U tech upgrade nearing deployment

The massive, $83.5 million systemwide upgrade is counting down until it’s finally operational beginning in February 2015.

by Parker Lemke

A sweeping overhaul of the University of Minnesota’s computer systems is running its final lap as testers sort through large chunks of code to filter out bugs.

Since 2012, the $83.5 million Enterprise Systems Upgrade Program has worked to revamp the underlying technology that connects University students, staff and faculty to services like financial aid, payroll, class registration, grade records and accounting.

By the time the update launches in February, the new system will have undergone an estimated 70,000 hours of testing to iron out any defects, ESUP project leaders said.

“We built the system. Now we are going through multiple rounds of testing,” said executive program director Dennis Wenzel.

Although initial testing began as early as October 2013, formal large-scale assessments only commenced late last spring, said Wenzel, who compared the review process to the act of building a house.

“[Starting out], the inspector looks at the foundation and makes sure all the bricks are in place,” he said. “Now we’re at the point where the house is all built and somebody is testing whether the lights will turn on.”

ESUP employs approximately 275 private contractors and business and technology staff from several University departments, said Tricia Conway, ESUP’s communications director.

Jeremy Irrthum, a University software developer currently working on the project, said the review process requires constant collaboration between developers and testers.

“If there’s a defect [that testers] identify, it falls back to the developers who have to fix it, repair it and get it in place so that they can continue testing,” Irrthum said.

Wenzel also said the process is done thoroughly in order to proactively weed out potential user issues.

“I always admire the people who are doing testing because it’s not a glamorous job,” Wenzel said. “They need to try to break the system before a student does.”

The testing ‘never really stops’

Until now, the University relied on assembling heavily customized versions of standard, but limited, business software to manage its data collection, Conway said. ESUP was born out of a recent need to change that.

“It wasn’t even really a desire, but a necessity,” Conway said. “The University was spending money every year to maintain a system that is becoming outdated.”

Now, an upgraded, feature-packed version of the University’s base software, which it contracts from a third party, will require less ad-hoc customization.

“The number of modifications we have to the system is a lot less than it was before the upgrade,” said Travis Stratton, a business analyst and ESUP tester.

The upgrade personalizes University web portals based on whether the user is a student, staff or faculty member. It also includes a single page that will integrate features from both myU and One Stop.

The new streamlined portal will deliver information more intelligently, Wenzel said, by providing wide-ranging access to accounting, courses, transcripts, paychecks and scholarships, among other data.

Although the upgrade will instantaneously introduce students to a heap of changes, Wenzel said he expects them to adjust quickly, much like they would to Facebook updates.

“In my experience, systems like this go live and people are accustomed to always doing something one way,” Wenzel said. “For every person who loves the new change, there are three people who say they don’t like it. Three months later, everybody gets used to it.”

A campus-wide marketing campaign is also in the works, which will rely on the use of social media to inform students what to expect with the upgrade as the year draws to a close, Conway said.

But even after the upgrade launches, it will continue to go through scheduled reviews and revisions, Stratton said.

“Testing changes after going live, but it never really stops,” Stratton said.