New administrative software system chosen

After using the same administrative software system for over a decade, Yale has begun the process of moving to a new, updated system.

Following more than a year of deliberations, administrators selected Workday last fall as Yale’s next software system. The current system, Oracle E-Business Suite, was installed over a dozen years ago and has “reached the end of its useful life,” said Shauna King, vice president for finance and business operations. Though planning for the shift of the University’s human resources operations and payroll transactions to Workday will begin this spring, the new system will not go live in those two areas until late 2014, and the final phase of the project is expected to be completed in 2016.

“[This is] a massive, big-scale change,” Provost Benjamin Polak said. “[Oracle] is the software backbone for everything — payrolls, pension systems feed into the [software] system — and it needs to work with anything Yale is doing.”

Though students will not notice any changes, all business offices that use the current Oracle system — including Yale Shared Services, the center that handles accounting services for many Yale departments — will be impacted by the change, administrators said.

King said Oracle served Yale well for years, but has become costly and complex to support and continues to fall short of meeting basic requirements for managing grants and other administrative needs. Workday is structured with the needs of higher education in mind, she said, rather than being specifically tailored toward businesses.

Workday, which offers Internet-based software systems to handle the financial operations of areas such as financial aid, pensions and payroll information, has also agreed to collaborate with the University to incorporate functions specific to major research universities into its system, King said.

“Part of what’s going on is you can’t buy these systems off the [rack],” Polak said. “You have to have them tailored.”

Polak added that the shift to Workday will require a large financial commitment from the University.

“I don’t have those cost numbers. But these systems are very expensive,” he said in a Wednesday email.

Ronn Kolbash, assistant vice president of Yale Shared Services, said Workday is a good choice because it will allow Shared Services greater flexibility than Oracle does through its online update system that does not involve replacing hardware. He said he hopes the new system will enable administrative tasks to be completed more efficiently so faculty members can focus on teaching and scholarship.

Polak said he wants the new system to be more user-friendly, citing Apple products as a model of a simple interface.

The transition to Workday will take three to four years, said Marc Ulan, senior director of strategic initiatives and business intelligence for Yale Information Technology Services, and Polak said there will likely be mistakes made as Yale adjusts to the new system.

“There will always be something that goes wrong,” Polak said. “My paycheck will be sent to some undergraduate, and I’ll get his or her financial aid. But we want to minimize that.”

To facilitate the transition, Kolbash said administrators overseeing the project must communicate with different departments to get feedback about how they want the new system to work. A March 4 message from King on the ITS website said that “process design groups” — focus groups made up of staff members in the University’s business offices — will be formed soon so Yale business staff can influence the design of the new system. A website providing information about the University’s Workday project will debut soon to inform the community about the progress of the transition, King said in the message.

Ulan said Yale will continue to update the Oracle system every year during the transition to “remain compliant with tax laws and legal regulations.” The current upgrade from Oracle 11 to 12 will be completed in May.

In fall 2008, the University considered upgrading Oracle as part of the $20 million YaleNext campaign, which would have consolidated updates to the University’s computer systems into a four-year period. After the recession hit, the project was canceled but many of the initiatives have continued at a slower pace.

Other customers of Workday include Georgetown University, Brown University and Cornell University.

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