ERP Implementation Stories of Struggle & Success:

Three Leaders Share Lesson Learned

ERP Implementation Stories of Struggle & Success:

A CTO & CEO Share Lessons Learned

Over the past two decades, the enterprise resource planning (ERP) landscape has undergone significant changes and advancements, driven by the rise of cloud-based solutions, mobile accessibility, and robust data analytics and reporting capabilities. Despite this sweeping transformation, there is a dearth of information about the impact it’s had on the implementation process for higher education institutions.

What challenges are today’s institutions encountering when they transition to a new ERP system? What preparations are critical to their success? What preparations do they regret overlooking?

These are a few of the many questions EDUCAUSE asked in its recent survey on ERP software implementations. With support from CampusWorks, EDUCAUSE developed a new study, “More than ‘Going Live’: Achieving Institutional Transformation through ERP Implementation” to provide insights that enhance our collective understanding about the new realities of these expensive, far-reaching, multi-year projects and the preparations needed to ensure their success.

EDUCAUSE deployed the survey in November 2022, which collected data from 368 respondents across five different stages of ERP implementation. In March 2023, EDUCAUSE conducted 20 follow-up interviews with individuals from 19 institutions to explore their initial findings in greater depth.

Definition of ERP:

Any or all combinations of financial, human resources (HR)/human capital management (HCM), and student information systems (SIS)

On May 8, EDUCAUSE previewed their survey findings in a webinar, “The ERP Landscape: Lessons Learned on ERP Planning and Implementations.” They were joined by three thought leaders who shared their unique perspectives to provide additional context. Ben Rapin, Associate Vice President for IT and Chief Technology Officer at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), discussed his experience moving from Banner to Workday. Dr. Tuesday Stanley, president of Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC), reflected on the lessons she has learned during WCCC’s transition from Colleague to Anthology. And Liz Murphy, CEO of CampusWorks, tied it all together, offering a meta perspective informed by supporting hundreds of the ERP implementations at institutions across higher ed.

In this article, you’ll hear each leader’s unique perspective and the lessons they learned from their respective ERP implementation projects.

A CTO’s perspective:

Lessons Learned from Ben Rapin, Associate Vice President for IT and Chief Technology Officer at Grand Valley State University (GVSU)

Project snapshot:

  • Campus setting: Allendale, MI
  • 7 campuses & regional centers
  • FTE: 21,648 students
  • ERP: Transitioning from Banner to Workday Finance and HR/Payroll in January 2024

An ERP implementation is not just an IT project.

“We knew we couldn’t go it alone. It was important to establish early on that this was not an IT project, but a huge campus initiative that would involve the work of teams across the University.
“In building a team to review how GVSU was going to move forward, we aimed to build consensus among all of our partners on campus, including people who weren’t necessarily sold on the decision, in order to have a fair mix and diverse mindsets represented so they could address all concerns throughout the process.”

Establish the ‘why’ to gain support.

“Establishing the ‘why’ and aligning it to the strategic plan and goals was foundational. GVSU was hampered by systems and a growing, complex ERP environment. Supporting and maintaining this environment was becoming increasingly challenging, and the user experience often required users to jump between several systems a day to do their work, which was not efficient. The decision to change systems was an investment in the future that would prepare us for better work. When talking about change, we led with the ‘why,’ and we also addressed the question ‘what’s in it for me?’”

Assess your readiness for change.

“Assessing our readiness for change was like taking our ‘why’ on tour. We went to different departments and shared all the research we had done. Seeking their input worked in our favor. When we went to do product demonstrations, we often found ourselves with 50-60 people who wanted to go through a demo and see what the alternatives looked like. That helped us get feedback for the next round of questions.”

Transparency is golden.

“We had to have some hard conversations. We knew it was going to be a rough couple of years and that there was going to be a lot of work involved. We wanted everyone to know it wasn’t going to be easy, but when we all got through it, we would be better off for it.”

Leadership support is essential.

“We knew that business processes would have to change, and additional staffing would be required. We knew that workloads would shift, and things would be fundamentally different than they were when we started. Accomplishing this required leadership support. Going into such a large initiative, we knew there were going to be things we couldn’t pursue at the same time, and we needed leadership support to help put those on hold.”

Engage a ‘change champion’ as early as possible.

“We hired a change management professional. If possible, hire that person (or, if you can’t hire them, identify that person) early in the process, so they can focus on change management from the outset and help you look for blind spots where change is going to impact people around campus. And then communicate very clearly. Be transparent from the early stages of the project, so that you’re not backtracking later.
“We created a change agent network. We invited champions from around campus to come be a part of this project with us, and then share news back to their teams. That has been very well received. We also hold a dedicated managers’ meeting on a regular basis where managers can come and learn how this change impacts them in their workflows. It’s also important to plan for training and support. It’s one thing to get to the end and launch, but it is only successful if you’re able to bring everybody along with you.”

A Project Management Office is essential.

R“We have a dedicated project manager. The first person we hired in this project was a change management specialist who could be involved at both the change level and at the decision-making level to have a voice in the changes and decisions that were being made and how they would impact others. We have a department and a sponsor team that also weighs in before a decision ever makes it up to the Steering Committee. Very few changes must go to the Steering Committee, barring things like budget or significant changes to workflows or timeline.”

Establish a realistic timeframe.

“Three months after deciding to go with Workday, we decided on an implementation partner. In hindsight, three months was not enough time to make this decision. We rushed ourselves, and it required a lot of work from the partners we were considering on the implementation side. If you spend too much time thinking about how to get to a decision on the platform, it’s easy to lose track of what that also means with regards to the greater timeline for implementation.”

