Best Business Case Award

Margaret Krol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shares her school's first-rate business case for improving online administrative services for students, faculty and staff.

Margaret Krol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shares her school’s first-rate business case for improving online administrative services for students, faculty and staff.

In November 2005, we posed the following challenge to our readers as part of our IT Leadership Awards:

The Challenge

Have you recently had to present your business case to secure funding for a technology project? Take this quiz and graduate magna cum laude from Ed Tech’s school of business.

In November 2005, we posed the following challenge to our readers as part of our IT Leadership Awards:

The Challenge

Have you recently had to present your business case to secure funding for a technology project? Take this quiz and graduate magna cum laude from Ed Tech’s school of business.

Please send a 500-word description of your recent business case justification. Perhaps you have made the business case for implementing a new disaster recovery plan, deploying a wireless intrusion detection solution, upgrading firewalls, laying new fiber-optic lines to support online learning or switching to Gigabit Ethernet. If there is a capital technology expenditure for which you recently made a business case, you have the option of submitting that project. Submissions should document sound evaluation, measurement and implementation guidelines.

A panel of judges from Purdue University awarded the Business Case prize to Margaret Krol, interim associate vice president, Administrative Information Technology Services for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Krol leads the department responsible for the delivery of enterprisewide administrative IT systems and services. Her university will receive a $2,000 shopping spree at www.cdwg.com. Her entry follows:

Business Issue

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faced the challenge of improving constituent services in areas such as online applications for admissions and meeting demand for access to online registration, while being saddled with a diverse, aging technology infrastructure of 160 administrative applications used across its three campuses. In many cases, these applications had reached capacity, were in imminent danger of failing or could not be effectively enhanced to meet new demands.

The school assembled a universitywide team with representatives from areas including student services, finance, human resources (HR) and payroll. It charged the team with identifying a solution to address these aging applications in a way that would avoid application failure and establish a foundation for improving administrative and business services.

Options Considered

The team considered three options:

1. Do nothing beyond working to extend the life of the deteriorating systems.

2. Replace each system individually in a piecemeal fashion.

3. Implement an integrated solution to bring information and services into a single system built with contemporary technology that offers reliable vendor support for regulatory upgrades and ongoing enhancements.

Option Recommended

The team identified an integrated solution for student, financial aid, finance and HR administrative systems as the preferred alternative. This option offered the most cost-effective solution to address the problems faced with the existing application portfolio. The team rejected the option of doing nothing because it did not address the need to improve services. It recommended the SunGard Higher Education Banner suite for the new integrated vendor solution.

Project Budget

The team developed a project budget that included:

• Improving the university’s network

• Upgrading hardware

• Licensing ERP software (SunGard Higher Education Banner) and related software, such as document imaging

• Purchasing an Oracle site license for both administrative and academic use

• Developing an enterprise data warehouse

• Decommissioning legacy hardware and software environment

• Consulting and staffing.

In the area of staffing, the team proposed a groundbreaking funding initiative that included funds in the project budget to pay the salaries of existing university staff members from a variety of units — including finance, human resources, payroll, financial aid, registrar’s office, admissions, etc. — who would be temporarily assigned to work on the implementation project over an extended period of time.

By taking this approach, the funds from their salaries could stay in their individual units to pay for temporary or replacement staff. These temps would assume the regular responsibilities of staff members while they worked on the implementation project. By assigning existing staff, the project would benefit from their knowledge and experience, and the university would retain their new system expertise at the end of the project.

The university also included decommissioning legacy system hardware (e.g., mainframe computer) and software (e.g., operating and database management systems and applications) in the project to ensure that ongoing legacy maintenance funds would be freed to support maintenance of the new environment and system.

Outcome

The project, including funding for internal staff assignments, was approved, and the university successfully implemented the integrated administrative suite. Expertise gained during the implementation was retained in the various units that now use the new integrated system.

The project concluded several months ahead of schedule and more than $6 million under budget. There was no service disruption during the project implementation, and today, students, faculty and staff benefit from simplified access to information, enhanced services and a stable online environment that is poised to evolve in step with constituent needs.

About Margaret Krol

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in Chicago and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I earned Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science and Master of Business Administration degrees. I’ve worked at the University of Illinois since I was an undergraduate.

Why did you get into IT?

I enjoyed a high school course in computer programming. As an undergraduate, I majored in mathematics and computer science. Later, my interests moved toward the application of IT to enhance business processes.

In your view, what’s the biggest technology challenge in higher education today?

The rapid pace of technological change and high expectations for technology make it a challenge to balance the delivery of reliable, secure and effective systems with the desire to focus efforts on technological advances, and to do both while controlling costs.

What’s your biggest challenge currently?

After completing the ERP implementation that replaced our legacy systems, we have been re-evaluating and revising internal IT processes to ensure that they reflect current best practices. We are participating in a strategic planning effort at the university, and we want to ensure we are positioned to effectively and efficiently support the initiatives that result from that process.

Which IT project are you most proud of?

I was the project director for our ERP implementation. Working with the people involved in that project was a great experience, and I was really proud of our team.

What’s unique from a technology perspective?

Administrative Information Technology Services developed a complete messaging protocol for use in building message-aware applications and integrating existing applications. The result of that work (OpenEAI) is available as open source software (www.openeai.org).

Tell us about your next planned project.

We have several projects under way including a user-interface-customized front end for distributed HR built on top of our ERP, as well as an e-procurement implementation.

What makes the school a great place to work?

The people — faculty, staff and students — and the great leadership make the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign a great place to work.

Oct 31 2006

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