When Jim La Creta became CIO at Brandeis University several years ago, he saw the need for a variety of improvements across the IT department. For example, he says the university previously had to cope with the financial strain of the 2008 economic crash, which led to kicking some tech issues down the road. Such circumstances, where lasting fixes get delayed, tend to lead to an accumulation of technical debt and La Creta needed to make changes across a wide range of resources.
He spoke with InformationWeek about how Brandeis University eventually turned to Workday’s cloud-based management system to help digitally transform its finance, human resources, and student processes.
What did you set your sights on first after you became CIO?
They needed to upgrade the infrastructure; everything was just old. I did my assessment, and it was almost like an old house that hadn’t been maintained for a really long time.
Once you open up and get into the repairs of an old house, more issues seem to arise. When I came onboard, we had servers that were over 10 years old. We had issues that would happen on a fairly frequent basis because of poor equipment. There was no redundancy for data off-campus. Over the course of some years, we’ve actually been able to do that — to have redundancies and upgrade most of our infrastructure.
The other part of that was the ERP [enterprise resource planning] conversation. We were running PeopleSoft and Canvas solutions. Back in 2013-2014, the university decided to get off of PeopleSoft support; so, they just stayed on the same version they were going to be on because they thought it would jumpstart an ERP discussion.
Well, it didn’t.
So, we were running an unsupported system when I came on board in 2016. Security was the No. 1 thing I brought to the board of trustees: “You are at serious risk. We’re one hacker away from losing our jobs.”
We had systems that weren’t patched. You were running people’s data through the system, and we brought a third party on to create patches and fixes, but it really wasn’t foolproof and was really stressful. We had over 3,000 customizations on PeopleSoft. It really turned into this kind of mess. We were running processes that started in PeopleSoft then jumped out of PeopleSoft and onto paper and then back into PeopleSoft. We were doing paper timesheets. It was really bad.
At the time we had a new president that came on board, there were new people in the mix in leadership positions and they really made this a priority.
We brought in Workday and some other vendors to do demos. We created a steering committee with the key users and stakeholders on campus. This was in early 2017. The steering committee voted, and it was unanimously Workday.
We hit the ground sprinting. That was one of the bigger mistakes that we made. We were so consumed with the idea of security and getting moving — we faceplanted.
We didn’t prepare people for change. We didn’t have business process conversations. We had them but we weren’t [really] preparing for it.
We got a few months in, and it occurred to me, “Let’s take a step back. Let’s take a deep breath. Let’s bring on a change manager.”
Did you have to offer additional training to your team?
With the change manager, it was really important to have that person who was training and creating liaison groups throughout campus and recruiting people to get the word out. We still had a very difficult time with HCM [human capital management] and finance because of the change factor. Nothing prepares anyone for ERP implementation. It’s like two jobs. The stress levels were through the roof. We didn’t do a good job of cleaning up our data beforehand. It just didn’t work out as well as we had hoped.
We did go live, but there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. We got in the middle of this process with HCM, and finance and I started looking student [processes]. I brought on a project manager to lead students 18 months to two years before we even started implementation. It built trust and led to a very smooth and successful student implementation.
Was that the watershed moment when things started to fall into place?
Bringing the manager on board was the start of it. I had a lot of small wins throughout campus. When we went live with HCM and finance, we did a lessons learned. We brought in a third party so it wouldn’t seem like IT wasn’t trying to slant the results.
When we started that implementation for students, I felt like we had all the key people in the right spots.
Were there naysayers that needed to be convinced? What was the ROI at the end for the university?
It’s never the technology that’s so much of the problem to implement. It’s the change to the community. We had a lot of naysayers. We had a lot of people who thought an implementation of this magnitude should take five years. We tackled it head-on.
We have seen huge [operational] efficiencies. Definitely with people’s time. We have consolidated over 600 reports to approximately like 150. We’ve been able to make advising and wait listings far more streamlined. Electronic bills take minutes generate; it used to take over three days to process and display.
Creating new systems, streamlining a lot of this has allowed me to centralize some of the operations. Data integrity is better. We’re all swimming the stream now. We’re not fully there yet but we’re slowly getting there.
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