Services and Human Resources, putting the other initiatives (Finance and Advancement) aside. There were several reasons for this shift in strategy. First, the Provost was concerned that the umbrella project was too risky–it committed us to too much over too long a period of time. He wanted the ability to move in smaller steps in order to limit risk and impact to the campus. It was at this time that the Provost assumed the sponsorship of the Student Services Team and its effort. The Vice President for Finance and Administration, likewise, assumed the sponsorship for the Human Resources project. The assembled group decided that the two project areas and teams would not be linked in any project organization, and that their product selection could be independent. The only overarching criterion was that both selected products must use Oracle (already used extensively on campus) as the underlying database management system. This decision opened the door to independent teams and independent decisions based upon the specific needs in each area. There was a general acknowledgment that an “integrated” system was desirable, but that if insufficient common ground existed, an “interfaced” solution could be implemented. It was reemphasized that the student service area had priority and that the human resource effort would not begin until the Spring of 1998.
Although a Student Services Team had been appointed and charged in the Summer of 1997, its real work began after this landmark early October meeting of the SAFAHRIS Leaders. Essentially, all centrally coordinated SAFAHRIS work ended at about this time. Since the SAFAHRIS project manager had been an interim additional assignment for an Information Resources group leader, there was not much of an organization to dismantle. In fact, perhaps as a way of emphasizing the fundamental shift from a large, omnibus project to two relatively unrelated decentralized projects, the SAFAHRIS name was dropped from future communications and references.
D. The Student Services Project – October 1997 through April 1998.
The shift in the political nature of the project was not the only significant change that occurred in this time frame. The charge to the Student Services Team was altered away from process redesign and technology support, to a more “traditional” investigation of required features and a plan for re-automation on a current computer and communications platform. Following the lines of previous decisions, this strategy seemed to echo the concern of limiting change and limiting risk to the institution. The Student Services Team (SST) worked over the next several months to define the required capabilities of the information system in the Top Operational/Service Capabilities document (http://www.lehigh.edu/~safahris/reports/capab.html). The document categorized and prioritized capabilities into the following areas:
- Access and services
- Integrated database and system
- Departmental reporting and communications
- Process workflow
- Decision support, data warehousing
- Student profile
- Imaging and document management
- Application development tools
- Electronic data collection and interchange
In addition, the SST has developed a detailed requirements list for comparison with vendor system attributes. The investigation which began with the RFI continued. The SST picked up the responsibility for working directly with the vendors, developing the ongoing agenda, and managing the discovery process. There have been several additional presentations and many discussions with vendor functional and technical staff as well as third parties who provide application extensions (document imaging, scheduling systems) and implementation services. Top management has met with vendor executives and team members have contacted client references.
The next steps for the Student Services project include
- Development of a preliminary Model Project Plans for each of the finalist products
- Selection of the primary software vendor for core student administration support
- Construction of the Final Model Project Plan for leadership approval
A model project plan includes project scope, required partners, proposed implementation approach, project magnitude, required financial resources, and proposed implementation schedule. The plan explores each topic area in great depth and will differ based upon the solution selected. However, understanding the plan and how the issues and strategy change based upon the selection may aid in the decision.
E. The Human Resources Project – March through May 1998
The sponsor of the Human Resource Project is the Vice President for Finance and Administration. Both the project team and the project advisory team were appointed and charged in late February, 1998. The project team consists of ten staff members whose primary responsibility is to:
- Develop a vision for the new information system to support human resource requirements
- Evaluate the current human resource and payroll systems
- Assess the finalist vendors’ systems and recommend an appropriate solution
The project team began working in early March with a stated goal of completing its objectives by the end of April. The team developed the vision statement:
“The Human Resources Team envisions a system environment where timely, accurate, relevant and easily accessible Human Resource information is available through an enterprise wide system that provides the controlled access to and the processing of data necessary to satisfy the functional requirements of the Lehigh community in an efficient and effective manner.”
Strengths and limitations of the existing human resource system have been documented. Since several months had passed since the initial and detailed presentations provided by the two finalist vendors, they were invited back to provide an in-depth view of their systems to the Human Resources Team (HRT). The team has also been contacting reference institutions to determine their implementation and ongoing application and support experience. The team plans to visit client sites of both vendors. The HRT is expected to present its findings, analysis, and recommendations to the team sponsor in May 1998.
F. Merging the Results
Since both project teams will be completing their efforts at about the same time, it is expected that their findings, analyses, and recommendations will be considered jointly by the project sponsors. The intent is, if possible, to select one vendor’s proposal which meets the criteria of both projects. While this is not required as indicated above, both project teams and sponsors have indicated their common interest in selecting the same vendor’s solution. Clearly, this is necessary if we are to build an effective institution-wide information system. However, this alone does not guarantee such. We still have several important process and information areas not covered by the existing project teams which were identified under the omnibus SAFAHRIS project–namely finance and advancement. Nor does this include the ability to gather institutional and departmental applications that fall outside these major process areas into a common data warehouse or a series of data marts. The fate of the remainder will have to wait until we as an institution can allocate the resources and accept the risk associated with such an effort. The future viability of an institution-wide information system at Lehigh will be determined by the end of the Spring 1998 semester. If we choose to collaborate with one vendor for both student administration and human resources, we will be well on our way to creating an environment which reflects the initial goal of SAFAHRIS. If this occurs, there will be significant inertia to move the remaining process and application areas within the same fold when their time comes. If this does not occur, we will need to find another way of garnering the advantages of a common institution-wide information environment. It is not clear how successful we can be.
G. The Final Analysis
The SAFAHRIS project has had a dramatic effect upon Lehigh University. Its most notable achievement is the awareness that it has presented of the need for an institution-wide information system and the path to follow to select and implement. In the final analysis, the goals of the project appear to have been too broad, too risky, and too expensive to be embraced by the campus. It may be that the institution will over time achieve the same outcomes. Regardless, the effort to build a comprehensive, integrated information environment has begun and progress is being made. The pace is considerably slower than originally envisioned and the form of the effort has changed considerably, but there is still movement and there is still some identifiable shape.
There are many lessons to be learned from this effort, most of those have been summarized above. But, in retrospect, perhaps the most important attribute in achieving progress is institutional patience and perseverance. These must be fostered and kept alive at all costs. Without them, we would have stopped when our SAFAHRIS Leaders group was devastated by attrition. We may have suffered a near-death experience, but we managed to hang on through the commitment of a few dedicated administrators who believed in the vision, though not necessarily the exact appearance, of SAFAHRIS.