Today, when an employee says, "I'm up to my neck in paperwork," it is often no exaggeration. But the deluge of papers and forms that can overwhelm even the most efficient Yale staff members will soon become a thing of the past.
A major reduction in paperwork is just one of the benefits that will result from the launching of "Project X," the unofficial name given to the University's comprehensive plan to modernize its financial and human resources systems. The initiative was announced by Provost Alison F. Richard and Vice President for Finance and Administration Joseph P. Mullinix in the Oct. 7-14 issue of the Yale Bulletin & Calendar and via a letter to the campus community.
Updating Yale's current technology to state-of-the-art systems "will significantly simplify the way business is conducted at Yale," says Steve Sunderland, project manager of Project X. And, while Project X will have its biggest impact on those working in Yale's financial and human resources areas, "virtually everybody at the University will benefit from the changes" that result from the modernization project, he says.
The following is the first in a series of articles that will examine the scope of Project X and look at how University employees will be affected by the upcoming changes in Yale's technology and business processes.
The millennium approaches
Like many other computer-reliant institutions worldwide, Yale officials have long been considering how to upgrade the University's computer systems to accommodate dates beginning in the year 2000. Yale's current two-digit systems cannot recognize dates beyond the year 1999. The University's computerized payroll system, for example, would not be able to process 21st-century paychecks.
While exploring this problem, University officials and a staff support team debated whether to "patch" current systems to make them year 2000-compatible, or to undertake a more extensive technological upgrade. They decided on the latter, since modernizing Yale's technology would also allow the University to enhance many of its administrative and financial procedures and processes.
In September, the Yale Corporation endorsed the large-scale project and the purchase of a new package of computer software from the Oracle Corporation, a leading supplier of information management technology.
Three "interrelated problems" were considered in making the decision to undertake the multi-phased Project X, says Mr. Sunderland, who has six years of experience in helping large organizations make a transition to Oracle software.
"First, there was the issue of obsolete computer systems and the much-publicized year-2000 dilemma," he explains. "Due to the inflexibility of the aging software on many of Yale's systems, schools and departments have increasingly been forced to rely on 'shadow systems' computer programs that have been customized to meet their specific needs , and many systems run on obsolete software that is no longer supported by the companies that developed them. Second, the University also recognized that many of its business practices are outdated, resulting in a lot of fragmentation, unnecessarily long and cumbersome work, duplication of effort and meaningless tasks.
"The third related problem is that, very often, those practices result in unclear, and sometimes even conflicting, roles and responsibilities for staff," he adds. "For example, many business transactions begin in one place, go through a long paper trail, are entered into the financial systems and then end up down the line with someone other than the person who initiated the transaction taking ownership of it. So in conjunction with investing in cutting- edge technology, the University made the sound decision to 're- engineer' various processes to enhance the efficiency of its operations in the financial and human resources areas."
The University has signed a four-year agreement with Oracle as part of its initiative to redesign its financial and human resources payroll systems. As part of that agreement, Yale will serve as the primary test site for a new Oracle software system to support post-award management of research grants and contracts.
Out with the outmoded
New technology will replace outmoded systems in departments or offices involved with any of the following responsibilities: general accounting, human resources and payroll, financial planning and reporting, purchasing and payables, and grants management. Yale's current mainframe system supporting computer-generated work in these areas will be replaced with an entirely new technical infrastructure using Oracle software -- and, where necessary, additional software from other vendors. Plans are to make this new system accessible via a World Wide Web WWW browser, which will be provided to all staff members who will need to use Oracle applications.
With the Oracle package, Yale departments will have a standard set of software application "tools" with which to do their work. This will help to integrate services and streamline many of the University's business-related or administrative functions.
Recognizing the intensive technical and logistical planning needed to bring about a smooth transition to the new systems, Provost Richard and Vice President Mullinix enlisted the help of some 60 individuals from across the campus who now comprise the Project X steering committee and its six teams. Several of these staff members have been working full- or part-time on the many aspects of implementing Project X -- from the adaptation of software to meet the needs of individual Yale departments to the actual training of University staff. Each team focuses on a different area: General Accounting and Core Financial Sub-systems; Financial Planning and Management; Purchasing and Accounts Payable; Human Resources and Payroll; Communications and Training; and Technical, Integration and Security Infrastructure.
Margaret Plympton, director of administrative services and planning, and Dean Plummer, director of the Business Management Group, are coordinating overall functional issues related to Project X; while Bob Condon, senior project manager of administrative systems, is responsible for the overall technical aspects of the project. Mary Hunt, a senior applications specialist in administrative systems, is overseeing the overall technical integration of Project X as well as the Data Warehouse.
