$84 million systems upgrade quietly continues

The project won’t make any visible changes until December.

Kristoffer Tigue

The University of Minnesota’s massive systems upgrade is entering its final stages after more than a year of planning, but students, faculty and staff still won’t see changes until December.

The University began upgrading its Enterprise System, which controls all databases and transactions, in July 2012. The $83.5 million technology makeover is being developed and tested by project staff, and officials say they now know how they’ll implement the upgrade in the coming months.

Program director Dennis Wenzel compared the upgrade to designing a house.

“We know what is going into the house,” he said. “Now, the hardcore technology components of actually building the house are taking place.”

Wenzel said these new components will directly affect the University’s human resources, student and financial systems. This includes how payroll operations will work, how the University manages student data and even how professors file for vacation time.

College of Biological Sciences Dean Robert Elde said he gets a paper form every month to fill out his vacation record. Employees then log those paper records into the system manually, which Elde said is inefficient and time-consuming.

“Right now, we’re doing a lot of that tracking by paper,” he said. “We have a couple people who are devoted to just logging time and vacation.”

Elde said the upgrade will also help reduce maintenance in many areas, such as managing the benefit rates for University employees and students.

Different employee job codes have different rates that cover health insurance, Elde said. If employees have two different jobs, such as being a teaching assistant and a community advisor, they could have differing rates.

Altogether, the old system had 87 different rates, Elde said. The upgrade will reduce that number to six, which will make the jobs of human resources staff who have to manage and track those rates much easier, he said.

At the Carlson School of Management, Chief Financial Officer Michelle Wills said the upgrade’s new Portal sign-in system, which will replace myU, is going to be a major benefit for students at both Carlson and the rest of the University.

It will allow students to go to one place for classes, financial aid and grades. Staff will be able to fill out time cards electronically, and faculty can manage grades and vacation time there.

In the current system, when faculty members need to enter data or access records, they may have to enter their X.500 ID along with a randomly generated assigned number and even another PIN, Wills said.

“But with the upgrade and the new Portal, once you log in … they will just know what systems you have access to, and you won’t have to be reauthenticated for the different parts of the system that you want to go into,” she said.

Wills said the system will allow users to stay logged in longer, too, preventing the frequent login prompts that occur now.

Elde, who chairs the Executive Oversight Committee for the upgrade, said it’s on schedule and on budget.

In an email, Wenzel wrote that the final “Deploy and Optimize” phase will start this summer, but the official launch date for the system is still undetermined.

Elde said when the upgrade finally goes live, students and employees won’t notice many improvements because most changes are just improved system processes.

“There are a lot of great improvements, but it’s mostly in the weeds, behind the curtains,” he said.