Replace the Base
Replace the UW’s aging legacy systems with modern, flexible
systems. Systems to be replaced include:
finance, budget, procurement, HR/payroll, and student administration.
Why Replace the Base?
The University of Washington’s legacy systems are vital to the daily operations of this institution, supporting the work of roughly 72,000 faculty, students, and staff. The workhorses of the university, these systems store thousands of rules about the way this institution does business and process hundreds of thousands of transactions a day. They provide indirect, but nonetheless essential support to the university’s mission of teaching, research, and public service. The systems:
- Pay employees $1.6 billion annually
- Receive and distribute $1.1 billion in research grants annually
- Handle UW financial transactions, processing 1.45 million transactions monthly
- Register students online, processing more than 500 transactions per minute during peak times
- Retain the official academic records of 761,000 UW students—every attendee since 1981
- Keep UW operations running, routinely handling more than 700,000 transactions daily with an average response time of under two seconds
The University’s Aging SystemsThe University’s systems date back to the early 1970s and 1980s when this institution’s operating environment was substantially less complex than it is today. They were designed to support the UW at a time when the state provided the majority of its funding.
Today, state funding makes up less than 13 percent of the University’s $3 billion in annual revenue. The largest source is grants and contracts that total about $1 billion per year. In addition, self-sustaining operations have grown exponentially. This increasingly diversified funding base demands a more sophisticated management approach. The UW’s systems are not keeping up.
In fact, the University legacy systems are among the oldest and most archaic of its peer institutions. Most of the University’s peers have long since upgraded their systems, leaving the UW in a small minority of peers with systems dating back 30 years. See more information about peers here in What Others are Doing.
Operational Inefficiencies Are Eroding Productivity
The inadequacy of these systems is resulting in operational inefficiencies that impact people at every level of this institution. It is difficult for faculty and staff to perform even the most basic functions, such as hiring, purchasing, tracking and managing multiple budgets, and making accurate budget projections.
The systems lack basic tools and functionality to help staff do their work, such as controls to prevent over-spending, visibility into pending financial transactions, or ability to do financial reporting at the unit or department level. The systems do not collect the level and detail of data required to meet the UW’s growing information needs.
As a result, staff must engage in “daily heroics” just to keep business operations running and get the information they need to do their jobs. They must make extraordinary efforts to perform basic job duties, employing numerous manual workarounds and engaging in other cumbersome and time-consuming processes that take away from higher-level work.
To compensate for missing functionality, departments and units across the University have created hundreds of shadow systems at considerable cost and effort. These shadow systems represent a significant security risk to the University, and maintaining them is costly and inefficient.
Staffing Challenges Increase Risk
Added to these challenges is the fact that only a handful of staff now understands the University’s legacy systems, and this staff will retire in the next five to ten years. Recruiting new staff with expertise in COBOL, the programming language used by these systems, will be increasingly difficult. The lack of COBOL programmers is an industry-wide problem, and there are efforts underway to train new ones. However, even if these efforts are successful, the programmers are not likely to be of the same caliber as those retiring and will not know the UW’s systems.
These problems with the legacy systems are chronic and systemic. While the risk of sudden failure is small, the real challenge is that the systems are becoming increasingly complex and difficult to maintain in response to changing regulations and business requirements. This challenge will only grow over time, making each future update more difficult, time consuming, and costly.
A New Strategy Is Needed
The UW’s strategy of continuing to maintain and enhance its current legacy systems has worked for a number of years, enabling the UW to focus its resources on higher priorities while making small, incremental investments in its legacy systems.
However, efforts to enhance and extend these systems have gone as far as they can go. These systems already do not meet the University’s rapidly changing business and compliance needs, and that gap is widening with each passing year as the systems grow more complex, harder to maintain and revise, and more unwieldy and unresponsive.
Factoring in the time needed for planning, funding, and approval processes, it is likely to take five-to-six years to replace the legacy financial and procurement systems alone. By that time, the existing systems will be almost 40 years old.
Given the time it will take to replace these systems, it is important that the University begin planning in earnest now. Delay will prolong the process and increase the risks and costs. The University needs to commit the resources and effort required to “replace the base,” and to support its critical business and information needs into the future.
Replacing the university's three legacy systems will eliminate many of the operational inefficiencies impacting faculty and staff productivity. The new systems will provide critical data for decision making and collect the level of detailed data required to meet the university's growing information needs. These replacement projects will include:
- A new chart of accounts and organization structure to provide financial reports at a more detailed level and support interdisciplinary programs
- Capture of transactional data at a more detailed level to provide analytical information and controls to manage spending
- Timely unit-level financial statements to provide business unit managers with the budget and actual financial information to manage their business effectively
- Performance management and metrics to support the university’s accountability objectives
- Financial reporting on a biennial, fiscal year, and life-to-date basis to provide financial managers with information to manage the university's finances
- Stewardship reporting on gifts and grants to provide stakeholders with more timely, accurate, and useful information
- Access to historical data for comparison and trend analysis
- The ability to track and manage multiple budgets and make budget projections
- Real-time budget spending controls, warning messages, and visibility into pending transactions to prevent over-spending
- The ability to track commitments against budgets
- Vendor contract management capabilities to improve controls, compliance, and efficiency
- Improved integration with equipment management and capital assets systems
- Electronic document management and automated workflow to eliminate manual paper processes, improve efficiencies, improve tracking, and provide all users with easy access to source documents
An integrated solution will be selected to support the life cycle of employment at the university, from recruitment through separation and retirement. The new system should provide:
- Support for the life cycle of employee activities including recruiting, job descriptions, candidate matching, staffing and workforce management, personnel administration, compensation, benefits, timekeeping, background checks, probationary hiring periods, vacation and leave tracking, payroll, training and development, certification and license tracking, performance evaluations, visas and immigration status, accidents and incidents, health and safety, temporary employment, student employee credit hours, exit interviews, position vacancies, compliance, employee self service, manager self service, and position control.
- An integrated system for payroll and human resource management for faculty and staff, retaining all information about positions, appointments, and employees, including a full life cycle of employee activities. This should eliminate the proliferation of stand-alone systems and manual processes and improve the efficiency of HR operations. In the long term, access to this information should support the University's ability to recruit, retain, and develop faculty and staff.
- Faculty management capabilities including tenure dates, interest areas, voting faculty, faculty salary comparisons, and sabbaticals.
- Full compliance with all federal, state, and local tax and regulatory requirements to eliminate manual calculations and compliance reporting.
An integrated solution will be selected or developed to support student recruitment, admissions, enrollment, course management, graduation, alumni relationships, planning and advising, student life, curriculum management, accreditation, and student finances (financial aid and billing). The new system should provide:
- A full life cycle of information about students and their activities, to allow administrators to provide more complete and customized advisory service
- Support for multiple campuses
- Support for students and faculty involved in interdisciplinary programs
- Information for more complete curriculum planning and management
- More complete information about student activities and interests to allow customized contacts by University Advancement staff
UW's Legacy Systems: Showing Their Age
The UW's aging legacy systems that support its core business operations date back to the 1970s and 1980s. As of 2008, these systems and their ages are as follows: