Planning, Procurement and Project Management helps standardization process
In an effort to create a smoother, more efficient and ultimately cost effective experience for all stakeholders, North Dakota University System has put in place numerous projects in the past year to ensure the most standardized system possible. With many projects falling into the realm of Core Technology Services, project managers needed to be brought in to hold oversight over broad and sometimes overlapping initiatives.
In came Dirk Huggett, the associate director of P3/M, who’s been doing project management since ’99. Huggett first worked with the state of North Dakota providing large project oversight and performing special projects. That experience made him the right choice to oversee projects at CTS.
According to him, in the last year there were eight major strategic projects to accomplish, with five completed so far. More tasks remain on the operational outlook.
“There were 21 large projects that were tactical or operational in nature and many of these consisted of multiple sub-projects,” Huggett said. “We completed nine of the projects while others have part of the sub-projects completed. In many cases, enterprise system installation of projects requires us to implement the system first and then sub-projects may consist of onboarding each institution.”
Other shorter-term projects were also underway, everything from installation of updates to modifications and patches that happen regularly throughout the year. With different projects come different missions and scopes. All eight strategic projects held system-wide implications, as did 19 of the operational projects. The remaining two of those were specific to the University of North Dakota.
Depending on the project, teams can range from a few to all-hands-on-deck. “The ImageNow migration team is three CTS staff, one consultant with some additional support staff, and 2-3 campus staff,” Huggett said. “The consolidation project will need hundreds of staff across CTS and all campuses.”
The three looming major tasks to complete will address functional consolidation, data inconsistencies and predictive analytics reporting.
According to Huggett, the first was a standardization of sorts required by the legislature. Within the next two years, CTS will analyze its systems to determine which will be migrated to the NDUS/CTS data center and which will stay on individual campuses. Huggett says the project was underway with Williston State College.
The second project, which deals with data inconsistencies, was also legislatively mandated, requiring all campuses to utilize a consistent policy for certain data elements, he said. That process involves about one year for planning and policy changes and one year to implement technical changes.
The last project has begun to move forward with a signed contract with Predictive Analytic Reporting Framework, which will aim to provide insight pertaining to student success.. The framework has been in place for more than a year at UND, and PAR will provide the System’s institutions with “the ability to analyze existing de-identified student record data using descriptive, inferential, and predictive analyses to create benchmarks, institutional predictive models and to connect student success interventions to predictor behaviors.” Huggett added that the information we collect from this type of analysis will help drive informed institutional decisions and direction to better serve our students.
Each of those major strategic projects can help fit the State Board of Higher Education’s long-term vision of standardization. Some efforts to standardize things are well underway, with centralized systems for finance, human resources and some student services in place. Other efforts, like centralized or standardized IT solutions, made a lot of sense for a state with a large geographical area and small population.
“Centralized and/or standard IT systems is the only way we can afford to ensure all of our campuses are competitive,” Huggett said. “One important factor for our students is the ability to take courses from other campuses, no matter what campus they are based out of. It is important to try and give those collaborative students as seamless of an experience as much as possible.”
Further consolidation for some IT systems, as mandated by the legislature, will increase that standardization. With such a large scope of projects to pursue, details could vary wildly throughout each process of standardization. One example Huggett provided was in the current roll-out of the time and labor module for the PeopleSoft system.
“CTS has a team of business and program analysts working with members of the campus user groups,” he said. “Our steering committee includes a member of a research institution, a four-year campus and a two-year campus. These individuals will determine what business process are going to be adopted by the institutions to promote data consistency and reporting accuracy as these modules are rolled out.
“We plan to use a similar structure for the data inconsistencies project,” he continued. “We already have a great user group base to build upon. I believe we will ultimately see some form of Enterprise Architecture process to help coordinate standardizations. This is going to be an on-going process. Since a new IT product will fit someone’s business need, we will want a process where we can look at that product and see if the need is unique or if other campuses have a similar need. If the need is applicable across multiple campuses, we need to be able to quickly pull a team of subject matter experts together to identify the right product that will fit everyone’s needs.”
He added that standardization would ultimately provide consistency to all students throughout the system, in a cost-effective manner.
To put all that in place requires a standardized tool, or set of tools. For all CTS employees, that is the Work Management System, a tool used to coordinate all work throughout the organization. According to Huggett, it contains a project management module for teams to manage project tasks on both enterprise and operational projects and, a “ticket” system to manage break/fix issues and work requests.
“These are tied together with a resource management module to assign staff to the tasks,” he said. “The system also allows us to track time for projects and tasks. This will provide CTS with data to determine where we have resource constraints, manage the project portfolio, and provide better data on the true cost of each of our systems and projects.
“Our ultimate goal is to improve our service to campuses and the students,” he concluded. “We also want to provide clear justification for the cost of our services. An additional goal is to, over time, get a more accurate determination of the time it takes to implement projects of a similar nature and to position projects in the portfolio based on available resources to complete a project.
A side benefit is knowing that when a high priority project needs to be fit into the portfolio, what impacts that will have on projects either already in progress or planned to be implemented during the new project’s anticipated timeframe.”