In the past two decades, Boston University’s growth has literally been off the charts: the budget has grown 471 percent and the endowment 928 percent. But in 2008, the University is still using the same administrative system software that was originally purchased in 1985.
“If we do not change, we will be left with inefficient practices,” President Robert A. Brown told the staff and administrators last week at the University’s annual Management Conference. “And we will waste a lot of money in the process.”
Now, the University is preparing to identify and implement what Peter Fiedler, the vice president for administrative services, calls “one of the most ambitious administrative systems projects ever undertaken at Boston University.” The project, called BUworks, will revamp all of the University’s budgeting, payroll, procurement, and human resources systems; once started, the transition is expected to take 24 to 30 months. BUworks was established through a project foundation, approved by the Trustee Audit Committee and the president.
“We’re talking about a broad swath of the University,” says William Stewart, assistant to the vice president of information systems and technology and the communications director for BUworks. “This affects anybody who uses financial or human resources functions, anybody who does procurement. It will affect how post-award grant financials are managed, how supplies for laboratories are ordered, and how budgeting is conducted. This has a clear connection to both faculty and staff.”
Many of the functions of current systems used for procurement and human resources, such as Galaxy, the Business and Employee Links, and Online Turnarounds and requisitions, will be incorporated into the new, more integrated systems. Stewart says the new systems, when implemented, will reduce inefficiencies, provide tools for operational and analytical needs, and reduce or eliminate duplicate data entry and make information more broadly available across different departments. The new systems have not yet been determined, but training plans for employees affected will be developed accordingly.
The BUworks project began with a gap analysis, performed by IBM Global Business Services, which compared BU’s current financial system with other leading practices in the higher education and corporate fields; 70 system users across the University were interviewed as well. The report, Stewart says, revealed that while the current system, Walker Financial Systems, is working well, thanks to the creative efforts of staff who have extended its functionality, its ability to adapt to new technology and new needs will be increasingly limited in the coming years. The report also noted that the University does not have a comprehensive and integrated human resources information system.
The report was completed in the summer of 2006; since then, the BUworks committee has been meeting with other University employees to discuss the functional requirements needed in a new system.
“Now we are ready to begin looking at business processes — how things work and what the policies behind the processes are,” Stewart says. “The next year will be devoted to that effort.”
There are five University employees working full-time on the project, and several others will transition from existing departments into new roles with BUworks as additional expertise is required. A Web site outlining the scope and status of the project was launched last week, and the organizers are encouraging participation and suggestions from the University community.
Jessica Ullian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.