In October, team members began the process of testing and evaluating the Oracle software as part of what is called the "Conference Room Pilot"; much of this technical work is being done in the temporary Project X headquarters at 12 Prospect Place. Over the next four months, in addition to learning how Oracle programs work, the team members will be testing the software to see how it will function in the Yale work environment and assessing the various needs of the University departments and schools that will change over to the Oracle-based systems. "What we're doing is figuring out ways to adapt the software to meet Yale's diverse requirements and coming up with process designs," says Mr. Plummer. "The way we look at it is that we're teaching the Oracle applications about Yale."
In fact, one of the reasons that staff members from such a wide range of departments have been invited to take part in planning Project X is because different schools and departments have their own unique set of issues, and team members working on systems design want to adapt the software to meet these individual needs, explains Mr. Sunderland. "We've involved people from the Arts and Sciences faculty, from the professional schools, from the Athletics Department and nearly every administrative department in the University," he says. "For it to work, the project has to be very inclusive. Obviously, the concerns of someone from the Athletics Department would be very different from those of someone at the School of Forestry or a business manager in Animal Care. We need the input of staff from all the key areas that will depend upon the Oracle systems."
In addition to the Oracle software, team members are also assessing the functionality of software from third-party vendors that potentially can be used with the Oracle systems.
End of the 'paper chase' -- and other benefits
A chief advantage of the new software is that it will allow for automation of many processes throughout the University, thereby significantly cutting down on paperwork and on the time faculty, staff and even students spend on mundane tasks. This will result in more time for members of the Yale community to provide essential services, teach, pursue research and study, note the project's planners.
"Project X will eliminate much of the paper chases and redundant data entry that takes place across the campus on a daily basis with the end result of taking a lot of the hassle out of people's work lives," says Mr. Sunderland.
In addition, by making systems and processes more uniform campus-wide and providing cohesive work mechanisms for all of the University's financial-related and human resources functions, the project will reduce the number of costly shadow systems used by Yale staff, according to Walter Mullen, director of finance and administration at the School of Management and co-coordinator of the Financial Planning and Management team with Gary Sax, director of budget and planning in the Finance Office.
"One of the key objectives we are working toward is to take a lot of the features of department shadow systems and incorporate them into the new central system," Mr. Mullen says.
Specific areas will also realize their own particular benefits as a result of Project X. For example:
Human Resources. Today, the Human Resources department spends several hundred-thousand dollars annually on forms and processing them. That figure will be substantially reduced once the Oracle systems are in place, according to Chuck Paul, director of administrative systems and benefits for Human Resources and the coordinator of Project X's Human Resources and Payroll team. Under the new system, all University employees will be able to do the following electronically:
In addition, most department administrators or business managers will be able to directly enter information on new hires on their computers for electronic submission to Human Resources and other departments, according to Mr. Paul. This process, he notes, could take weeks under the current paper-driven system. "Today, a typical personnel file for a new faculty appointment at the medical school, for example, would need to be signed by a section chief, then make its way to the dean's office for his signature, then possibly be sent to the Provost's Office before moving on to personnel records at 155 Whitney," he says. "From there, it goes on to payroll and then to the data entry department at Information Technology Services. As it moves along the way, no one but the person who might have it in his or her hands knows exactly where it is in the chain. By automating that process, we won't be starting a piece of paper down a trail that it may never get to the end of."
Payroll. "Anybody who has ever had a payroll problem knows the difficulties involved today in correcting it," states Mr. Paul. "Many of us on campus will welcome the changes that we'll see when the new system is operational." Under the Oracle system, for example, Yale employees will be able to access their own payroll records, such as copies of current and past paycheck stubs. In addition, payroll errors can be corrected immediately. In the past, a staff member who reported a payroll error might have to wait several days before it was fixed, Mr. Paul says.
Purchasing Accounts Payable. The entire process of purchasing both goods and services at the University will become faster and more simple as a result of Project X.
For instance, business managers and others who make departmental purchases will do most of their buying on the WWW using on-line catalogs of items supplied by both University departments such as Dining Halls and outside vendors with whom the University has a business relationship. Increasing Yale departments' ability to buy equipment and supplies directly from vendors will cut down on the time the Purchasing Department must devote to serving as a "middleman" in the process, according to Karl Zaehringer, director of Purchasing, and Carol Marshall, an administrator at the Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine, who are co-coordinators of the Purchasing and Accounts Payable team.
As a result, the Purchasing staff "will spend a lot less time processing transactions and a lot more time on negotiating better prices with vendors for the goods the University purchases," Ms. Marshall says.
The new system will also make it easier for staff members less familiar with the procurement process to know where to begin when they have to place an order, Mr. Zaehringer says.
