February 17, 2011
Mary Wagner is Senior Director of Undergraduate Admissions for Columbia Campus. She also serves as the Admissions functional lead for OneCarolina.
The Admissions module of Banner is scheduled to go-live in August of this year. In this interview she answers a number of questions about implementing the new Banner system.
The OneCarolina Project will be implemented in four modules: Student Services, Financial Aid, Finance, and Human Resources. But over the past year the decision was made to separate Admissions out and implement it first. Why is that?
Mary Wagner: The Project Leadership made a conscious decision to have the Student Services Module implement first. It affects the largest population at the University - students! Admissions will be the first part of that module to go live, and that strategy makes sense for a number of reasons. More often than not, Admissions offices are the first point of contact students have with USC. It's where we begin building that relationship with the student. And we are optimistic about how Banner will facilitate all of the important relational activities that surround that process - establishing student ID numbers, gathering demographic data to populate the databases with initial information, and communicating with the student in a timely manner. Administratively, having Admissions go live will help us establish initial online links with other systems and institutions that communicate with the University.
What is the go-live date?
We are scheduled to go live with the new Admissions system on August 1st of this year. And as my calendar keeps telling me, that's not very far away!
So you will be actively using the new system to process student applications then?
At that point, we will be ready to begin processing applications for the Fall 2012 class. That may sound like a long way out, but we are going to be running the new system in tandem with the old one for a while to ensure reliability. While that seems like a lot of lead time before a student actually enrolls, admissions offices are accustomed to working at least one year ahead of the University's academic calendar because of the amount of information we must gather before all applications can be completely evaluated.
How will the new system help with that?
Well, to start with, implementing OneCarolina has required us to reexamine all of our working processes and figure out how things work using SunGard's Banner software. That whole process helped us to design workflows that we believe will be more efficient. We expect that this software will make administrative processes flow faster. So from our end, it's just much more efficient. And these processes are being rolled out over all the campuses of the University system. So we are talking about a major overhaul of how we do business, making it more standardized and interconnected.
So all of the campuses will be using the same Admissions system?
Yes. The new system will integrate the application process across campuses, so that no matter where a student applies - at the Law School or Medical School, the Graduate School, and all of our four and two year campuses - the process will be more uniform and multiple campuses will be able to work with each other more efficiently.
Will applicants see a difference, or just the staff?
New applicants may not be aware that the new interface is different from prior years, but we are excited that all campuses will enjoy the benefits of a web-based self-service system that gives a student access to application, registration, and financial information online. Students will be able to apply to more than one campus much more easily, track the process in real time, and accept or decline their offer online. Some of these features won't be available right away, but we will be implementing them in a phased process over the next 12 to 16 months. As you can imagine, there are a lot of bells and whistles to the system, and a lot of integration between them has to take place. The end goal is a comprehensive approach to serving prospective students.
You mentioned that business processes have been streamlined. How will the new system affect day-to-day operations in the offices?
There's going to be a huge learning curve as we all figure out how to use the new system. Once we get going, the new work processes will become more ingrained in our new operational culture. It will become the new way of doing business in Admissions. But another major change is improvement in reporting - something that is the life blood of University administration. Again, there is much work to be done to build these reports, but we expect that all campuses will develop their own expertise and use the improved reporting tools to tell them what they need to know about their applicants, when they need to know it. We are also implementing a document imaging system that all campuses can use. Many of our admissions offices are still using paper files to track and evaluate their applicants. With the new system, everyone gets to benefit from a centrally supported enterprise-wide digital imaging and storage system for documents. This will not only revolutionize how we store our application materials, it will make retrieving them much easier. For students, this means we expect to reduce the time and costs spent communicating with them about the status of their credentials - a process that is highly paper-driven, expensive, and time consuming on most of our campuses. Bonus for us and the student - all application materials will be in one secure shared database that we can search, access, and modify quickly as new information comes in.
You mean the things like school records, residency information, and so forth?
Yes. There's an enormous amount of information we need to collect during the admissions process, and we have to get them from multiple sources. Right now, if a student applies to more than one campus in the University system, that information gathering may occur at several locations at the same time - it's not easily coordinated. But with the new system, we will be building that information in a unified database - regardless of which campus is doing the input. In the near future the whole admission process is going to be easier to manage across the system. The long term picture is really good, too, not just for incoming students, but for everyone in the University community. The shared database makes a major difference in what we'll be able to do. Right now we all have to go to multiple places and use multiple logins to get information. It's spread out over several systems. OneCarolina will eventually integrate information systems and services across the campuses.
That's the vision of OneCarolina, right? Even though Admissions is going first, this will eventually branch out into other aspects of the University community.
On the whole, OneCarolina is transformational for the University. But to students and other external constituents, this Project demonstrates our commitment to reducing duplication and costs throughout the University. In the end, the system is going to be more efficient about facilitating the University experience for students from enrollment to graduation. And for faculty and staff it means better management of their work, employees, and research activities. All of this is going to take time to construct. It's a very large and complicated task that involves the effort of the entire University community. But with these first steps with the Admissions system, we are definitely on the right track to transforming the University at large.
What's the major difference going to be?
The new systems will be more compatible with what users expect from a modern university. Students will have access to information and services through a web portal that will be available at their convenience. A single logon will give them access to an array of services, and the ability to manage their academic and employment information online. From my perspective in Admissions, it makes our ability to reach out to and attract prospective students better. It means those students will have more control over seeing how the application and acceptance process is progressing, what they need to do, and where they stand.
So with go-live only months away, are Admissions staff getting training on the new system?
We are actively involved in training as we speak! Key people from admissions offices at the various campuses have already had navigation training, learning how the Banner system works, how to input applications, how to search records, and so forth. We've also started in-depth training on administrative features, such as developing communication plans, population selections, creation of rules for the system - all of which is targeted to the staff who will work directly with the system. We just completed our first "mock admissions" test during the last week of February. During the mock, we worked with the system by entering test data to see how well it performs, and to identify issues we didn't anticipate. What we learned from the test is all the stuff that needs to be fixed and tested before we run our Mock II test which is scheduled for the end of April. This next test will focus on integrating 3rd party applications and other databases that support the work of Admissions, and report creation. The front line administrative staff will be trained this summer before go-live.
Will students or faculty need to be trained?
At this point, it's primarily administrative staff that will be engaging the new system. But as we move forward, other modules will be going live in 2012 - financial aid, registration, and student accounts receivable are next in line. We expect students will be familiarized with their part of it during orientation or other sessions. But definitely faculty and staff will be trained on each part of the system as it goes online.
You've been working with the developers on OneCarolina for over a year now. Is there anything in the new system that really stands out for you?
I think the most immediate benefit that everyone will get from OneCarolina is the integrated web access. In the not-so-distant future, University students and employees will access our new system via a single logon in a web portal. For Admissions go-live, that level of functionality is not likely to be immediately available. But it is expected to arrive when the more comprehensive Student Services and Financial Aid modules roll out in 2012. We've got really talented designers and technical people at OneCarolina working on making this happen, getting the University's information systems into the 21st Century. But it's all going to start with Admissions!