Northwest Nazarene University Makes Smarter Decisions With Evisions Argos

If you have all this data, you have to mine it. You have to be able to make decisions from it.
– Eric Kellerer, Executive Director of IT, Northwest Nazarene University

Data Mining for Better Decision Making

The greatest value of a consolidated ERP system, according to Eric Kellerer, Executive Director of Information Technology at Northwest Nazarene University, is actively using that information to improve the organization. “It is so important. If you have all this data, you have to mine it. You have to be able to make decisions from it – daily decisions and strategic decisions,” he said.

Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) is a Christian liberal arts university located in Nampa, Idaho, and with satellite campuses in Boise, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls. NNU offers 45 undergraduate majors, 11 graduate programs and numerous continuing education credits. Its enrollment includes about 2,000 graduate and undergraduate students as well as between 8,000 and 9,000 continuing education students who take classes to maintain professional certifications in education, social work, counseling and other professions.

Ten years ago, NNU consolidated all of its campus databases into a single ERP system from Jenzabar. The new system provided a centralized view and “single version of the truth” for admissions/recruiting, registration, finance, alumni relations and donor relations. For reporting and data analysis, they used a business intelligence software package from Cognos. Recently they reached a point where the Cognos software needed to be upgraded to a new version. It was going to be an expensive and time-consuming conversion, so the university decided to step back and consider other options.

Switch to Evisions

It was at this point they discovered Evisions Argos, a web-based enterprise reporting solution, and Evisions FormFusion, a solution for document enhancement and delivery. “Evisions literally installed on our whole campus in a little over an hour. They told me it would be simple, and I didn’t believe it until I saw it. We have been slowly moving our reports over to that platform. It has gone really well,” said Kellerer.

The Argos report writing and data analysis software is specifically designed for institutions of higher education. Users access it over a secure web interface, so there is no need to install it on individual PCs. The software supports any number of database types and connections. Argos features include dashboards for graphically displaying information trends and summaries, automated report scheduling and delivery, and OLAP (online analytical processing) cubes for analyzing data in multiple (3+) dimensions to spot trends and relationships.

True Collaboration

After NNU installed the software, Evisions offered to send consultants to visit the campus and help Kellerer and his staff get up and running with the software. “My first response was, how much is that going to cost? These kinds of consultants don’t come cheap!” But Evisions partnered with NNU to make sure cost was not an issue. Three of their consultants spent a few days at the university creating reports and helping IT staff learn how to use the software.

I can think of only two companies in my twelve years as IT director that actually have acted like a partner, and Evisions is one of them.
– Eric Kellerer

After completing the reports, the consultants uploaded them to the Evisions Co-op User Community. This is a common repository for report sharing that all Evisions customers can access and utilize. “If I need to build a sophisticated report on alumni relations, before I go to all the trouble, I look and see if some other university has already built it. We all have permission to go to this Co-op, download it and use it as we wish,” said Kellerer.

“The whole idea of collaborating together is important in universities, but there aren’t many companies that make it easy to do. I can think of only two companies in my twelve years as IT director that actually have acted like a partner, and Evisions is one of them. I think their concept is, if they can make us successful, if they can get us excited about the product and using it as it should be used, then we are going to upload to this Co-op and all their customers are going to be happier.”

Keen Insight

NNU leverages other features of the Argos software. They use report scheduling and delivery to help keep budget officers on track while reducing work for the IT department. IT staff no longer have to periodically generate budget reports and mail them to the other departments, since Argos does this automatically each week.

Users can analyze data themselves with graphical interfaces and drag-and-drop data manipulation. Argos is able to create data packs, or subsets of the ERP database with all data relationships intact, for individual users. Therefore users can access information pertinent to their jobs, sort and filter data and run reports as they wish.

In particular, OLAP cubes have proven to be a power analytical tool for the university. “It allows you to view three-dimensional data from many different perspectives until you begin to see patterns that you can make better decisions from,” said Kellerer. For instance, NNU looked closely at donor demographics and the effectiveness of various types of fundraising events. They were able to discern which event types were most effective in each geographical area. Now they focus fundraising efforts on the events in which donors are most interested and those that yield the greatest return.