"For example, when a new researcher comes to Yale, he or she may not know we have a 'standing order' with a particular vendor," he explains. "Under the new system, with the presentation of on-line catalogs, that kind of information will be very accessible to everyone."
The more streamlined purchasing process will also help the University keep better track of the items it purchases, according to Mr. Zaehringer. "Under the current system, we don't have highly detailed information on what we buy, which we will have under the new system," he says. "Having this information will also help us to negotiate better contracts."
Requests for a wide variety of services, such as catering, repairs by Physical Plant staff, travel, photography or printing, will also be made electronically under the new system. The same holds true for the expense reports necessary for reimbursement of travel or other costs.
"The streamlining of the expense reporting, service requisitioning and purchasing processes translates into much quicker services for everyone," says Ms. Marshall, who is also a member of the Project X steering committee. "We'll no longer have to wait six weeks for a travel reimbursement check, for example."
In addition, the Oracle software will make possible detailed tracking of purchases or service requests. Since every step of the process is recorded electronically, a business manager will be able to ascertain from his or her desktop computer the dates an order was filled, when it was shipped and even who signed for it when it was delivered, according to Ms. Marshall. "At the medical school, where we are always purchasing laboratory equipment and other essential supplies, these on-line capabilities are really a necessity," she says.
Improvements in general accounting and financial recording procedures see below will also make it easier for those making purchases to check on the availability of funds in their accounts before executing them, Ms. Marshall adds. This will be particularly important for individuals or departments who are working on grant- funded projects, she notes.
"All in all, the new system will allow all of us at Yale to make better use of our buying power," comments Mr. Zaehringer.
Accounting financial planning and management. Project X will bring major changes and improvements to the University's current systems in the areas of general accounting, investment and capital project accounting, financial reporting and analyses, and other finance-related procedures, according to University Controller Diana McShea, a member of the Project X steering committee and coordinator of the General Accounting and Core Financial Sub- systems team.
"The inflexible systems we're currently using force us to engage in a lot of unproductive activities," she asserts. As an example, she cites the labor-intensive work that all business managers must do just to reconcile their monthly departmental accounts. After thousands of accounting transfers are processed by the University each month, business managers receive a set of what are called "rainbows," so named because they are produced on multi-colored paper , which are detailed logs of all of the financial transactions made by an office or department some 8 million transactions are recorded in the University's general ledger system each year . Included in these statements is such information as bills paid, the University accounts charged for a purchase or service; payroll expenses; transfers of funds from one University account to another, and so forth. Once business managers receive their department's "rainbows," they reconcile their accounts in much the same way that people balance their checkbooks, by verifying the amounts charged against invoices, receipts and records on paper and identifying outstanding expenses.
In addition, redundant data entry along each step of the financial recording process makes it not only cumbersome but open to error, says Ms. McShea.
Using the Oracle system, however, those involved with financial reporting, financial management and accounting will enjoy the following benefits:
Taken together, these changes will result in the more efficient use of time, a faster flow of financial information, a reduction in staff errors, better financial planning and management, and greater control of revenue, all of which bring the additional benefit of assisting the University in its ability to comply with federal regulations and tax laws, according to Ms. McShea.
"In today's quickly changing business environment, it is important to be able to have information at your fingertips," she says. "Furthermore, the University needs timely and good information to be a socially and fiscally responsible institution. One of the primary benefits of Project X is that it will help to support the academic enterprise of the University and assure the continued academic preeminence of Yale by freeing all of us up so we can fulfill the University's mission, which is to provide education and promote research."
Grants management. The same Oracle software features that bring benefits to many of the above-mentioned areas will also allow the University to better manage fiscal data related to research grants, as well as donor-restricted funds. A significant advantage of the new system, says Mr. Sunderland, is that principal investigators and administrators will have at their fingertips up-to-date information on the financial status of their own or their department's grant at any moment.
As the primary site for testing of Oracle software related to grants management, Yale will be a model for other major research universities, adds Mr. Sunderland.
Pilot phase underway
Project X is being carried out in phases. The six-month pilot phase that began in October with the testing of Oracle software is expected to be completed by March of 1997. Beginning in October of next year, the new system will be used as part of the University- wide budgeting process for the 1998-99 budget year. A new payroll system utilizing Oracle software is planned for early 1998; other improvements in Human Resource processes will come on-line later in that year. General accounting and purchasing applications will be operational in July of 1998.
"We're rolling out the new system gradually to minimize the impact and reduce risk," says Mr. Sunderland. "With each time that it is implemented, we'll have more experience behind us."
