This is the second in a series of “Project in Progress” profiles. We regularly take a look inside current IT projects (capital, non-capital and unit-based) to give the IT community a sense of the purpose, benefits, challenges and successes associated with major projects.
Project in a Nutshell
The purpose of the PeopleSoft Discovery project led by Terry Thomas of Planning and Program Management (PPM) has been to
- understand new functionality available in PeopleSoft 9.0.
- determine how new functionality can be used to enhance Cornell’s business processes.
- learn which current customizations can be eliminated by leveraging new functionality.
A technical impact assessment has been part of the discovery process as well. By the time the project concludes in May 2014, the scope and cost of implementing a PeopleSoft upgrade will be well understood by PPM, CIT and the functional areas that rely on PeopleSoft—Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Records, the Bursar’s Office and Contributor Relations. PeopleSoft Discovery will be followed by a PeopleSoft Implementation project which will be based on the RFP that emerges from discovery.
Project Nuts and Bolts
- Project name: PeopleSoft Discovery
- Project goals:
- Assess the impact on our current business processes and technical environment of upgrading from PeopleSoft 8.9 to PeopleSoft 9.0.
- Gain an understanding of the new functionality and how Cornell might use it to enhance its business processes.
- Provide information for informed decision making and planning with regard to a PeopleSoft upgrade.
- Provide an upgrade estimate.
- Project manager: Terry Thomas, Planning and Program Management, Office of the CIO
- Project oversight: Alumni and Student System Steering Committee
- Sponsoring organizations: Susan Murphy, Vice President Student and Academic Services, Ted Dodds, CIO and Vice President for Information Technologies
- Funding organizations: Student and Academic Services (SAS), Alumni Affairs and Development (AA&D), Office of the Treasurer, The Graduate School, Admissions and Financial Aid, and the Office of the CIO.
- External consultant: CedarCrestone
- Expected completion date: May 2014 (to be followed by an implementation project)
- Project status: The CedarCrestone assessment is complete. The project team submitted an Upgrade RFP to eight vendors for the purpose of selecting an implementation vendor. The discovery project will be complete when an implementation vendor is selected.
Q&A with Project Manager Terry Thomas
What systems and organizations at Cornell rely on PeopleSoft?
PeopleSoft is used by Alumni Affairs and Development, Undergraduate Admissions, the Financial Aid office, the Bursar’s office, the Registrar’s office, the colleges and professional schools, the School of Continuing Education, The Graduate School, and the International Students and Scholars office.
Why is it important to upgrade PeopleSoft?
PeopleSoft supports business processes that are critical to the core mission of the university. The version we use now (8.9) is out of date and no longer supported by Oracle, meaning the vendor is not providing updates, including ones for new financial aid regulations. PeopleSoft 9.0 offers an assortment of new functionality that will allow Cornell to better serve students, faculty, and alumni.
In general, what is a discovery project and why do it?
A discovery project is for obtaining information, synthesizing options and solutions, and providing recommendations. It’s an up-front investigation that leads to better informed decisions on how and if to move forward with a project.
For PeopleSoft, why isn’t it obvious how much an upgrade costs and how much work is involved?
PeopleSoft is at the heart of university’s core systems. It is highly integrated with Cornell’s critical systems and it supports two major data marts. The supporting technical architecture is complex and Cornell has highly customized it. Upgrading a complex system that supports the university’s core mission is not trivial. It requires a great deal of information, decision making, and planning to obtain realistic cost and effort estimates. CedarCrestone, the external vendor retained to help with discovery, has experience upgrading other universities and knowledge of what is involved. It provided knowledge of the functional and technical differences between PeopleSoft 8.9 and 9.0 so we could assess the cost and effort of upgrading our PeopleSoft environment.
How has the discovery process worked?
CedarCrestone reviewed our technical environment and assessed the technical impact of an upgrade; met with the functional areas and worked with each to determine where new functionality could enhance a business process or lead to elimination of a customization; and specified training Cornell staff will need to fully use the upgrade. In the end, CedarCrestone provided a 112-page document summarizing its findings and providing recommendations. Given information gathered in the assessment we additionally asked CedarCrestone to estimate the cost of an upgrade.
How did the fit/gap sessions with functional areas work?
We worked within a very compressed scheduled—we had a total of about six weeks to work with the functional areas to identify impact on current processes and determine where new functionality would enrich their business processes. Each area had about two to three weeks to complete their sessions. Because the reviews required participants from across the university, there was a lot of juggling and scheduling to get the right people into right meetings. I was “on call” for CedarCrestone, and worked with them continually to set up meetings and agendas, answer questions, and determine outcomes needed from each group. We were constantly checking in with each other—it was an intense six weeks. The functional folks spent an average of two and a half days a week in sessions with CedarCrestone reviewing current business processes, assessing the impact of the upgrade and identifying possibilities for use of new functionality
How is the PeopleSoft discovery project benefitting and feeding into the implementation project?
Functionally, we have a clearer understanding of what is offered in the new version, what we want to implement and what the training requirements are.
We have information on technical upgrade options, the time frame of a typical technical upgrade, and an estimate of a remediation effort.
As a whole, the discovery has given us a sense of desired functionality and technical scope, coupled with time and cost estimates. This information aids in more informed decision-making on the part of the steering committee—the members can make better decisions about scope and resources in relation to budget during the planning process as well as during the implementation.
Because of discovery, we better understand the impact of the new version both on the business and our technical environment. We also have better information for planning the upgrade and selecting the new functions we want to implement during the upgrade to enhance our business processes.
You’ve talked about working with the functional areas and your vendor during discovery. Who else are you collaborating with on this project?
In addition to the functional areas mentioned above and the external consultants, we have been working with several groups in CIT Information Systems.
- CIT Commercial Applications members have been heavily involved—they are the ones who support the entire PeopleSoft environment including all customizations. They worked with CedarCrestone on the technical assessment. Also, Rick Synakowski was the technical lead for discovery; he provided the business process maps and identified the supporting customizations for each of the functional areas that were essential inputs into the fit/gap sessions.
- CIT Business Intelligence was also involved as the two PeopleSoft data marts are heavily used across campus to support critical decision making and local systems. They will be definitely be impacted and require remediation as a result of the upgrade.
- CIT Custom Applications has several systems that will require remediation so it has been involved in discovery as well.
What is next for you?
I expect to work on the implementation project as a business analyst, which is my primary role within PPM. The implementation project will be managed by Christine O’Brien and she has already taken over the lead on the development of the Upgrade RFP.
What lessons can the IT community take from your experience on this discovery project?
Discovery is learning and information gathering to make informed decisions. It is imperative to unambiguously define the goal and deliverables of your discovery project. Assure that everyone involved in the project understands and agrees. Keep your eye on the goal and assure all tasks performed during discovery support the goal. The beauty of a successful discovery is it provides essential information by which to make informed decision as you move through the various stages of a project. I think we’ll see more discovery projects because the clarity they bring to the table is so valuable.
How does this project relate to the IT strategic plan?
Objective 1 in the Enterprise Information Systems section of the plan focuses on Improving the value proposition of enterprise information systems by decreasing the cost of implementing and supporting them and by increasing their business value.
PeopleSoft is a core system of the university and supports mission critical business processes and decision making across the university. In order to increase our return on investment we must keep current and utilize the capabilities offered by the PeopleSoft application. This includes regular technical upgrades and assuring Cornell staff is apprised of and trained on new functionality delivered in the product.