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Catawba College Takes Steps to Become a More Unified Digital Campus

July 9, 2009

Category: Academics, Technology


It will take almost two years and cost close to four million dollars, but when all is said and done, Catawba will have a more unified digital campus. The college is converting its current and disparate campus enterprise computing systems to the SunGard Higher Education Banner system with a projected go-live date for the new system of February 2011.

According to Catawba's Chief Information Officer (CIO) Joanna Jasper, the new enterprise system will allow for "data-driven decision making."

"We have an unprecedented opportunity to rethink how we do business and to make what we do more efficient and customer-focused, with more processes available online," Jasper said at a June meeting of representatives from almost all campus departments affected by the conversion.

Doug Stanley, a programmer/analyst in Catawba's Computer Services Department and a conversion team member, suggested to those gathered at the June meetings: "We need to stop thinking how we've been thinking and start thinking how the students think — online and paperless." Susan Agner, Director of Administrative Computing and project manager for the Banner implementation, echoed Stanley's sentiments, saying "The emphasis is on keeping down the paper use and keeping historical data and reports where they can easily be accessed when needed."

With one integrated computing system, data can be entered once, and then shared by various departments. Retrieval of accurate historic data will be simplified and accurate current information readily available. Students will be able to register for classes online, while alumni can update their data and track their institutional gifts online. Prospective students will be able to track the status of their application, get information online that is tailored to their unique interests, and easily make connections with faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The new system will allow Catawba to complete its own payroll rather than outsourcing as is now the case. Information that is currently distributed or approved through manual paper processes, such as budget information and purchasing requests, can be electronically distributed and approved, saving labor and paper costs, while getting accurate information and necessary approvals to the people who need those more quickly.

Besides Computer Services, the main departments affected by the conversion to the new system include the Business Office, Human Resources, Admissions, Financial Aid, the Registrar's Office, Student Affairs, Development, Institutional Research, and the School of Evening and Graduate Studies, which handles admissions for the evening and graduate programs. The most direct impact to the academic side of the College, for both faculty and students, will be due to changes in the CatLink web portal. For CatLink, the Banner project means a new user interface, a complete renovation to existing services, and many new online services. The project will also mean generating a new campus ONE card for current faculty, staff, and students, as the ten-digit id number that uniquely identifies each student and employee in the current system will change to a new nine-digit number in the Banner system.

The conversion is currently in the initiation/planning phase, with the June meetings designed to gather input from the various areas about their expectations of the new system. SunGard Higher Education consultants, each assigned to a specific department for the implementation, along with 32 team leaders and members from on-campus departments spent two days discussing expectations of a unified digital campus system as well as concerns about the implementation process.

The top expectations expressed during the meeting included 1) the need to have one unified digital system; 2) easier processes for inputting and retrieving data; and 3) easier ways of getting reports that contain needed information. The top implementation concerns included 1) the amount of work/time required for the implementation in addition to completing the normal work load; 2) concern that during the data conversion process, data is not lost or does not have to be entered manually; and 3) the need for everyone in every department to do their part on the project so the project deadlines are met.

On the subject of project deadlines, CIO Jasper noted that "There are three constraints in managing any project: time, money, and specifications. It is important to understand your least movable constraint, and on this Banner project, the hard and fast constraint is time. We don't have any wiggle room on needing to be up and running on Banner in early 2011."

The College's current system is nearing end-of-life deadlines and will not be supported by the vendor past 2010. The federally mandated changes to the financial aid software for the 2011-2012 academic year will only be available in Banner, so all financial aid award packaging for that year will have to be done in the new system. Award packaging will begin in earnest in February 2011 in order to secure the incoming class for Fall 2011.

While the project timelines are challenging, Jasper was quick to point out that "we have everything we need to be successful. We have outstanding executive and trustee support and one of the most impressive implementation teams from Catawba and SunGard Higher Education that I have seen in my 20+ years of being involved with these kinds of projects."

Hermey Schlesinger, a senior account manager with SunGard Higher Education, noted that one of the key factors in a successful project is "having the user community involved." He called the on-campus meetings "an opportunity to look things over and figure out how you would like to do business."

Schlesinger noted that SunGard Higher Education has 1,600 clients worldwide with North Carolina clients including Wake Forest University, Guilford College, Gardner-Webb University, Davidson College and 14 of the UNC System schools, including UNC Charlotte, East Carolina University, Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke, UNC Fayetteville, UNC Greensboro, UNC Asheville, and Winston-Salem State University.

In March, the Cannon Charitable Trusts made a $350,000 gift to Catawba College designated for information technology that will help fund the Banner conversion. In addition, the College has received a generous gift from Trustee Fred Stanback to help with the project. Tom Childress, Senior Vice-President for Development, noted that fund-raising efforts continue in order to raise the almost two million dollars still needed to complete the project.


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