The University also has the benefit of being able to learn from the experiences of other educational institutions that have moved to or are in the process of installing Oracle-based systems, including Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania. Members of the Project X team have met and communicate often with individuals who have been involved in implementing similar technological modernization projects at these schools.
Thorough training is key
Critical to the success of the project is the proper training of staff and faculty members who will be using the new software, according to Project X team members. They emphasize that all staff and faculty members affected by software changes or by changes in business procedure will have the opportunity to receive thorough hands-on training.
"One of the things we've heard a lot from people at our peer institutions who have moved to Oracle-based systems is that you cannot provide too much training," says Margaret Plympton. "So we are trying to be comprehensive when it comes to offering training, support and assistance to everybody at the University whose jobs will require them to have knowledge of the new system."
Training will range from the most basic aspects, such as teaching staff and faculty how to use the new software, to discussion of topics such as managing change and process redesign. Beginning in January, some 400 business managers will gather for sessions on "Preparing for Change." During the months of March and April, the new business processes will be communicated in detail to business managers, senior faculty members and other staff members. In addition, there will be workshops focused on the subject of the project's implementation, followed by hands-on training for staff. Faculty members and other administrators have already been invited to participate in a series of focus groups to learn more about the changes that will be introduced in Project X.
"We're not going to wait for the last minute to begin the training," states Mr. Sunderland. "We already know that doesn't work. Training will be a continual part of the project."
Mr. Sunderland and the other Project X team members are fully aware that for some people on campus who have become accustomed to doing their jobs the same way for many years, the modernization might make them anxious about how the changes will affect them.
"There's no doubt that such a major change can be scary," acknowledges Ms. Plympton. "Because of that, we will be working very hard on making available a whole series of support structures, and we'll all be going through the change-over together."
On the wall in his office, Mr. Sunderland has hung a printout that reads: "Creative thinking may simply mean that there's no particular virtue in doing things the way they've always been done."
"I can't stress enough the fact that everyone will have the opportunity to be trained, and ultimately, Yale staff members will find that their jobs are easier and that they'll have a lot more time to do things that have more value," Mr. Sunderland says. "Already, as people learn more about the project, they are beginning to feel eager to be involved -- to see for themselves the benefits this project will bring them."
Communicating about the project
Since greater knowledge about the project and its benefits is a key to helping people feel at ease about the transition, Project X team members are also spending a large amount of their time talking to staff and faculty about the modernization and its impact. In addition, they have recently made available a Project X site on the WWW that members of the University community can turn to for weekly updates on the project's status.
Team members have already addressed a Management Issues Forum MIF gathering and have met with business managers, administrators, faculty members and others to talk about Project X.
"We're more than willing to talk to anybody who wants to learn more about the project, in department meetings or other settings," says Ms. Plympton. "Staff and faculty should feel free to contact team leaders or others to obtain information or to express any concerns they may have."
Looking forward to change
One of the staff members who attended the MIF meeting on the topic of Project X was Martha Jakovenko, manager of the University Adjustment Service, Yale's in-house loan collection department. She and her fellow fiscal managers from across campus were given the opportunity to ask questions on topics ranging from computer-access security issues associated with the project to what will happen with information stored on their old systems. Like Ms. Jakovenko, some of those in attendance are beginning to prepare themselves for the changes Project X will bring and to anticipate major improvements in their daily work lives.
"I look forward to having more automated services," says Ms. Jakovenko. "Just being able to do things like employee time sheets on-line has made a big difference, and the greater capacity we'll have for doing accounting transfers, purchase orders and expense reports on-line will be wonderful. I think the project will really work to everyone's advantage."
--By Susan Gonzalez
Project X on the World Wide Web
One way to keep abreast of any new developments related to the University's modernization of its financial and human resources systems is to visit the Project X site on the World Wide Web. Among the offerings on the newly developed site are an introduction to Project X; answers to some commonly asked questions about the initiative; a timetable for the implementation of the project; a library; a listing of Project X team members; and a category called "Feedback," through which Yale staff members can communicate their ideas and comments about the project.
In addition, by selecting the category "Project Teams" from within a Yale domain, staff members can learn what each of the Project X teams is currently working on. The site will be updated weekly, according to Dean Plummer, director of the Business Management Group and a Project X team member.
"Our former Project X page was created more for the benefit of team members, but this one is designed to be helpful to all members of the Yale community," he says. "The Web site is just one of the ways that we will be communicating news of the project. We welcome questions, comments and any other feedback throughout this whole process of transition to new technology and business methods."
The home page for the new Project X Web site was developed by Yale student Kenji Obata. One of the first news items that will appear on the site will be an announcement of an official name for Project X.
The address is: http://www.yale.edu/pjx.