U moves ahead with technology

by Jessica Steeno

Administrators discussed plans at Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting to spend $195 million on technology-related initiatives over the next four years.
Replacing the administrative computer system and installing a new computer network system are at the top of the technology agenda. The projects will be funded partially by the state and partially through internal fund raising.
“This is about more than software,” said Assistant Vice President for Information Technology Operations Steve Cawley. “This is about redesigning administration systems.”
Administrators have contracted with PeopleSoft software to update the student administrative systems, the human resources and payroll systems, and the finance systems. The installation of the software will cost more than $4 million.
“The most obvious element is the cost of the software itself,” Cawley said. “But the biggest single element is people cost.” Cawley said some staff members will have to be extensively trained on the software so they can teach others how to use it. That means that besides simple training fees, many hours of staff time will be lost as the system is put in place.
The student administration software incorporates admissions, financial aid, student records, academic advising, and campus community components into one system.
“PeopleSoft will provide us with better and more timely information,” Cawley said. “It will also provide us with the tools necessary to re-engineer administrative processes like registration, advising and admissions.”
The implementation of Internet II, which Cawley described as “the next generation of the Internet,” will also be included in the new technology changes. The new system will be partially funded by a $350,000 National Science Foundation grant. Cawley and several regents praised the program because the University will be one of four schools to test it.
“I hope people understand how important this is to the state of Minnesota and generations to come,” Regent Warren Larson said. “It’s really about economic development.”
Internet II and the other technological improvements will also require replacing the existing telecommunication system. The current phone system was installed in 1986 and is outdated, Cawley said. Administrators plan to increase modem access, as well. Internet II will require more phone lines, which will be installed with the telecommunications changes.
Although most of the administrators at the meeting praised the technology initiative, Board of Regents Chairman Tom Reagan said he doesn’t want the University to purchase software that won’t fit its needs.
“We have to be careful because today’s state of the art is tomorrow’s obsolete,” he said. “We need to fit our program to our needs.”