Administration Systems Renewal integral to a functioning U of C

By Stephanie Claggett

Hidden away on the second floor of Trailer C is a project that will change the way the entire university functions. It’s not a medical science breakthrough, or a secret plan to reduce tuition–unfortunately–but it is an integral part of the University of Calgary.

Administrative Systems Renewal–recently re-christened Project Emerge–is a plan to overhaul the entire computer system that keeps the university running. These computer systems involve everything from financial systems, such as payroll and timesheets, to purchasing systems and student processing, and systems such as the InfoNet. It’s not the most glamorous project on campus, but the team is dedicated and determined to have the change as smooth as possible.

Project Emerge is crucial because the systems that the U of C currently runs are 25 years old and can barely keep up with the university’s ever-growing demands.

“You can’t stretch them [the administrative systems] any more,” said Project Emerge Director Grant Watterworth. “You get to the point where they’re going to break.”

The current system, which is unique to the U of C, is costly, relatively inefficient, inflexible, and has very little storage space. Project Emerge hopes to fix these problems. The InfoNet, for example, will undergo changes to extend its hours of availability, though there will continue to be allotted times during peak demand such as registration. The increasing importance of research on campus also stretches the current system’s capabilities. Financial records are another issue that Project Emerge hopes to improve.

“Our many diverse funding sources need to be assured that we use their money well,” said Watterworth.

Project Emerge’s implementation budget is estimated at $30 million, and the ongoing costs of the new systems are estimated at $6 million per year.

But don’t expect to see a drastic change in the way things are run any time soon, as the project will not be completed until December 2006. Until June 2005, the student services aspect of the project will undergo a proof of concept phase, in which the project leaders will ensure the proposed service provider, PeopleSoft, will be compatible with the current and future needs of the university.

“We are going to spend the next eight months confirming that PeopleSoft meets these requirements,” said Student Administration Team Lead Fred Rosmanitz.

Once the system has been approved and configured, it will be tested on a small group of volunteers, who will, in turn, help other students navigate through the new system. If it turns out that PeopleSoft is not suitable for the university’s needs, then the Project Emerge team will look for another option.

Not rushing the project will definitely work to the project’s advantage, however.

“Some have tried to do it quicker, and have paid the price,” said Watterworth, citing a few frightening stories of administrative systems updates gone wrong. Watterworth went on to say that with the current level of cooperation among universities, helpful people from the faculties, dedicated outside consultants, a reasonable budget and timeline, as well as executive commitment–all of which the U of C has–the new system should go up without any major problems.

The Project Emerge team is not alone on its venture to improve the university’s efficiency. Most universities across North America are undergoing, or have recently completed, a similar process, which gives the U of C many examples–good and bad–to learn from.

Two executive sponsors, Vice-President Finance and Services Mike McAdam, and Provost and Vice-President Academic Ron Bond, supervise Project Emerge, along with a committee made up of representatives from across campus. University President Harvey Weingarten is also keenly interested in the project’s success.

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