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ITS Management Briefing - Project FOCUS Update

Author: tidBiTS

Posted on May 30, 2018

Category: Management Briefings , General Interest

In fulfilling its mission to create the premier university environment for our students, faculty and staff in which to learn, work and live, UNB expends considerable energy and resources ensuring the community has the data it needs to operate effectively. For instance, faculty need access to current and accurate student and other information to conduct classes and research. Administrators need up-to-the-minute financial, personnel, and student data to help them support the institution. And students need timely and relevant class and other data to help them track progress and ultimately reach their academic and personal goals. In an ideal world, all this data would be available easily; it would be authoritative, and of course current and accurate. It would come from a single robust and trustworthy source, and would be easy to integrate into a myriad of software programs, making life and work at UNB richer and much more focused on priorities of teaching and learning rather than struggling with balky data systems and services—as is very much the case today.

Project FOCUS is the ambitious but necessary response to the sad state of UNB’s data environment. Project FOCUS encompasses the transformation of the university’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system from a clunky, outdated and temperamental service into a state-of-the-art toolset to improve the lives of our faculty, staff and students by making authoritative data readily available, easy to use, and ubiquitous. Over the years, the system (known to many as Colleague, the vendor’s name for the application suite including financial, HR, student, and advancement data and services) has been configured to meet many, many different requirements, but has never benefited from a coordinated, thoughtful approach to overall management and governance. This has resulted in an unnecessarily complex, rigid, and ultimately frustrating environment in which people are expected to work. We are taking the opportunity to greatly improve this situation, however, via Project FOCUS.

Actually a series of interrelated projects, we’ve called this initiative Project FOCUS to give it some prominence and to build awareness around the issues to be solved throughout the effort. Every faculty and staff member, and all our students, will ultimately enjoy the benefits of Project FOCUS, whether through more accessible and useful data, easier to use interfaces, or vastly improved processes for getting authoritative data in and out of the system. But the path to this improved state is long, complex, and costly—thousands of hours of staff time are required to effect the needed changes, and considerable investment of scarce dollars is required to ensure success.

Who’s running this show?

Project FOCUS is sponsored by the President’s Executive Team, with endorsement from the Board of Governors, and is being led by the vice-president administration and finance. Individual initiatives within the scope of Project FOCUS are led by various unit heads, supported by Information Technology Services, which provides the project, change management, and technical expertise to execute the various components of Project FOCUS.

How long is it going to take?

It’s not easy to say how long the entire initiative will take, but working estimates are based on a five to seven year timeline. There are a lot of business processes subject to review and revision in all areas, and process change does not come easy to people. Project FOCUS leadership is committed to ensuring that faculty, staff and students receive all the information, training, and encouragement they need as we make this journey together.

What initiatives are currently being undertaken in Project FOCUS?

A lot is happening! Here are descriptions of several FOCUS initiatives:

  • FOCUS CAE (aka Contract Academic Employee) system - Improving administration of the CAE contract generation process. The project entails development of appropriate applications, data extracts, web services and other identified improvements needed to ensure the IT requirements of the CAE collective agreement are dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible. Phase III of FOCUS CAE is in its final stages.
  • FOCUS Financials – Assessing and reengineering UNB's GL-related business processes, updating UNB's Colleague system to support the new business processes, and implementing new functionality to support improved financial management practices. FOCUS Financials has been underway for almost two years; general GL cleanup has taken place, GL governance is being defined, and several tools have been evaluated for appropriate fit and function in the emerging new environment.
  • FOCUS Continuing Education – Delivering an improved student experience for non-credit courses and programs. Using updated technology, clients will experience a more intuitive registration process and improved communications. These changes will also streamline processes with other university services. Although the College of Extended Learning is the initial end-user of this innovative technology, it provides potential for many other UNB non-credit initiatives.
  • FOCUS Awards – Entailing the evaluation, selection and implementation of a software product that will manage the scholarships and awards processes on both UNB campuses.
  • FOCUS Recruit – Implementing a CRM (constituent relationship management) system for the onboarding and management of new students from first contact through to completed application. The current online application system will be retired once this new service is in place.

Of course there are many more FOCUS projects and initiatives to come. We’ll continue to keep you up to date on these exciting developments through periodic updates, the FOCUS blog, and news items.

May 30, 2018, Terry Nikkel, AVP, ITS

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