The University of Utah is in the early stages of a multiyear project with two complementary and overlapping objectives: To redesign the general ledger chart of accounts (COA) and reduce finance customizations in the U’s instance of PeopleSoft.
“We want to design for the end goal, not where we were two years ago, not where we are today, but where we expect to be in the future,” Theresa Ashman, associate vice president of Financial & Business Services, said during a kickoff meeting on April 30, 2021.
The initiative, called the One U PeopleSoft Finance Transformation Project, supports the university’s One U Strategy 2025 roadmap, specifically the theme “consolidate, develop, and refresh technologies, and centralize data and analytics to better serve our constituents.”
The project website will be updated as the project unfolds and milestones are achieved.
“This is truly the definition of a One U project,” said Cathy Anderson, the university’s chief financial officer. “We’ve brought together a cross-section of very talented and capable people from across the university to make this happen.”
Chart of accounts redesign
Piotr Pawlikowski, senior IT project manager in UIT’s Project Management Office, said the current chart of accounts is the result of a “lift and shift”—moving an application or operation from one environment to another without redesigning the workflow—from the legacy system to PeopleSoft during the 2000 implementation. During this implementation, little was changed from the legacy system, and as a result, shadow systems were created over time.
Karen Macon, the controller for the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, indicated that designing a new, central COA that’s flexible and scalable will help the university process transactions more efficiently, improve management reporting, and provide a host of analytics for departments, colleges, schools, divisions, and business units, while still allowing for external financial reporting.
The COA subproject will also position the university to implement new enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. At its core, ERP ties together data from various business processes and integrates them into a single software system. In higher education, standard ERP applications include student and academic, financial aid, human resources, financial management, admission, and institutional advancement information
According to Ken Pink, deputy chief information officer, customizations made to PeopleSoft since the workforce management platform was implemented in the 1990s have been costly, labor-intensive, and time-consuming in terms of upgrades, patches, and general maintenance.
“Other changes, like reorganizing or adopting new ChartField accounts, are made more complex by the presence of customizations,” Pink said. Oracle, he added, estimates that the university can eliminate approximately 90% of PeopleSoft customizations through delivered functionality and “leveraging the investment we’ve already made.”
Oracle iteratively releases functionality and system updates for PeopleSoft. Although the university has stayed up to date on the technical side, Gary Carter, director of ERP and product manager for Finance & Auxiliary in UIT’s University Support Services, said not all new functionality has been adopted. During this subproject’s discovery phase, functionality improvements to existing applications will be identified and recommended, as needed.
The primary focus will be on PeopleSoft Finance functionality, with in-scope touchpoints that include payroll, payroll budgeting, and PeopleSoft HR (e.g., uBenefits and D-Jobs). Applications considered out of scope include Human Capital Management (HCM) and Student applications, and third-party systems such as Jaggaer, Concur, and Lawson.
Tentative timelines for each subproject, which Carter calls “an aggressive schedule,” are as follows:
- Chart of accounts redesign: February FY2021 to June FY2022
- PeopleSoft optimization: February FY2021 to December FY2023
“We’re cognizant of fact that finance-related work across campus doesn’t stop. That’s why the general ledger portion was planned to coincide with the financial year-end calendar to create as smooth a transition as possible,” Pawlikowski said.
Although the work of the One U PeopleSoft Finance Transformation will be operationalized as two projects, they will be governed and managed as a single activity.
Key groups in the unified governance structure are executive sponsors, an advisory committee, project leads, technical leads, two project teams, a project manager, and a communication lead.
Executive sponsors are responsible for the overall guidance of the project. Decisions will be escalated to this group when mutually agreeable decisions can’t be made at lower levels, the magnitude of a decision requires executive support, or a third-party system requires integration to or from PeopleSoft. Based on guidance from Dan Reed, the U’s senior vice president for Academic Affairs, that “the only way to get out of a hole is to stop digging,” customizations will be considered only when aligned with project objectives.
The advisory committee will meet monthly, receive regular project updates, and preview decisions to be escalated to project leads.
Project leads will act as liaisons among executive sponsors, the advisory committee, and project teams. Leads are responsible for the day-to-day guidance of teams and ensuring changes make sense in the context of the university’s IT architecture.
The project teams are:
- A chart of accounts team that will analyze and make recommendations for the redesign and future state of the COA, considering the needs of all operations across the university.
- A PeopleSoft Finance team that will analyze customizations and functionality, recommend changes, and evaluate opportunities to utilize native PeopleSoft functionality, and assess touchpoints with HR/Payroll and Student applications.
The project manager will handle all details of the project plan, prepare scorecards, and provide status updates — essentially “making sure we stay on track,” Ashman said.
The communication lead, UIT’s Cassandra Van Buren, associate director for Strategic Communication, is tasked with developing a communication plan with two main facets:
Internal communications that align with change management goals and focus on collaboration and transparency.
External communications include a project website and mass communication through such channels as @theU, U Health’s Pulse intranet, Researcher’s Corner, UIT’s Node 4 newsletter, and UIT public announcements.
“If we maintain good cross-communication, we’ll be successful at this,” said Steve Hess, the university’s chief information officer.
Charlton Park, chief financial officer and chief analytics officer for the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, said that he appreciates the dedication of everyone involved in the project.
“It’s going to take a great deal of commitment to get this done and make it a success. I know we’ll get there, and I thank you in advance for your efforts,” Park said.