$35 million project coming to end

By Amy Badry

Innovative support services– the iS2 project– is coming to its end. The $35 million project started by the University of Calgary aimed to streamline administrative and business processes in order to make the U of C more efficient and save money.

However, the project, a huge undertaking by the university, is not clearly understood by many faculty and students.

iS2 started in 2009 to increase efficiency of business practices. By upgrading PeopleSoft, the university’s software system, as well as restructuring the way human resources, information technologies and finance services do business, the university plans to save money and improve its reputation as a teaching and research institute.

Reduced administrative costs and improved customer services are concrete examples of the expected results of iS2. By establishing clear and structured business processes, HR, IT and finance services will be able to provide answers which are consistent between departments.

“When you think of iS2 we don’t want to think about just the technical or the software side. It is really about how we do business here at the university,” said deputy provost and executive sponsor of iS2 Sandy Murphree.

He said the university has known for a number of years a change was needed.

“It got increasingly more difficult for the university to continue on this way because of Tri-Council concerns,” said Murphree. “There weren’t sufficient controls how an academic staff member’s account was being managed.”

For example, Murphree said the old system allowed administration to charge other faculty members’ chequing accounts without signed verification.

“That is not a real good way to operate,” he said.

The U of C initiated the project in part on the recommendations of Tri-Council. The U of C was at moderate risk of losing funding from Tri-Council if they did not follow through on recommendations.

Tri-Council is made up of the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, Social Science and Humanities Research Council, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research– three major funders of the U of C.

Murphree said the three main goals of iS2 are to “make us more efficient, to improve services and to essentially save money.”

iS2 cost the university $35 million, but the goal is for iS2 “to pay for itself through efficiencies,” according to Murphree.

It has been estimated the university will save $13 million a year when iS2 is completed.

The fifth and last phase of iS2 began in October 2010.

This phase focused on the implementation of the new business practices and software, improving access to information.

The “go-live” date, where the new software and processes will be implemented, is July 29.

“Phase five will provide us with a foundation for a software system and a business process system to be able to move forward,” said Murphree.

iS2 will officially end in December, but a sustainability phase will be implemented after the end date.

“We will not have solved all problems or provided all the devices we want at the changeover by the end of December,” said Murphree.

Change management lead Jody Fraser said people’s perceptions of the project have been mixed.

“Some think that there isn’t going to be a lot of change for individuals and others are perceiving it to be a substantial change,” she said.

Three times throughout the project a survey was sent to check in on people’s perceptions and to see if the vision of the project was being communicated.

“It has been an interesting and stressful ride for a lot of people,” said Murphree. “A lot of people still don’t understand what the changes are.”

When the project was first initiated in 2009 there was an outcry from university staff over layoffs due to the iS2 project.

A total of 140 administration positions were eliminated from HR, IT, finance, faculties management and supply chain management.

Not all these positions were layoffs, some were eliminations or vacant positions.

“The focus was that we could save a lot of money doing this and the initial letting go of people in the fall of 2009 was in that context,” said Murphree. “Since that point of time, what we have come to understand is that for us to be a successful university we have to make sure that our resources are distributed appropriately.”

Students will see changes indirectly rather than directly.

“Where I think [iS2] will ultimately impact students is making sure there is this linkage that can be applied to all other parts of campus that are not currently within iS2,” said Murphree.

Murphree would like to see increased integration and communication between central student services and advising services within particular departments.

However, students who are hourly paid employees at the U of C will see a change right away. Timesheets across the university will be done online rather that by paper.

As well, graduate students will have better information online to view their scholarship payments and employment salaries if they are employed as teaching assistants.

Fourth-year bachelor of communications student Winter Ghostkeeper had not heard of the project previously. However, she said she would like to see a more streamlined approach to university processes.

“For instance, today I needed verification of graduation and I was told to go to my faculty office, then when I went there they told me I needed to go to the UPO to get it,” she said.

Ghostkeeper said going to enrollment services, or going to your faculty office and then going to the UPO for all different reasons is inconvenient.

She also hopes the project can cut down on administration fees that students pay.

Murphree stressed the bigger picture of the project.

“We are trying to have pride in our university,” he said. “We can only do that when we know the university is supporting its staff and students.”

Murphree said the iS2 project will not solve all the problems at the university, “but it will set the stage and really start the foundation for better financial controls as well as reliable and predictable processes for the administrators to use.”

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