Projects continue, sans YaleNext banner

Though plans to overhaul administrative systems under YaleNext were ended during the onset of the economic recession in 2008, the University has continued to implement some of the program’s initiatives at a slower pace than originally intended.

In fall 2008, the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, approved $20 million toward YaleNext — an initiative designed to implement “the next generation of Yale’s administrative systems,” Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King said in a Thursday email. Though King said YaleNext was supposed to compress systematic updates that would have taken six to 10 years into a “highly intensive” four-year process, the onset of the economic downturn and a nearly 25 percent decline in Yale’s endowment forced administrators to terminate the program roughly one year after it was approved. Three years following its launch, YaleNext has been permanently eliminated, but the University is still pursuing projects that fell under its banner.

“When the financial crisis hit, I suggested to President Levin and the Corporation that it would be prudent to do this in a slower, more measured way without the more costly outside assistance,” King said. “Incremental funding for this initiative was removed from subsequent budgets, the outside assistance terminated and the YaleNext banner retired.”

The University put the original $20 million in YaleNext funding toward a number of improvements to administrative systems in the 2008-’09 academic year, King said. The projects, which began in summer 2009, included replacing an outdated reimbursement system for work-related expenses, creating an Employee Service Center to help faculty with human resources related issues and working to aid faculty in submitting research grant proposals.

But when a $5.6 billion loss on investments in fiscal year 2009 left administrators scrambling to close a $350 million budget gap, University President Richard Levin pledged to preserve Yale’s academic core and financial aid, and YaleNext fell by the wayside. Amidst drastic University-wide cuts, King said she recognized that there was no need for YaleNext to proceed at the originally planned pace.

“We had just gotten started on YaleNext when the economic downturn hit,” Provost Peter Salovey said. “The program of massive and University-wide upgrades in a short amount of time fell victim to the financial crisis.”

The YaleNext banner had been wrapped around the projects from the start, King said, in an effort to “encourage excitement” about the updates among faculty and staff.

Ending the four-year initiative prematurely did not stop administrative system renewal efforts at Yale, but rather put the completion of those improvements back on their pre-YaleNext timeline. Spending on changes to IT infrastructure and software was reduced to levels more in line with those seen before the program was created, King said, adding that roughly $10 million is spent annually to “maintain and enhance” the University’s administrative systems.

King said her office is currently working on a variety of initiatives, including the planned replacement of systems related to fundraising and alumni affairs and the continued development of research administration systems.

Both Salovey and King said administrative systems require routine upgrades in order to operate effectively, and Salovey noted that many of the University’s current systems are “aging” or “obsolete.”

One system in need of an upgrade is Yale’s Oracle software, which King said supports human resources and finance processes at the University. Jane Livingston, director of IT governance, policy and strategy, said implementation of the “complex suite of applications” began around 1997 in preparation for Y2K. Though the University’s software has faced various annual updates since then, King said it is nearing time for Oracle to either be upgraded substantially or replaced entirely.

Livingston said Yale Information Technology Services is currently planning for such an upgrade, adding that the department intends to analyze Oracle during the current fiscal year. King said a decision will be made in the spring about what to do with Oracle.

Throughout the process, King said Yale has also worked to improve systems that “directly or indirectly benefit students.” The University has addressed systems that track student progress toward academic requirements, facilitate course selection and manage dining hall inventory, she added.

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