This project actually started back in 1996. We had an old-time mainframe, green screen, paper-oriented system. We were faced with some crises there, in terms of upcoming Y2K issues, as well as a general level of dissatisfaction with the system and how it related to our users. Our SAP implementation began in late 1997, and it was approximately a 20-month implementation.
We had a desire to empower users to make reporting information more available to them and to have a system that wasn’t a dead end, but rather one that would allow us to carry on into the future.
We wanted a solid, proven vendor, someone we knew was going to be around, and we wanted a system that would be integrated across a lot of different business processes. We wanted a system that provided usability for the various departments in the university, as well as reporting ability. And, we wanted a system that would be adaptable to university business processes. SAP was the clear choice. Almost everyone who saw the vendor demo said, “Yeah, that’s the one we want.”
That was a special challenge, as is the case anytime you’re implementing a system-wide project in a multi-campus institution. There was a core team of individuals who were chosen based on their skills in various areas. The clear mandate to this team was that you’re not representing your organizational segment, namely your campus. You’re representing a knowledge area. It was a clear mandate that we were to set aside the campus affiliation perspective, look at all the campuses and come up with processes that served all of them.
Because SAP was the software vendor, they also provided consulting support. They provided the knowledge and resources that allowed us to make intelligent decisions. SAP didn’t come in and say, “You have to do it this way,” but they gave us the information to decide how we wanted to address an issue.
We did training in-house. The role of SAP and our consulting partners was to educate and transfer knowledge to our team and project members such that they could pass that knowledge along to the rest of the community.
We actually had a change management representative on our core team right there with the finance, HR and procurement folks. One of the things we did that really helped our ability to manage change was getting a lot of people involved. We had quite a number of people from our user community involved in some type of reporting relationship with the project, whether in the area of training, documentation, or testing. And we found that it was easier to manage change by having involvement throughout the broad scope of the user community rather than having it dictated centrally.
If I had to get it down to one thing, we have better information now than we had before. This has been very empowering. We’ve learned that, if you empower people with the ability to control their own transactions, their own business world, they’re going to be more responsive and do a better job of managing that business world.
As you might imagine, with an organization as large as SAP, and with the number of diverse vertical markets they serve, I had some concerns about this, but we found it to be quite good. SAP has really been responsive to our industry. I think they see higher education as a potential growth industry, and we have been in a good position to enjoy the benefits of that.
Right now we are in the midst of an enterprise portal implementation. This will be a one-stop area for university staff to interact with all university business processes. We’ve implemented things like travel management. We’re in the midst of implementing the SAP Business Warehouse. So there is no limit to how far we can go.
Loren Blinde is Director of the Administrative Systems Group at the University of Nebraska. He served as a project coordinator, representing the finance team, on the implementation of the mySAP Business Suite.