The Hard Part
New student info system is on the way, and it is a huge, campus-wide undertaking.
In summer 2003 the College announced an ambitious three-year plan to completely overhaul the campus student information system (SIS) -- to bring all the data from admission, registrar, financial aid, bursar, residential life, and student services under one banner, or hardware-and-software-interlinked system. A year later, after extensive input from across campus, a vendor was chosen. The College hired SunGard SCT, whose software is known as SCT Banner. The version of the software currently being customized for Ithaca College is called Banner Administrative System at Ithaca College, BASIC. The project is enormous in its scope and complexity and will affect everyone on campus for the foreseeable future.
ICQ intern Tasha Kates '05 sat down with registrar Chris Knauer '76, M.S. '90, and project manager Kari Blinn of SunGard SCT to find out more about the system. Excerpts:
ICQ: What is Banner? Why is it being implemented?
KB: It's a new student information system. Our old hardware was going to become obsolete, and we wanted to provide more web-based services.
CK: It's been a long process. Our current student information system is old, dying. We developed committees to look at whether we'd build a system in-house or purchase a vendor-based system. Everybody talked about their needs and what the vendors offer. We selected four vendors to bring to campus. They gave demonstrations and talked through our situation. We decided in-house was not an option, and we selected SCT Banner.
KB: In choosing an outside vendor, you're also purchasing development over time. Every year software is improved; that's increasingly difficult for a college to do on its own.
Why was SCT Banner chosen? What was the selling point?
KB: They are used at hundreds of campuses all over the world. It's based on an Oracle database, the industry standard.
CK: It's a robust system that would give us a lot more web services, not just for the students but for faculty and staff as well. We don't have to "bolt on" other software to it, such as Degree Navigator, the software package for registration and degree audit [which helps students track what courses they need to complete their degrees] that we purchased and bolted onto our current, or legacy, system. The Banner system has its own degree audit and registration systems.
What will be included in the new information system?
KB: All the systems that support students. First, recruitment. Then recruits become applicants. Then they become students. It tracks all their registration information, degree, major, degree audit, bursar activities, all their accounts, all their financial aid. And then it migrates to academic history: the transcript, the diploma. It includes where students are living, the dorm they're in, the room they're assigned to, and the associated fees. And then there is a whole reporting piece: how do we get all this information out in a meaningful way for making decisions such as who to recruit, who needs what courses. The building blocks for the registration piece are the catalog and schedule.
What will the new system do that SIS has not done?
KB: It's easier to navigate. Software upgrades occur several times a year.
Who is involved in implementing this?
KB: A shorter list would be who's not!
What concerns have students expressed about the new system?
KB: Is it reliable? Will it be up when we go to register? There seems to be a general joy that Degree Navigator won't be around forever.
CK: Room assignments.
KB: We map what we currently do, from admitting students to registering them to developing curriculum and catalogs to res life, and then we talk about how might we reduce steps. Folks all over the community are involved in these two-day workshops, which have resulted in some terrific ideas.
CK: We hope to significantly reduce paper output through an aspect called WorkFlow in which, for instance, a student who wants to change major wouldn't have to pick up a form and go all over campus with it. That could happen electronically. The same with registration.
KB: And we expand our operating hours from 8:00 a.m.-to-5:00 p.m. to approaching "24-7."
Who will provide technical support for the new system?
KB: Eight people from ITS are part of the implementation team, and a host of people provide support. The company I work with provides some support as needed during implementation.
What is Luminis?
KB: A portal. The driving concept behind a portal is single logon, where you would go to access information from Ithaca College or even beyond. So if I'm a staff member and need to get on a financial system, register students, and look at my benefits statement or vacation accrual, I enter a single place -- a portal -- even though there are many different systems I'd access. The other piece is the content management system, or CMS. That allows us to customize content. For example, a student in Kansas is interested in coming to the College to study communications. At the Ithaca website, through the CMS that's recorded by Luminis, the student tells the system she's interested in communications, and different information will come back to her than the information given to a New York student interested in physical therapy. When it's live, you won't even know it as Luminis.
What is the implementation timeline?
KB: Everything for the students starting in the 2006-7 academic year will be in Banner. So when we're recruiting new students who would start in fall '06, we'll go live in fall '05 because they're starting to apply during that time. And so forth.
How will people learn the new system?
CK: We've had workshops and have a nice training facility. We are working with a documentation training specialist to create procedures.
KB: We've already started talking with SGA. There have been articles in the Ithacan. We've been to Faculty Council meetings, and we'll go back.
CK: People don't get very excited about something like a new student information system until it affects them. That's our challenge.
KB: It is impossible to overcommunicate. We all take in information in different ways, so we have to use various strategies to get the word out. And to get the word back. It's not just one-way.
How will the new system affect alumni?
KB: They'll have access to the portal, to things that are relevant to them as alumni.
CK: And we're hoping that they'll be able to request their transcripts online.
How much does the implementation cost? Where is the money coming from?
CK: We have been allocated $8 million plus for purchasing the software, services from Kari's group, hardware, and staff. The College borrowed $30 million to cover the cost of several necessary projects: this one, replacing our campus electrical system, and the renovation of the Garden Apartments.
What are the drawbacks?
CK: We're used to doing things ourselves as needed. With SCT Banner, we're one of 800-plus customers.
KB: We're going from an environment of complete customization and modification in-house to buying a system and using it as is. We think the pros far outweigh the cons.
The beginnings of projects are fun, and the endings of projects are fun, and the middle of projects are just a lot of work. Part of our job is to provide energy along the way and support in the really hard parts. And that's where we are: in the hard part.