September 25, 2008

OnePurdue winds down

The OnePurdue project, the largest technology and business transformation in the University's history, has come to an official end -- six years after an idea and proposal led to its conception.

Today, using the myPurdue Internet portal, students can register for courses, drop and add them, check their financial aid status, accept or reject award offers, access their academic histories, pay their tuition and more. And faculty can now download course rosters, give plus and minus grades, and enter them online.

Advisors, free from having to enter data, should now have more time to help guide students through their academic careers.

Financial and human resource (HR) systems now use a single, integrated database and modern, updatable software. In addition, the University's business processes underwent a major overhaul.

Getting to this point was a long journey.


Work on OnePurdue officially began in July 2005, and at its peak the team included almost 150 people in Purdue Research Park's Ross Enterprise Center. More than a year of preparation and planning had already been done, and a couple years of legwork before that, said Jeff Whitten, associate vice president for ITaP's Enterprise Applications unit and OnePurdue's chief architect.

Most of Purdue's business software was at least 20- to 30-years-old, and showing its age. Written in a dated programming language called COBOL, these "legacy" applications were very fragile, difficult to change and prone to crashing. Even a small modification to the code could have negative ripple effects throughout the other systems.

Another problem was Purdue's use of multiple databases, some with conflicting information about the same thing or person.

Things needed to change, and Whitten was charged with leading the effort to initiate that change: an integrated approach called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), which would connect Purdue's data, information and processes into a modern, Web-based system.

Whitten spent more than a year investigating how other large universities installed their ERPs, making the first "case for change" in June 2002. In January 2004, he presented the first "roadmap" for the future of Purdue's enterprise applications.

After a selection process lasting several months, the University decided to license its ERP software from SAP, and the implementation officially began July 1, 2005. The road was not without bumps, though.

In the summer of 2006, project and University leadership decided to make a mid-project "correction," switching from SAP to SunGard Higher Education's Banner technology for the new student systems. Banner, already being used at Purdue Calumet and IPFW (Fort Wayne), would now be implemented at the West Lafayette and North Central campuses as well.

The first software to "go live" were the new financial and SRM (purchasing) applications in February 2007. Six months later, OnePurdue's HR and payroll systems went online. Meanwhile, the Enrollment and Student Affairs team at OnePurdue was switching tracks to Banner. In February 2008, the new financial aid module went into production, with the remaining student systems going live in July.

Looking back

"What we accomplished with the resources and time we had is amazing," Whitten said. "We replaced 80 percent of 30 years of technology in only three years, and, by and large, implemented the core functions we said we would.

There are still a few OnePurdue components that have yet to be released, including student recruitment, manager self-service, imaging and workflow, and employee recruitment.

The most difficult part of OnePurdue, Whitten said, was not technical, but organizational change management.

"There were thousands of business and technical problems along the way, but we worked to solve them," he said. "The real challenge was how people would react and adapt to the new systems.

"Change can be traumatic, but the University has demonstrated its malleability throughout this transition. Purdue people are very passionate about our mission and have worked hard to change."

The same focus on the people side of change also helped guide life after OnePurdue.

Post-go-live period

"Although OnePurdue as a project is ending, its applications will be around for a long time," Whitten said, "and our focus now is on improving them and supporting system users."

OnePurdue Executive Director Gary Newsom said, "There is no finish line. We have laid a good foundation, and now will build on it to make sure OnePurdue continues to be a cutting-edge system that meets the University's needs."

A driving force in this ongoing post-go-live phase will be how the systems evolve, Whitten said.

"A lot of people think that this has been a technical project, but functional people, the faculty, staff and students who use SAP and Banner every day, have driven OnePurdue -- and will continue to in the future.

"They will determine our priorities."

Since they were released in 2007, the financial and HR systems have combined and been in a post-go-live, support mode for several months.

The Business Services System Support Group (SSG), under Director Lerry Holladay, has been in operation most of this year.

The SSG, which reports to the University comptroller and director of Human Resource Services, is comprised of members of the old OnePurdue finance and HR teams. There will be a similar group for the student systems.

"We will use the same basic principles for the student support group; it will just look a little different than the finance/HR model," Whitten said. "Because of what we've learned from forming the financial and HR support system, we won't have as long of a learning curve as we transition into the student support environment."

The post-go-live structure is going according to plan, said Whitten.

There also is a Decommissioning Team, whose job is to decommission the old "legacy" systems and archive their data, a process that should will take about three years.

"Purdue's data retention policy governs how this is done, and there are a lot of decisions to be made," Whitten said. "Some data may need to be kept as long as 10 years or more."

The mainframe computer, used to run the legacy systems, will not be turned off until all the archiving work is complete.

"Our goal is to shut it down in June 2011."

Synergy and the future

An unexpected benefit of OnePurdue, Whitten said, has been the synergy that resulted from the "unprecedented cooperation between functional people and technical personnel," and collaboration between Purdue's four campuses.

"This has been positive, productive and rewarding," he said. "I've been here for many years, and can't recall a time when we've worked so well together. We knew the systems would be integrated, but didn't know the people would be integrated, too."

The post-go-live period is about continuous improvement and supporting the systems' users. To that end, the University community has already made almost 200 suggestions, and the team is currently working on 40 of them.

"I continue to be impressed with the involvement and enthusiasm from so many people," Whitten said."

In the beginning, Whitten visited other universities to see how they implemented their ERPs. Now, a few are coming to Purdue with questions.

As it moves forward with its post-project phase, rolling out the last few components and improving the systems, the OnePurdue team continues to discover new things.

"There are still a lot of lessons to be learned," Whitten said, "and we are learning them."