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U aims to eliminate 90% of its finance customizations

The University’s scale and complexity has changed making it time to rethink how projects are handled.

On June 10, 2021, executive sponsors, project leads, project team members, and other individuals assigned to the One U PeopleSoft Finance Transformation Project met online for a kickoff meeting.

“We’re looking to you for your expertise, your creativity, and most of all, your teamwork,” Cathy Anderson, the university’s chief financial officer, said in prerecorded remarks. “The more [financial] data points we can provide and evaluate will inform the actions we take well into the future. The work you’re doing will have long-term strategic impact on the university.

The phased, multiyear effort has two primary objectives: redesign the University of Utah’s general ledger chart of accounts and optimize the U’s instance of PeopleSoft by reducing unnecessary customizations and leveraging functionality offered by PeopleSoft.

When PeopleSoft was originally implemented in 2000, the general ledger did not substantially change from the previous financial system.  The University’s scale and complexity has changed exponentially since then.  According to Deputy Chief Information Officer Ken Pink, more than 12,000 finance-related customizations have been made since the university implemented PeopleSoft in the 1990s.

“That’s a staggering number,” Pink said. “When you’re spending all your time keeping customizations running, it’s hard to be innovative.”

Pink said Oracle, the company that owns PeopleSoft, believes that the U can eliminate approximately 90 percent of its customizations through a combination of a thoughtful redesign of its chart of accounts and by taking advantage of functionality that PeopleSoft delivers.

Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Dan Reed said “customizations over time become like extra baggage you keep dragging behind you, because every time the base software changes, you have to retrofit to upgrade those.”

“We’ve made good use of the tool, but it’s time to move forward, add additional functionality, and maximize our investment,” Gary Carter, director of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and product manager for Finance & Auxiliary in UIT’s University Support Services, added in prerecorded comments.

For the duration of the project, there will be a moratorium on new PeopleSoft customization requests except in cases of legislative or regulatory mandate, or with the permission of project executive sponsors.

Theresa Ashman, associate vice president of Financial & Business Services, reiterated that the two-part initiative supports goals set forth by the university’s One U Strategy 2025 roadmap, specifically, its call to “leverage technology and communication platforms to better serve our communities.

“This project speaks to the U growing in certain areas in — enrollment, research awards, [and] endowments … and we don’t presently have the systems in place to scale effectively in support of those goals.”

In addition to comments by executive sponsors and project leads, attendees introduced themselves and talked about their roles in the project.

“We need you,” said Cynthia Best, vice dean of Finance and Administration in the School of Medicine and one of the Project Leads. “I think you’ve gotten a sense of the magnitude of the project. Just know that you were carefully chosen for the role.”

Ashman presented a “50,000-foot view” related to project governance; Pink discussed the project scope; Piotr Pawlikowski, senior IT project manager in UIT’s Project Management Office, went over the rough project plan and timelines; Karen Macon, controller for the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, outlined key activities by phase, noting that over the summer, a resource plan will be further developed and timelines will be refined; and Best described the roles of the two distinct but overlapping project teams.

UIT’s Cassandra Van Buren, associate director for Strategic Communication, encouraged the group to share documents only in approved collaboration spaces, and Pawlikowski summarized the tools to be used for internal communications — e.g., Microsoft Teams, Box, ServiceNow, and Jira — noting that training will be provided as needed. He also advised that a spreadsheet of “parking lot” issues will be maintained as well.  The parking lot will be used to keep track of issues and concerns raised by people across campus.

As for next steps, University Controller Steven Phillips, lead of the OneU G/L (chart of accounts) team, and Carter, lead of the PeopleSoft Finance Optimization team, have scheduled their initial team meetings the week of June 28.  More information on how people across campus can engage with this project will be provided in the coming weeks.

For more information about the initiative, please visit the project website, which will be updated as the project unfolds and milestones are achieved.