Banner: One year later
It’s been a more than a year since the initial Banner software was released. In the months that followed, the rest of the new student systems went into production, ushering in a number of firsts for Purdue: Students registered for, dropped and added classes online. They accepted financial aid online. Incoming freshmen accepted offers of admission online. The faculty submitted grades online. Advisors can now spend more time advising rather than scheduling students. The Banner implementation has not been without its challenges and frustrations, but over the past 13 months, the Purdue community has been learning about Banner’s power and potential as well.
To mark this milestone, we asked two key University leaders — Pam Horne, assistant vice president for enrollment management and dean of admissions, and OnePurdue Executive Director Gary Newsom — to reflect on Purdue’s first year with Banner, where we are now, and what’s ahead.
Has Banner met your expectations?
Pam Horne: For the first year of a new integrated system at a large, complex university, my expectations have been exceeded. We delivered everything on time. We did not have any major glitches. Students got their financial aid. Students got registered. Students got admitted. Students were able to pay their bills. So in terms of baseline functionality, we certainly have had a more successful and smoother go-live and first year than many other schools have experienced with new student systems.
Gary Newsom: I think it’s been a great success. SunGard’s product and implementation methodology functioned as the company said they would. We didn’t get into issues of beta testing. We got a mature product that works and will grow with us. Looking back, SunGard’s projections were more than 95 percent on target, which is very uncharacteristic of large software vendors. The bottom line: The vendor did what it said it would do, and we implemented the new systems on a very accelerated, expedited schedule. To roll this out within a year was very significant.
Horne: SunGard’s methodology works. Everyone — the technical staff, project functional staff, core office staffs, academic advisors and schedule deputies — worked hand in hand. Hundreds and hundreds of hours and lots of teamwork went into this. Moreover, a lot of knowledge was transferred from the OnePurdue team to the people who do the day-to-day work on campus. Because we so work closely with the Student Systems Competency Center out at Ross (Enterprise Center), we have experts in the core offices and academic units, too. Implementing Banner the SunGard way was one reason we were able to do this so quickly, but it was also the best way. SunGard knows how to make this thing work.
Newsom: From feedback I’ve received from the user community, Banner appears to be meeting expectations for about 75 percent of its users. There obviously are still things we need to do to improve that, though it is fairly typical for a project of this magnitude. It takes a while for everyone to adapt to so many changes all at once.
Which areas and groups were most impacted?
Newsom: Implementing Banner has been a significant load on the departments. We didn't increase their staffing, so when they had to take this on plus continue to go about their day-to-day business, it caused a fair amount of stress. To undergo such large changes in their business processes has been a burden to those on the front lines. The students also have been appreciably impacted because they’ve taken on accountability for several parts of their academic careers. The student self-service functions in myPurdue have been extensions of what used to be administrative responsibilities. That’s a major change for Purdue.
Horne: Banner has automated some things, but there are others that take more time than before. The learning curve has been conquered for the most part, but there are still some tasks that are more labor-intensive. Office staffs have putting in many extra hours, working overtime and weekends since last spring, but there’s also been great pride for what has been accomplished.
What kind of feedback have you been receiving?
Newsom: I think Purdue’s senior leadership has been very appreciative of the smooth implementation. There have been no significant issues raised, and it’s almost been business as usual in a lot of respects. I think the students have been pretty positive about this leap into the 21st century, too. When you look at our peer institutions and competitors for student talent, we were way behind with this technology.
Still, department heads, particularly those in the core offices, have really been feeling the pinch of this change on their resource base, which, in many cases, was already low. So, yes, there’s been some stress out there, and we’re hearing about it. But we’re also hearing how proud staffs are of what’s happened and their roles in it.
Horne: We’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the faculty about submitting grades online. This was a pretty fundamental change for them as well, and we’re really pleased to see how well they responded. The challenges initially experienced in some academic areas were often due to inappropriate security roles, and we have responded accordingly with new roles that not only maintain the integrity of the processes, but also help staff fulfill their responsibilities. Often the feedback we’ve received from students and staff has had more to do with changes in business practices and academic policies, which are now more consistent and transparent than about the software itself.
