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How to implement Oracle / PeopleSoft Higher Education suite on the cheap!

By cheap I mean cheap relative to the normal implementation methodology and the associated costs. Normally an institution  will decide to purchase the Oracle/PeopleSoft Suite (HCM/Payroll, Financial, Campus Solutions) with a (hopefully)  good understanding of how much it will cost to have a consulting firm implement it (my guess isaround $9 - $13 million at the lower end for a normal school withapproximately 30,000 active students). 

What if a consulting firm were to tell you that their firm could implement Oracle/PeopleSoft HCM, Financial, and Campus Solutions for less then $4 million in about 18 months time period?   Would this firm get someone’s attention?  Well I am here to say it is very possible to do just that.  Having personally worked with 15 colleges and universities during all or part of their PeopleSoft Campus Solutions implementations and/or upgrade efforts, and I understand how fine-tuning the implementation process can significantly lower the cost of implementation. 

Is there a catch?  Yes, isn’t there always?  The catch is that there  are some assumptions that must be agreed on up front.  However, I for one believe that the assumptions that must to be agreed on are best practices that should be in place for any implementation that is serious about being successful.   Without drilling down too deep on all of the agreed upon assumptions,  here are what I feel are the key assumptions that can keep costs down: 

  • Vanilla, Vanilla, Vanilla.  Enough said there.  Although implementing truly vanilla is often impossible, hopefully you bought a product like Oracle/Campus Solutions that is easily configurable and can isolate the areas of customization that may occur.  Here are some examples of typical customizations that most clients can't seem to live without:   
    • I  have yet to find a school that has accepted the delivered transcripts because they want the transcript to look the way it has always looked!
    • Most clients are not willing to manually drop all students from classes after it has been determined that the pre-requisites have not been met for an enrolled class from the prior term.

 Nonetheless, the decision to customize needs to be made very carefully and a  process needs to be in place to keep the customizations to the absolute minimum.  It is worth examining each customization and giving up some of those “sacred cows” because it will save you a lot of money and resources over the lifetime of your system. Every customization you make costs you time and labor each time you patch your system or upgrade. Is it really worth it? 

  • Ensure that subject matter experts and knowledgeable staff will be available (full time) for the duration of the implementation. Waiting for their input or feedback, or retraining a new mwmbwr of the team is costly.
  • Plan for staff to have adequate time to be trained on the product before the go live date.
  • Put a process in place that will allow decisions to be made in a very timely manner (including potential policy changes). Remember, the project costs are continuing while decisions are pending!  Ignoring this tip can stretch out the length and cost of your project!

This is not the full list of assumptions but it gives you a flavor of the kind of assumptions and agreements that need to be in place.

Now let’s talk about the kind of methodologies or approaches that I have found to be missing on way too many implementation projects. One critical missing mindset is working from the overarching goal of reducing the cost of the implementation without losing the required functionality.  

 Let’s use community colleges for example.  Typically, a community college may not have a full compliment of staff to contribute to the implementation.  With that in mind here are a few way of cutting costs and yet have a successful implementation:

  • Business process reengineering and configuration table setup:  50%-70% of time and effort can be saved by having an experienced  consulting firm truly leverage their past experience and knowledge.  Trust the firm that you have selected and empower them to suggest a configuration approach. After all, they have likely worked with more institutions than you have and have seen Best Practices being used. I have found it of great value to spend two to four weeks with a school to simply have the consultants discuss the school’s business process at a 10,000 feet level.  This will enable the consultants to analyze and present to the school’s leadership some recommendations as to what functionality they would or would not need, as well as what major gaps exists between the required business process and what is delivered with the new system.  Now, I admit that many schools are truly different; however there are enough schools that are also very similar in how their business is run.  For example the “table configuration” of the system is very similar across many schools.  The Academic Career, Academic Program, Academic Plan, Holiday Schedule, Terms or Sessions, etc.  is very similar if not the same.   Typically, the consulting team could complete roughly 70% of the configuration table setup without much interaction with the client. This can be done using a template format that  solicits answers to some simple questions that are school specific such as: 

    • What do you call your academic career, academic programs, academic plans, academic subplans?
    • What are your terms or sessions, fill in the fields for the terms start date, end date, 60% rule date, etc?
    • What is your holiday schedule? 

