Successful, yet different, journeys to the Oracle Cloud in Higher Education

Increasingly we seem to hear, “it’s not a matter of IF - but a matter of WHEN” an organization will move to the cloud. Given the inevitability, it should be comforting to know there are many ways of successfully getting there.  The journey to the cloud is different for every institution - some jump into the transformation completely while others dip their toes — and that’s OK. The important thing to remember, regardless of the scope of your cloud transformation, is that it is an opportunity – an opportunity to shed legacy thinking, to unify and redesign process, and most of all, to expect new and better outcomes.

During a recent panel discussion at Alliance Virtual 2021, a conference for Higher Education User Group (HEUG) members, human resource information system (HRIS) professionals discussed their respective universities’ paths to the Oracle Cloud platform. Jeff Haynes, Baker Tilly director of enterprise solutions and services, moderated the discussion among Cindy Martin, Stanford University’s HRIS director, Tom Drazic, Creighton University’s HRIS director and Max Davis-Johnson, Boise State University’s chief information officer.


For Stanford’s Martin, a new talent management application was the impetus. The institution had three populations, one on a highly customized version of PeopleSoft ePerform, one on Taleo Talent Management, and another using a manual paper-based process. The irregularities caused by customization, the end of life of Taleo Talent Management and the inefficiencies of paper made for a less than optimal solution. The school had been using PeopleSoft for its core HR for years, and saw no need to change at the time. As Martin said, the system is “our finely tailored old suit,” fitted to the institution’s needs and still in good working order. Instead, Stanford focused on finding a new performance management system.

Stanford uses Oracle products on a number of fronts, so they were already familiar with Oracle systems.  Martin and her team looked at products by other vendors to see if there was other functionality they couldn’t live without that wasn’t in Oracle HCM Cloud. Next, they mapped out what they thought they needed and had a demo of HCM Cloud and realized it met most of their requirements. Choosing Oracle HCM Cloud for talent management meant that HRIS and IT would have to work closely with Baker Tilly to build an integration to the PeopleSoft core. Additionally, Stanford’s Talent Management team had to engage multiple stakeholders, develop a common model unifying disparate practices and gain initial acceptance for the change in both process and tool.   

For implementation, Stanford went with Baker Tilly, with whom it first engaged in 2015. She said they were looking for an implementation consultant that could help them understand the technology within the context of the business process, who understood what they wanted to accomplish and who would be collaborative and flexible. Martin said she appreciated that Baker Tilly took a creative and strategic approach with Stanford, to meet their unique needs, to help them change and to help them gain acceptance and adoption.  

Phased approach

When Drazic came on board at Creighton eight years ago, Creighton had realized how far behind their systems were. They were having trouble keeping up with software updates, and many of their process were paper-based - and then later manually entered into a system. He knew these processes weren’t sustainable for the long term. He and his team started looking at the cloud and for a system that would encompass all of the HR functions and payroll. Importantly, they also decided they would do this in two phases, starting with core HR and payroll, then working on talent management, talent acquisition and compensation in phase two. After getting the lay of the land of product offerings, his team jumped into the RFP process. 

Vendors submitted their responses and gave demonstrations of their systems, but in the end, Creighton chose Oracle, which was the institution’s on premise legacy vendor.

Creighton has a large number of schools, each with their own manual process and way of doing things, and Drazic knew one of their challenges would be getting all of those down to one process. To assist in the unification, Drazic said they brought in a faculty member from the business school who leads a negotiation and conflict resolution class to assist the change management process. When they started discussing how the system would be configured, Creighton quickly realized the benefits of having the faculty expertise and representation involved in the process. He said not only did it help him and his team think differently, but it also showed the university that his team was taking an all-encompassing view with diversity of thought, as they developed the system. It wasn’t just an edict from HR and it gave a sense of ownership to the whole university.

After selecting software, the next challenge for the team was looking for an implementation consultant for phase one. The university’s initial implementation consultant was good technically, however, they didn’t involve the team in strategic thinking or decision-making around configurations, and didn’t really assist them with understanding the depth of the system itself. He said that was a lesson learned. Now, he recommends to any prospect looking to go to the cloud that they take time to understand why and how things are being configured, that they consider every decision strategically and be prepared for change management.

As the institution moved into the second phase of their cloud transition, Creighton looked for a new implementation consultant and had received several positive recommendations for Baker Tilly. Baker Tilly’s approach and methodology focuses on collaboration and knowledge transfer – something they heavily sought. Baker Tilly’s consultants facilitated design sessions for his team, helping the team understand the system and downstream implications before they started making decisions - versus being told this is how we’re going to do it. Drazic’s team has learned that continuous improvement yields positive returns - even when a process seems like it’s the best it can be, there may be some unknown functionality that could drive value back to the University. Furthermore, his team was able to receive a level of knowledge transfer that allowed them to sustain themselves as quarterly updates came out because they understood why and how things were done, which has been invaluable to them.

All in on the cloud

Boise State’s move to the cloud started as it evaluated the growth and complexity of the University, and its aging PeopleSoft infrastructure. Davis-Johnson said Boise State needed a major upgrade to its financial system and understood Oracle was looking for early adopters of its cloud products. Once his team saw the finance system demonstrated, and understood the benefits on a single cloud platform in Financials and HCM, it didn’t take much convincing for the university to make the change. In fact, Boise State was the first public institution to go live on Oracle ERP Finance.

The transition made sense from both a functional and financial standpoint – improved functionality leading to efficiencies and effectiveness, but also total cost of ownership to make the switch. Davis-Johnson said the real return on investment is the continuous updates to the system the Oracle now provides – not just maintenance, but true innovation in functionality.

The university has now gone through two cloud implementations, adding HCM Cloud this year. Boise State engaged Baker Tilly for their HCM implementation. Davis-Johnson said one thing Boise State had to adjust to very early in the cloud model was that they couldn’t “customize” the system. To live in the cloud, you have to have somewhat of a consistent business process, which in higher education can be difficult due to the disparate practices and process across all of an institution’s colleges and departments. They needed to drive some uniformity into the system. Baker Tilly’s reputation for strong process redesign and change management, marked by their “harmonize” phase brought their disparate models/process together to form common models.

Additionally, Boise State recognized that sustaining themselves in Oracle Cloud would be critical to drive the ROI mentioned above. Boise State solved that problem by creating the Office of Continuing Improvement, which is part of the finance and administration team, not IT. This team is dedicated to supporting Oracle Cloud ERP and HCM. They are responsible for looking at all the updates that come on a quarterly basis, determining if they need to modify processes, engaging with the faculty and staff as needed.

Davis-Johnson said the cloud is now an integral part of the university’s strategy, and they are always looking for opportunities to move systems to the cloud, when appropriate. He said Boise State will continue down the path of looking to the cloud first when it makes sense, as that is now part of the university’s core philosophy.

Whether your organization is in the process of moving to the cloud or has not yet begun, Baker Tilly is here to begin a conversation and explore how your business can leverage a unified cloud platform to be the catalyst for change in your organization.

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