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Feature

U employees Karen Triplett and April Wood in a West Bank office overlooking downtown Minneapolis.

Karen Triplett, left, director of Purchasing Services, is one of 14 business process owners and a key decision maker involved in the EFS project. She works closely with April Wood, lead of the EFS Purchasing project team.

Building a financial system for a great university

Enterprise Financial System expands scope, focuses on processes

By Alice Pepin and Gayla Marty

Brief, February 22, 2006

Big changes are ahead for the way the University conducts business. Two years from now, the new Enterprise Financial System (EFS) will replace the 15-year-old CUFS system with PeopleSoft at U locations across the state, from the Southeast Research and Outreach Center to the Crookston campus.

"With the new financial system, we are stretching our imaginations, thinking out into the future," says project cosponsor Mike Volna, associate vice president and University controller. "If we're going to be among the best public research universities, we have to have systems, tools, and administrative infrastructure that will support more robust financial management and decision-making."

The EFS project supports the University's strategic positioning process at many points, including at least six of the 34 task forces, says Volna. For example, one of EFS's guiding principles is to install an out-of-the-box ("vanilla") system with minimal customization, focusing on changing and improving business processes where necessary. That connects with the Best Practices administrative task force through standardized business processes, simplified policies and procedures, automated processes, and increased accountability and oversight.

Six roles

The EFS project identifies six roles that employees play in the U's financial life:
* initiator
* preparer
* approver
* fiscal monitor
* principal investigator/project manager
* academic/administrative head

Nearly every employee is an initiator.

In mid-2005, the EFS project identified an opportunity to improve the University's overall financial system by adding grants, projects, and contracts (GPC) to its scope. While that will reset the implementation date of the new financial system to 2008, adding GPC now will eliminate rework later and save a lot of money in the long run. The University processes more than 3,200 awards a year that total $563 million.

GPC is part of a financial system that must accommodate a University budget, assets, and cash flow involving billions of dollars each year. Getting it right the first time is crucial. All finances connected to the University's general ledger will be affected by the new system. And EFS will interface with the separate PeopleSoft student and human resources systems.

Decisions made by the project in the next couple of months will impact the University for years to come. As in the earlier "trailblazing" phase of the project, employees from across the University continue to be active participants.

Analyze this: customize the software or change the process?

Fourteen business process owners (BPOs) are working with nine EFS project teams and about 100 subject-matter experts representing central and academic department perspectives. BPOs have important decision-making roles that will help the project determine when a process needs to be changed or when to make a software customization.

As part of the current "analyze phase," conference-room pilots will be used to evaluate how the PeopleSoft system supports University business processes. In each pilot session, PeopleSoft's "vanilla" software will be compared to business process requirements. Project members will look for gaps and create processes to use in functional design. Karen Triplett, director of University Purchasing Services, is working closely with the EFS Purchasing team as a business process owner. She says the outstanding functionality and flexibility of the Peoplesoft software offers exciting opportunities to streamline processes for users and to improve financial controls at the same time.

Building everybody's financial competencies

Preparing the people who will use a financial system is as important as developing a system that does what the U needs it to do.

"If you're going to implement a system that is more complex but has more possibilities and capabilities, then you need to make sure your workforce is adequately trained and knowledgeable and is at a high enough level to utilize it," says Volna. "Otherwise, what you've done is put in a very expensive system that people can't use."

Carolie Carlson, manager of EFS Change Management and Communications, is paying close attention to what employees need to build their financial competencies as well as confidence. The project has identified six roles that employees play in the U's financial life: initiator, preparer, approver, fiscal monitor, principal investigator/project manager, and academic/administrative head. Nearly every employee is an initiator.

One of Carlson's tasks is to identify strategies that will create enhanced financial competencies throughout the entire U workforce. That aspect of EFS connects to the strategic positioning process's People task force.

"Building employees' confidence in using the new financial system so they feel ready is as important as helping them learn how to use the system," says Carlson.

When the new system goes live in 2008, financial employees at all levels of expertise will experience improvements in terms of ease of use, access, and navigation. The U's financial system and entire workforce will be ready for the next level in creating a great university.

For more information

The "move-in" date for the new system may seem like a long way off, but the EFS project team will keep U employees informed and updated. Visit the Enterprise Financial System and e-mail questions to finsys@umn.edu.


Alice Pepin is the communications staff member for EFS.