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Universities continue to struggle with diminishing resources, fewer positions and reduced funding to accomplish more. We can no longer spend 17 months upgrading an on-premise ERP system to satisfy vendor mandates when that upgrade delivers no additional functionality. These types of efforts are why Cloud computing is quickly becoming the default choice at Cleveland State University, it’s a question of survival. It is also a matter of fiscal responsibility and efficiencies. Going to the Cloud will reduce the cost of many disparate systems as they are integrated into the Cloud. Efficiencies in service and cost is immeasurable in a resource challenged world.
Our journey to the cloud began in 2005 with our employee recruiting system, based on the success of which, all subsequent implementations have been in the Cloud. We have seen system after system migrate to the cloud on our campus, and that shift has allowed us to meet growing demands with fewer resources. The only remaining applications on premise are our HCM, financials and student records ERP system, soon to be replaced with a Cloud solution. The speed of implementation, elimination of hardware support, and almost invisible upgrades are benefits that cannot be ignored.
Disrupt Less, Serve More
Like all universities we have limited resources, and we want those resources devoted to solving business problems quickly. Gone are the days, where IT staff are sequestered and doing “geeky” computer stuff, they are now key partners working with end users in designing efficient and effective solutions. If our staff is busy with regulatory upgrades, or vendor mandated upgrades they aren’t solving business problems. We have analyzed 10 years of projects to find that 70 percent-75 percent of our time is spent on upgrade efforts, while our backlog of business solution requests kept growing. Given this situation, an Executive Technology Committee was convened to prioritize the ever increasing projects requiring technology support. While this committee has been instrumental in moving priorities forward, it is not the answer to all campus needs. However, the formation of this committee has delimited the number of one-off requests to our technology division.
“We have learned that communication is the critical base to get us there; without effective communication, all other efforts are compromised”
System upgrades aren’t just a burden for IT staff, they are also business disruptions for the end user while they test the upgrade. In 2016, CSU went through 16 upgrades to our ERP system, these included regulatory, maintenance and bug fixes. On average, each upgrade included eight IT staff and nine end users, who weren’t devoted 100 percent to the upgrades, but contributed significant effort. Innovative disruption is painful but leads to a better state, upgrade disruption is painful and keeps us from from addressing critical business initiatives.
Almost lost in the discussion of reduced Cloud maintenance, is the improved functionality and mobility of this new generation of Cloud solutions. These modern systems were designed in the shadow of cutting edge consumer applications, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and many more. They’re much more intuitive, reducing training expense, and built to work on all mobile devices from the outset.
We anticipate a much different world with a cloud ERP system. We expect upgrades to be a non event. We expect a steady pace of innovation, delivered through bi-annual upgrades. We expect to spend 25 percent of our IT resources on upgrades, as opposed to the current 75 percent. We expect a modern toolset that allows us to fully utilize workflow processes. We expect to deliver true value added projects to the university that better serve our community.
Go innovate…and don’t screw it up! We’ve all heard that, maybe not in so many words but containing the same sentiment. We want new creative solutions, but not failure. At its core, innovation requires experimentation, failure, learning, and trust. Are we willing to experiment and possibly fail? Are we prepared to learn something that goes against our long held management beliefs? Do we trust our teams to do these things?
We often struggle with the “silo” effect at CSU. Departments only see their world and are aware of only their own perspective. Communication and collaboration across these silos has been difficult. Recently our IT staff has begun meeting with end users across campus—users we support, along with those we historically haven’t.
The goal was to open up communications while building awareness of each other’s priorities and struggles. What we found was innovation. A brief 20-minute discussion led to an innovative solution that provided the much needed software to all students, faculty, and staff at much lower costs than previously estimated. Neither party could have come up with this solution on their own, together they did. We’ve used these new connections to build project teams with varied perspectives and common goals.
Now we have these integrated teams ready to develop great solutions. Are our processes and toolsets up to supporting these teams effectively? Many of our methods are firmly rooted several generations in the past, so it was time to update. We are now leaning forward into agile methodologies. Prototyping tools have proven very useful in confirming initial design decisions, or in some cases proving that some of us are truly from Venus and others from Mars.These methods have freed us from the overly complex design efforts that try to code for everything, into a more organic approach of design & revise.
Improved communications across campus, dynamic project teams and updated tools have helped dramatically. We are continuing to develop a mentality of trust. Trust that the teams will meet their goals, and trust that management will allow them to fail occasionally. This takes time, continued communications, and demonstrated success.
We haven’t found the silver bullet that kick starts innovative thinking, but we have learned that communication is the critical base to get us there; without effective communication, all other efforts are compromised.