STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 07/24/2008
Over the past two years an exciting, though largely invisible transformation has been taking place in most of the major offices at Gordon including Admissions, Student Financial Services, the Registrar's Office, Development, the Controller's Office and Human Resources. Until just a few months ago, most of these offices were running their operations on the VAX/POISE systems, which Gordon purchased back in 1980--about a year before Microsoft created MS-DOS, four years before Apple's original Macintosh, and almost a full decade before the World Wide Web was created.
While the VAX/POISE system had served Gordon College quite well, it was simply no longer suited to deal with the data management needs of the Internet age. Over the years Gordon's programmers had made numerous and highly complex modifications to help keep the system running, but new hires who were accustomed to using highly visual computer screens with a mouse found the text-only monochrome screens difficult to learn. Information in the system could not easily be displayed on the campus websites, let alone receive online updates.
In a bold and innovative step, the College decided to replace this one obsolete technology with three major systems that could be interconnected to provide the College with more online tools and access to up-to-date information; create more efficient business processes; and allow more sharing of data between departments. But replacing the old system without causing major disruption was like performing open-heart surgery on a marathon runner who is in the middle of a race: it had to be done without disrupting the functioning of these departments.
The largest part of this project was implementing the Jenzabar EX software, which provided solutions for campus offices with the exceptions of Finance and Human Resources (the name Jenzabar is derived from Mandarin Chinese and means "the class of the best and brightest"). Jenzabar had owned POISE and during the implementation process proved to be an outstanding partner.
Though the project involved many technical processes--setting up servers, data conversion, and software integrations--the larger issues and problems involved convincing people to agree what processes should be changed and how we should share information in the new systems. In other words, this was a people project even more than it was a technology project. Along with software replacement, every aspect of how the College does business had to be reconsidered and designed into the new systems. More than 60 people from over 20 departments were involved during the two years of this project, performing not only their normal work duties but also developing codes for the new systems, learning how the new systems work, and testing how to perform their jobs in the new systems. As the project manager for this process, it was my task to ensure that the implementation remained on schedule and on budget, and delivered the expected functionality.
A few of the many key players in this story: At the executive level the president and trustees recognized the need for this transition and supported this project, even in light of the anxiety that such a large-scale change would inevitably cause. Their support was vital during the times when difficult decisions had to be made.
Vice presidents Dan Tymann and James MacDonald provided leadership and acted as the project sponsors. During key transitions and milestones, the full President's Cabinet received reports and took advantage of the opportunity to provide important feedback and direction. The Cabinet also enacted many policy changes and decisions in support of improving Gordon College's business processes.
At the director level, the Implementation Core Team was composed of many campus office and department representatives who directed not only their own departments but also guided other departments that would be using the systems. The Core Team members were Kim Mather '78B, Nancy Anderson '73, Barbara Layne, Carol Herrick, Chris Dawson, Dan O'Connell, Chris Carlson, Terry Charek, Phil Williams '89 and June Bodoni '82.
Without the dedication and creativity of Gordon College's IT departments, this project would not have been successful. Coming right off of development of the new www.gordon.edu website, the Information Systems Group (ISG) team--Dave Andrade '89, Dan Savlon, Paul Bruce x'03, Heather Gaillard and Jon Williams '90--directed the data conversion, secured the new systems, developed integrations between the systems, and provided technical assistance to the users as they became familiar with the "new world." The Network Systems Group (NSG)--Russ Leathe, Brian Vienneau '04, Mike Binns '04 and Blake Whitney '04--also provided servers, network and infrastructure support.
Some offices not immediately associated with this type of project were asked to step up and participate including Athletics, the Global Education Office, Public Safety, the Health Center and Career Development Services. Within the last year almost every faculty or staff member has had to participate in at least some training to use one or more of these new systems, whether in purchasing and researching budget reports or receiving a paycheck through our new payroll system.
Although significant elements of this project will be continuing for another year or so, the technology transformation process hit a critical milestone on March 14 when we declared Jenzabar EX, the major component of this project, "live." This milestone especially signified the end of a seven-year quest for Jon Williams, director of Information Services, who had been seeking the replacement of the VAX/POISE well before I arrived as a staff member at Gordon. In addition to Jenzabar EX being declared "live," the VAX/POISE system which had faithfully served the College for many years was officially replaced as the "system of record." On March 14 whole new worlds of opportunities and capabilities were opened up to the College.
Rob Van Cleef, M.A.T.H., is the technology program manager for Gordon College and lives in Beverly, Massachusetts, with his wife, son and mother-in-law.