There are quite a few of these basic elements that are table driven. The consulting firm could provide a template that is pre-populated with the best practices that they are recommending to the client, and then have the client review and modify the template as needed.  This saves countless meetings and billable hours.   The consultants would then use that information to setup the configuration tables.  After the configuration tables have been setup a “Conference Room Pilot” sessions is be held to review all the tables and the impact of thedecisions with the staff.  This would allow for any corrections as needed.  This way of setting up the configuration tables is much less time consuming then the traditional method of spending countless billable hours where the consultant  walks the institution’s staff pain stakingly through each table and field and asking them how they would like to configure a system that they barely understand at that point.  This applies to other area as well such as Security setup (an advisor or student from one school pretty much needs the same security as one from another school).  Bottom line is that the consulting firm should leverage their past experience and in depth content knowledge of the product to streamline this process and save the client staff time and consulting dollars.

  • Determine early on what functionality the school will want/need:  A community college for example probably will have no need for the “automated transfer evaluation process functionality”.  Don't spend time talking about and configyring functionality that is not necessary for the client. Again, an experienced consultant can help you make those decisions.
  • Bring the right consultants in when needed:  There is no need to have the whole consulting team on site from day one.  Student Financials,  for example,  will not be needed until later in the implementation for perhaps six months out of the 18 months’ engagement.  Aside from the early planning session, why not wait and bring that consultant in at that time? 
  • Use a lab service for postproduction support if needed: Many schools may need additional “post production” support to questions and issues as they come up, once the system has gone live and into production.  There is an argument to be made for having consultants on site full time for the first 4 weeks after go live.  However, after the initial go-live a consultant who specializes in Student Records for example might only be needed for 10 hours/week.  Yet Institutions find themselves having to keep a consultant on board for 40 hours/week plus the travel expense that the consultant accumulates because they are not given a choice to use lab services (most consulting firms don’t offer this option).  Our consulting firm has used the lab service with clients very successfully for over three years.  The client pays for 10-15 hours/week of consulting services and no travel expenses, which in essence saves them approximately 75% of the cost of having a consultant on board full time.  Lab services are scalable.  Again, a lab service approach can meet an Institution’s needs at a fraction of the cost by simply using this innovative and high return on investment approach.
  • There are many other items I could discuss here in terms of innovative shifts in the typical implementation approach, shifts that provide the required consulting services yet considerably reduces the cost to the Institution. The point is that with these innovative and cost effective approaches it is possible to implement a Community College’s Oracle/PeopleSoft HCM, Financials, and Campus Solutions suite for less then $4 million total in an 18-month’s timeframe.

 

It would be appropriate to discuss one more topic that will reduce the implementation cost per school even further then we just recently discussed.

  • Shared Service Model:  The term “shared service model” is originally meant to have several institutions collaborate versus outsourcing.  However, I am using this term  to refer to the collaboration of several institutions.  For example, instead of one community college purchasing and implementing the Oracle suite.  Have 2, 3, 4, or however many community colleges purchase the Oracle license(s), and have one consulting team implement it for all of them together. In the Campus Solutions instance, for example, each school could be a separate “Institution”.  This approach will give each school their needed autonomy while still on one instance of the database and codeline.  Each school could still have their own HCM (ver 9.1) and Financial suite separately.  This would/should save each school even more on consulting/implementation and license costs, not to mention infrastructure costs.

To summarize, having a solid consulting team where each consultant has many years of experience with implementing the Oracle/PeopleSoft suite, leveraging their experience to streamline the fit/gap and configuration table setup, conversion, interfaces, training, and testing processes; bringing consultants in and out strategically on an as needed basis, using a “shared service” model, and if post production support is needed utilizing the “lab services” approach will significantly reduce the ERP implementation cost.