We started out in the ‘97-’98 academic year, with implementations of SAP Financials and SAP HR. We went live with a portion of the Campus Management product in December of 2004. Then in the fall of 2005 we launched SAP Grants Management. And we just went live with the full Campus Management student information system. So over the years there’s been quite a bit of investment in this. In fact, there’s just no way to describe it other than to say that the core of our administrative systems is SAP at this point.
We had a large number of systems that were home-grown, old, unsupported in some cases. In the case of grants management, we had no solution at all. I think the university’s decision was that the easiest way to address all of those things was not to do any more retrofitting to existing packages than we really had to do and to try to move into some sort of an integrated ERP environment. As we looked across all of that, the university was very impressed with the capabilities and flexibility of SAP.
Reputation was a very big issue. In addition to SAP’s reputation for reliability and to the comprehensive scope of their offerings, the university has strong connections to several companies who use SAP to support their operations, and their recommendations were important in our final selection.
You must have had some concerns about the university’s ability to accept the changes. When we implemented Campus Management, we tried very hard to learn from what we viewed as our shortcomings in the previous launches. We tried to make sure we engaged the right audiences and provided the right kind of training. We actually had those offices help with the design and implementation of the project. It does appears to me that we’re in considerably better condition following this latest launch than we were with the earlier launches.
I think the biggest one was to really ask ourselves which audiences at the university were going to be using this product and how were they going to be using it, and then we tried very hard to tailor our training specifically to those audiences. We actually had different training for the departmental secretaries than we did for the staff in the registrar’s office, for example. And the training was very much geared towards, “Here’s what you’re going to need to know to work with this product.” When we had done our earlier installations, there was a much more generic approach: “Here’s what you need to know about the product.” We did the same kind of thing for every audience, and that was less successful.
With HR and Financials, one of the huge issues for us was to avoid a lot of Y2K issues, and we were successful in that. Those systems desperately needed to be modernized. The old mainframe environment that we were in just didn’t allow adequate after-hours access. Student self-service was really troublesome. Plus the Web interface that we had for our old system was just not cutting it. It was an old technology. It barely worked. It was very buggy. Students were very frustrated with it. The combination of the two, the much greater availability and the ability to tie Web services directly into the system, those things have been huge benefits.
It sounds like virtually everybody at Central Michigan University has been touched by one of these implementations. I would agree. The students are doing all of their registration and address changes via the Web. When faculty are accessing student information, they’re doing that within the SAP system. All of our HR and finance is in SAP. We still have a few administrative systems that are not SAP systems. Our development office and our housing office still have significant systems that are not SAP, but they are integrated with SAP to the degree that they need to be.
One of the things that we’ve learned is how truly important it is to understand exactly what the scope of your project is going to be. One of the things that we did not do particularly well with our HR and Financials implementations back in the ’90s was that we raised expectations on campus to an unreasonable degree. The other thing is making sure that everyone understands their role, and that you have the right people in the right positions.
Roger Rehm is Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Central Michigan University.