As the saying goes, it’s quality, not quantity, that counts.  Arizona State University (ASU), however, is out to prove that it can successively deliver both through its "New American University" initiative.  Already the fourth largest U.S. university and one of the largest research institutions in the country, ASU is in the early stages of an aggressive 10-year plan to grow in scope and size, while simultaneously raising academic quality. 

ASU President Michael M. Crow envisions ASU as "The New American University," a provider of top-quality and broadly accessible educational programs, ultimately producing a highly educated workforce to fuel the economic, social, and cultural vitality of Arizona.

Among many challenges, the aggressive plan has called for a 56 percent increase in enrollment from the 61,000 students enrolled at ASU in 2005 to 95,000 students by 2020. 

When embarking on this endeavor, perhaps the most significant obstacle ASU faced was replacing its aging legacy systems with a scalable IT infrastructure to support its student administration and human resources management processes, while also enabling improved interactions with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other community stakeholders.  The university selected Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise applications as the cornerstone of this infrastructure. 

The massive enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation project called OASIS–Online Administrative & Student Information System–has replaced legacy systems with the new integrated Oracle system in just 18 months, during which ASU increased enrollment by 2,500. 

Leaving the Technology to the Experts

Early in the implementation process, ASU made a strategic decision to distinguish between core activities (supporting the academic and research enterprise and serving as stewards of the online experience for students) and context activities (developing, implementing, and hosting administrative systems).  The university decided to partner with strategic vendors–such as Oracle and implementation and hosting partner CedarCrestone–to manage these context activities, freeing ASU staff to focus on their primary objectives to better serve students, faculty, and staff.

ASU selected CedarCrestone to host the university’s Oracle applications, which shortened the implementation timeframe because ASU did not have to set up the infrastructure and could gain access to the systems very quickly.  In addition, the configurability of the Oracle software helped decrease the implementation timeframes because the university was able to model the system and make on-the-fly changes. 

"By working with Oracle and CedarCrestone, we were able to hit the ground running and start focusing right away on how to apply the technology to help our students, faculty, and staff," said Max Davis-Johnson, associate vice president in the University Technology Office for ASU.

ASU adopted a philosophy of "Implement, Adapt, and Grow."  Implement the systems as quickly as possible, balancing functionality versus the schedule; adapt through business process or system change; grow the system and associated processes as needed; repeat–this is an iterative process; it does not stop.  

This philosophy allowed ASU to put modules in play very quickly, narrowing the scope and cost of the implementation.  It allowed ASU to get useful systems–not perfect systems–in place. 

ASU received both positive and negative attention for this approach.  In August, when the university rolled out its new payroll system–the last of 11 successfully implemented PeopleSoft Enterprise applications–it experienced some payroll discrepancies.  Primarily a result of the process changes instituted as part of the implementation (including moving hourly employee pay from estimated to actual hours worked), the payroll discrepancies represented less than 1 percent of transactions.  ASU worked quickly to correct the problems and communicate openly with affected employees. 

"ERP implementations can be daunting and, even the most successful deployments will have a few hiccups," said Adrian Sannier, ASU’s chief technology officer.  "With such a complex implementation we knew this was a possibility, and that is why our employees were and are such vital partners in the project’s success. 

They made this implementation work, by quickly learning new procedures, having patience and confidence while we resolved issues, helping to identify remaining gaps, and working together to solve the challenges we faced."

"With the applications up and running, we believe employees will quickly realize the value of the new system and understand why the university undertook this endeavor to support its growth goals," he said.

Early external studies had predicted a five to 10 year timeframe at a cost of $100 million for the ERP replacement, but ASU and its partners delivered in 18 months for a cost of $15 million dollars.

ASU plans to continue to evolve, adapt, and grow the ERP system, but it is already reaping substantial benefits, including real-time student registration, high-yield marketing campaigns, reduced application cycle times, and instant campus integration.

Delivering Real-Time Service

ASU’s new student administration application lets the university live up to its pledge to improve student services.  Now all 65,000 ASU students can view and update information relevant to their enrollment in real time.  Users can access information–including financial aid status, grades, and class schedules–from a single location.  This capability makes life much easier for students, while reducing or eliminating labor intensive tasks for the staff.

