Like many institutions over the last several years, Salisbury University (Md.) paid handsomely for an enterprise resource planning system. Also like many institutions, Salisbury discovered that while its ERP solution handled larger functions just fine, there were gaps in the system—in areas such as housing, medical and athletic records, course evaluation, and human resources search management—that required the purchase and implementation of third-party products to fill.
Besides incurring additional costs, officials discovered that the third-party solutions’ one-size-fits-all approach led to even more hole-patching. “Almost all of these tools involve integration,” says Chief Information Officer Jerome Waldron. “Often it’s a different language, or there are formatting differences. It can be a little yucky to get information from one bucket to another bucket.”
That yuck factor led to quite a bit of work by the university’s IT staff to get the various systems to talk to each other.
“We spent so much time trying to find the problems and correct the problems I finally said, ‘We just need to write our own.’ And that’s what we did,” says Jeanette Wolinski, associate director of information technology for administrative systems. “When you do a third-party package, you get what’s in the box unless you want to pay for a lot of customization.”
But the ERP system includes tools that allow users to write their own customized applications, which can be integrated much more seamlessly than outside products. Wolinski and her team met with colleagues across campus and began programming. They developed several web-based programs that fit nicely within the system, saved paper, and eliminated licensing costs associated with third-party products. “We’re leveraging our investment,” explains Waldron. “We paid a lot of money for ERP, and we really wanted to get away from spending more money on some of these third-party tools and make it easier for people to use.”
Pulling just the course evaluation and housing tools in-house has saved Salisbury more than $20,000 a year in direct maintenance costs. More significantly, according to Waldron, data are collected and used much more consistently, fostering familiarity and efficiency among users. “Saving money was the icing on the cake,” Waldron says. “The primary driver was functionality.”
The work is ongoing. Wolinski’s team is using the lessons learned thus far as it writes new programs to fill other gaps. “A lot of campuses look at third parties for the holes in their administrative sytems,” Waldron says. “But with a little focus and the in-house talent, you can leverage what’s there to develop your own and save money and make it more efficient. ... We enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness because they’re all on the same system. We really folded that third-party functionality into our ERP.”