Know your procurement process

“It’s easy to overlook some of the fine details of your procurement process. We were able to use a negotiated contract vehicle to speed up our process. That might be an option at your institution. If not, you may need to go through a much larger RFP process. Don’t wait too long to figure that out. Often, those processes are involved and require the work of other people on campus, including University Counsel and your procurement team. So, get them involved early.”

A CEO’s perspective:

Lessons Learned from Dr. Tuesday Stanley, President of Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC)

Project snapshot:

  • Campus setting: Youngwood, PA
  • 6 Campuses
  • FTE: 6,2000 students
  • ERP: Transitioning from Colleague to Anthology (HR/Payroll, Finance, and Student)

Involve the entire institution.

“In looking at why we wanted to implement a new ERP and why this was important, our strategic plan highlighted that we needed to empower our students and our employees to have the tools they need to be successful and to help themselves. We wanted to lift all the transactional items and automate them, and we found that we did not have a system that was set up to allow us to be successful and implement that. So, we invited the entire institution to participate in an assessment process with an outside vendor to look at our current processes in every single system and align us with best practice.”

Reimagine and redesign the future state.

“We documented what we needed to become (i.e., our “future state”) and started implementing those new processes even before we looked at a new ERP. And we didn’t lose sight of that throughout the project.”

Everyone owns the new system.

“Our old system was seen as primarily owned by IT, and users did not feel they owned the system or could use it fully. This time around, IT is still involved, but we have included some Cabinet members as well as co-leaders for every section. We even broke out Student into Registrar and Student Success, and we have co-leaders for each of those teams. In case we have turnover or people who are out of the office, we want to be able to transition and continue.”

Frequently remind yourself of your goals.

“Before we even selected the ERP, we established our common purpose and goals, wrote them down, and shared them. We continue to re-establish those goals, remind people why we decided to transition, and ensure we are we on target.”

Honesty to the point of pain.

“I need honesty from every person about what is happening, what we need, and what we’re doing. I tell people, ‘Honesty to the point of pain.’ Call yourself out in the room. It’s okay. I just need to know, because if we don’t know where we are, we can’t fix it, and we come together as a team to fix it. It is not just one person’s problem.”

Staff for success and meet regularly.

“We needed to hire a few people, so we got some outside help. We hired business analysts for each of the three major areas of the ERP (i.e., HR/Payroll, Finance, and Student). We also have a full-time project manager who is heavily involved with everyone on the team, including me. We meet and communicate regularly. We also have a half-time person who helped us with data. I meet with the inside team once a week with the co-leaders. I attend each of the various areas’ team meetings once a semester to hear from everybody on the team about what is happening. We have steering committee meetings once a week as well.”

Focus on training.

“We went live with Finance in March. Once people started using the system, there were a lot of questions about how to do things. We made a running list, and I brought the ERP training team in. For an entire week, we had everybody get on a computer, go through all those questions, and get fully trained. It was the best thing, and I’ll use that approach with the other areas as well.”

The ‘win’ is transformation.

“Many people think going live is the win, but the real win is achieving lasting transformation. I remind my team of that frequently — what we agreed on up front, all the things that we’re changing with our processes, all the empowerment we’re giving to our faculty staff and students — because we need to get it right. Unfortunately, we’ve had to delay go live with some of the systems because we only have one shot to get it right, and that is the most important thing.”

Tying It All Together

Reflections from Liz Murphy, CEO, CampusWorks

CampusWorks snapshot:

  • Founded in 1999
  • Robust portfolio of ERP implementation support services, including Needs Assessment, Process Reimagine & Redesign, Evaluation & Selection, Project Management, and Independent Verification & Validation
  • Supported hundreds of ERP implementations for colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada

An implementation’s greatest vulnerability is the people.

“EDUCAUSE’s survey data revealed that an implementation’s greatest vulnerability is not the technology but the people. And I would add that the people are also the greatest strength. As we heard from Ben and Dr. Stanley, engaging end users, providing them with clear communications and regular updates, promoting honesty and transparency, helping them connect to the ‘why,’ and training them on the new technology all go a long way in helping people see the bigger picture and feel valued, appreciated, and included — which empowers them to contribute to the project in a meaningful way.”

Investing in change management pays dividends.

“Concerns about organizational alignment, change management, managing individual expectations, backfilling key positions, and the like have been around for decades, but they were always secondary concerns. According to EDUCAUSE’s survey data, these concerns have moved to the forefront, causing those who are still considering an implementation to wonder if they are jumping the gun.

“Years ago, you wouldn’t have heard a chief technology officer talking a lot about change management. But Ben’s views and approach are representative of what we saw from survey respondents who were also CTOs or CIOs — that is, a real connection to an appreciation for change management as an essential part of the implementation process.

“In our experience, institutions that invest in change management early in the process and redesign processes before they start the implementation end up with better outcomes, in terms of timeline and budget, than those who don’t. What’s even more impactful is that those who go through those processes tend to have better adoption with the new software solution and really appreciate the return on investment (ROI) much sooner than others.”

Ignore project management at your peril.

“While Ben and Dr. Stanley spoke about the importance of project management, it was generally overlooked by survey respondents. From my experience, you need a superhero project manager. Somebody who can be the hub and the translator. Somebody who doesn’t just represent the needs of the institution and the perspective of the vendor but really takes the project charter and your desired outcomes and choreographs how that happens, not just with the schedule, but with the engagement of the team members.  

“At some point during the implementation you’re going to need an unbiased voice in the process. A strong, experienced project manager can play that role for you as well, and it and it’s a skill well worth investing in if you don’t have someone within the institution. I’ll also say from personal experience that it’s not a part time job. You need to double down and go with a full-time project manager.” 



Read EDUCAUSE’s latest research report on the state of ERP implementations in higher education: More Than ‘Going Live’: Transforming the Institution Through ERP Implementation »

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