We’ve also received a lot of comments and suggestions from students about the myPurdue portal. Our advisory groups include several students, and they have helped make great improvements to the portal.
Where do you see the biggest needs for improvement?
Horne: More automation and batch-type data loading would cut down on a lot of manual data entry. We also need to get a better handle on course demand analysis. But a new application, Platinum Analytics, we will install for the 2009-10 academic year should give us better reporting capabilities for that.
Of course, everyone is anxious to add wait-list functionality, and that is coming when we upgrade to Banner 8 next year. That new version also will help us with enrollment projections and more automated financial aid packaging.
We’re also going to use SunGard’s imaging application (Banner Document Management Suite, previously known as Xtender) in other departments both for archival purposes and to reduce the use of paper, in general. It’s gone very well so far, and has made an enormous difference for Admissions this year. Most of the core offices and the Graduate School will eventually be using it, too.
And we’re looking forward to implementing workflow, which will further automate some processes that have to move from person to person, such as admissions application reviews and student withdrawals.
What’s happening with reporting?
Horne: We had a collaborative effort to implement the operating systems, and we’ve done the same thing with reporting. Technical staff, functional staff and key report writers have been working together on this. Every single piece of business intelligence and every report had to be created from scratch, and overall I think we’ve done a pretty remarkable job. We’re on target with our regulatory reporting, and we’re in good shape with quality control reports. We’ve also trained reporting super users in every college on campus and many other units that support students, and will convene and support user groups in the coming months
Are we 100 percent there yet? No, we never will be because we’ll always be developing new reports. But that’s okay because we’ll always have new questions about how we’re serving students, how students are succeeding, what’s happening with enrollment — the list will keep growing.
I’m also looking forward to when we can take advantage of finally having an integrated student system, so that we can pull admissions, financial aid, payment and registration data into the same report. We’re not there yet; we’re still reporting in silos. But we won’t always have to do that. We will get to a point when we have true business intelligence that crosses over the various student modules. I’m really excited about that.
We hope to develop some executive dashboards soon as well, which will only add to our reporting capabilities for both operations and strategic decision-making.
Overall, we haven’t had any questions about students go unanswered; nor have we missed any deadlines for student reporting.
This is absolutely remarkable for the first year of a new student system.
How have advisory groups influenced decisions and priorities?
Horne: The myPurdue Portal Advisory Committee has already had quite a bit of influence and affected change rather rapidly, making myPurdue more user-friendly and an integral part of student and staff life. The Student Systems Advisory Committee, which represents the entire campus, has provided us with very useful feedback as well. And the Student Systems Steering Committee has done a very good job of establishing parameters and criteria when deciding on improvements. We’ve also begun a four-campus group so we can take advantage of expertise and data integration across the Purdue system.
Newsom: The Critical Process Owners group also has played an important role in continuing to improve the student systems, and basically is responsible for making sure this thing works. The group did a good job of setting priorities for ongoing improvements, and has developed an agenda for the next 18-24 months.
Horne: The lines between the core office and technical staffs have really blurred, too; everyone has learned everyone’s business. This is such an integrated system, so that’s a marvelous thing.
Where do we go from here?
Horne: One thing we’re going to do is spend more time interacting with our peers (other universities using Banner) to learn best practices using the existing software. We haven't had time to do as much of this as we’d like because, well, we’ve been so busy this past year getting everything working. Some of our staff recently attended a “summit” with thousands of other SunGard customers, though, and after spending a few days with Banner veterans, they’ll return to Purdue with all sorts of tips and tricks and new ideas of how we can maximize the system’s capabilities.
We also are going to take advantage of new features in Banner 8. We’re already getting a good glimpse of it, and are starting to share this information with the user community.
Sooner rather than later, we want to begin influencing the product and its future development. We’re an important SunGard client, after all. There’s a consortium of large universities that provides feedback to the company, and we want to become a key player in that.
Finally, we’re going to stay on a path of continuous improvement. While will still keep Banner as “vanilla” as possible, we’ll always be looking for ways to make it easier for everyone to use.