Class registration is one process that ASU has significantly improved.  Prior to the roll-out, ASU’s registration process was multi-processed, rendering it both labor- and time-intensive.

"In the past we had pre-enrollment, where students would create a list of classes.  After a month we ran this large process and let students know which classes they got.  If they did not get every class they wanted, they would have to go back and register again," Davis-Johnson said.

Each registration demanded countless hours on the part of administration staff and students, and would take more than a month to complete.  The student administration application streamlined the process virtually overnight. 

"Now students register in real time.  This is a huge timesaver for everyone," Davis-Johnson.

This is especially important due to the scale of ASU’s student system, which, during the peak Fall 2007 registration period, reached 6,000 concurrent users. 
The new implementation also brought students another benefit–ASU took an innovative approach to integrating PeopleSoft services within its online environment.  This includes giving users a customizable experience based on ASU’s branded version of the Google Personal Start Page, in which users create a personal, integrated experience that positions Google’s tools side-by-side with PeopleSoft services.

Increasing Enrollment with Advanced Marketing Campaigns

To increase enrollment by more than 25,000 students, ASU must execute highly targeted marketing campaigns.  The university implemented Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise CRM for Higher Education to meet this challenge.  For example, ASU is using the application extensively in its Extended Education area, which provides distance learning programs.

"Extended Education has really aggressive growth goals–basically they have to grow by 15,000 per year starting next year," Davis-Johnson said.  "We are using CRM to drive marketing campaigns for Extended Education, as well as for our MBA program.  The system enables us to track all communications, record responses, and determine with whom we should follow up."

In addition to tracking every communication, the system integrates with student administration, which lets staff optimize communications based on characteristics of the target population. 

Decreasing Business Process Times and Eliminating Backlogs

As ASU continually expands its student body and academic facilities, establishing highly efficient business processes is critical.  The OASIS project is generating efficiencies throughout the university’s campuses.

One example is the area of Admissions, which ASU now manages with Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise Student Administration admissions module.  ASU currently processes more than 60,000 student applications each year–a number that will only increase as ASU raises enrollment targets.  With increasing volume, ASU began developing a substantial application backlog during the cutover from the existing admissions systems to PeopleSoft.  After migrating to PeopleSoft and reengineering key business processes, the backlog disappeared virtually overnight.

"By automating our system, we basically caught up with our backlogs in three weeks.  We could not have done this with the old system," said Davis-Johnson.

A second case of efficiency gains can be seen in the area of IT integration of new campus locations.  Prior to migrating to Oracle’s PeopleSoft, integrating a new campus location or adding a new college or department could take several months and hundreds of man hours.  Now, with all campuses standardized on PeopleSoft products, ASU’s IT department estimates that integration can occur in less than an hour.  By expediting IT integration, ASU can achieve its aggressive growth objectives, while minimizing costs typically associated with such growth.

Succeeding with an Aggressive Implementation Process

ASU’s ERP project is more aggressive than most projects of this type, both in terms of complexity and the compressed implementation time frame.  Despite the unique challenges, the results achieved thus far are remarkable.  CedarCrestone, along with Oracle Consulting and Oracle University, have served as key enablers of this success.  ASU partnered with CedarCrestone for both consulting and hosting to implement Campus Solutions and HCM in the aggressive timeframe.  ASU has worked extensively with Oracle Consulting to roll out the CRM application.  In addition, as part of the partnership with Oracle, ASU obtained a large block of training credits.  More than 100 ASU employees have completed training courses on the new software.  Educated in the products, staff can take full advantage of application features and streamline project implementations across the university.

ASU is also using Oracle User Productivity Kit to generate content and deliver online courses to its system users.  The tool’s prepackaged content has given the university a jump on its training programs and involved users who were unable to attend in-person training sessions.
 
"One way to put it in perspective is in February 2006 we signed our software licensing agreement.  One year later, on March 1st, we were registering students with the new system.  That is unheard of," said Davis-Johnson.

"In order to provide the best possible environment for our students, we needed the best technology.  We are already seeing the benefits of our ERP implementation as manifested in improved service delivery and efficiency.  The new ERP system provides us with a solid, efficient foundation to carry the university into the future," Sannier said.

Jim McGlothlin is Vice President of Higher Education at Oracle


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