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Nov. 3, 2005 • Volume 14 Number 5

University Readies Overhaul of Information Systems

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

Boston College has announced plans for a major multi-phase replacement of key student information systems that will affect every area of the University over the course of the next decade.

Known as the University Core Systems, these applications are central to admissions, advising, dining, records and registration and housing and other operations, and involve such services as Agora, financial aid and student development systems, and the employee and student identification systems.

"The project is unique in the magnitude and breadth of services and information that it will support," said Executive Vice President Patrick Keating. "The new core systems will be designed to serve students and faculty in a variety of ways from registering for a class to awarding course grades. We also expect that the information in the system regarding students will be greatly improved and much more timely."

Planning for this project has been underway for months, but users will see only gradual changes for the next two years. Administrators expect the project to take between six and eight years to reach full completion.

When finished, users will have a state-of-the-art, robust, secure, integrated, user-friendly and stable interface with the University. Administrators will have more information and increased processing capacity to help better manage many student-related operations.

The University Core Systems Task Force will develop recommendations for an overall approach and for establishing priorities in replacing BC's current systems. Administrators from across Boston College are currently in discussion about how to best approach many of the opportunities - and challenges - that lie ahead.

"Right now we are developing an approach to replacing these systems in a way that's minimally disruptive but allows for maximum flexibility," said Associate Academic Vice President Rita Owens, who co-chairs the UCS Task Force with Information Technology Services Associate Vice President for Applications and Systems Services Michael Bourque.

Administrators say the project is necessary because some systems currently in use are 30 years old and not capable of some functions that modern software can easily handle.

"Most universities replaced their core systems during that time. So we are way behind," said Vice President for Information Technology Marian Moore. "Of course, many universities went through very costly conversions to newer software but it really hasn't been until very recently that new, modern architectural approaches have been taken to these systems. So we stand to benefit greatly from procrastinating."

Currently, there are four classes of major applications operating at Boston College: enterprise resource applications (financial, human resources, facilities management, advancement); infrastructure applications (e-mail, Web services, calendar); academic software; and student information systems.

The task force will approach the new systems implementation by assessing similar initiatives in higher education and trends in the marketplace.

"There are about 20 major universities that are looking at upgrading their core systems, so we are not alone," said Moore. "This is very good for us because we plan to share information with these schools, which will certainly be valuable as we make strategic decisions on software directions."

Owens said the UCS project is one of the most ambitious projects Boston College has ever attempted, comparing it with the University's adoption of the application PeopleSoft to help manage human resources and financial matters.

"This is much wider, and much more complex than a single application," she said. "There is no single software package that provides all of this functionality."

Keating said BC administrators, in preparing for the core systems overhaul, chose to make improvements in other areas first so as to gain experience in such projects and to give the software alternatives time to develop.

"We have recently completed major upgrades to human resource, financial and fundraising systems. We are now ready to tackle the remaining systems over a multi-year period," he said.

"It is incredibly important that this work be done in close cooperation between the academic, student and information technology professionals," said Keating.

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