In another example, NNU analyzed five years worth of scholarship data to predict scholarship acceptance rates based on factors like the amount of money offered and academic major. “We know if we give someone eleven thousand dollars a semester, the likelihood of them coming to NNU is extremely high because it is a full-ride scholarship. On the other hand, if we give a person one thousand dollars, we can know that a certain percentage of people are not going to come. That allows us to offer a certain percent over what we have because we know who will come and who will not, at least by percentage. And then it allows to start helping people earlier and not waiting until the last minute when someone cancels,” he said.

Streamlined Processes

Argos and FormFusion have helped streamline other university processes as well. Printing transcripts used to be a time-consuming and fairly costly job because it required careful programming and the paper had to be pre-printed with watermarks and then run through again to print data for each student. With Argos in conjunction with FormFusion, they now use standard reports that deliver a more professional look and include watermarks in a single printing.

The software has simplified the process for keeping track of communication and correspondence with students. When sending out letters where a response is expected, a special code has to be entered into the ERP database. Argos allows users to run a query, print letters and update the database in a single keystroke.

More to Come

Remarkably NNU has implemented these improvements in only four months since installing Argos and FormFusion. It makes one wonder what they will be able to do over the next four years.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Northwest Nazarene University Streamlines Operations with Integrated ERP System from Jenzabar

We are just trying to become more and more efficient.
– Eric Kellerer, Executive Director of IT, Northwest Nazarene University

Drive for Efficiency

For Northwest Nazarene University, its integrated ERP system has been an important platform for driving greater efficiency and new capabilities into its organization. “We are just trying to become more and more efficient,” said Eric Kellerer, Executive Director of Information Technology at Northwest Nazarene University. “We have to be very careful that we are maximizing every single resource. Everybody’s time is very valuable. So we ask ourselves, how can we use systems like Jenzabar CX, in this case, to really streamline and automate? We are not trying to eliminate people’s jobs. We are trying to keep them from being overwhelmed by their jobs – by a pile of paper.”

Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) is a Christian liberal arts university located in Nampa, Idaho, and with satellite campuses in Boise, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls. NNU offers 45 undergraduate majors, 11 graduate programs and numerous continuing education credits. Its enrollment includes about 2,000 graduate and undergraduate students as well as between 8 and 9 thousand continuing education students who take classes to maintain professional certifications in education, social work, counseling and other professions.

From Disparate Databases to Integrated ERP System

Ten years ago, prior to the integrated ERP system, NNU had five major databases on campus: admissions/recruiting, registration, finance, alumni relations and donor relations. As students went through the process of applying to the university, taking classes, graduation and eventually working and donating, their information would end up in five different databases. Trying to keep the data current and synchronized across the databases proved to be virtually impossible.

“It is not uncommon for people to move – not to have the same address – from the time they were high school students to the time they begin donating. Well, trying to keep all of those addresses and phone numbers in synch was a nightmare. The alumni office would send out letters and find out a person had changed location, and they would change their address. But they did not have a good mechanism to tell the donor relations folks that that same person had moved. Or the registrar would find out that a person had asked for a transcript, and they wouldn’t tell the alumni or donor relations. It wasn’t because they were withholding information – it was just complicated,” said Kellerer.

The disparate databases also prevented the university from effectively analyzing and learning from the data in order to make better business decisions. It was too spread out. Recognizing it would not be able to grow and to meet the needs of students and other constituents with these homegrown databases, NNU decided to look for a more progressive IT system.

In 2000 NNU deployed Jenzabar CX, an integrated ERP (enterprise resource planning) system designed specifically for institutions of higher education. This new platform tied together all of its different databases. Now there is only one record per student or alumnus, not multiple, unsynchronized records like before.

It helps us to see if we are accomplishing the vision and the mission of the institution.
– Eric Kellerer

They chose Jenzabar CX because it was customizable to the university’s processes and procedures. The other competitive ERP systems would have required the university to conform its processes to the fixed capabilities of their software. Jenzabar CX, on the other hand, allowed for a business-centric approach. The university could control and decide on its own best practices and configure the software accordingly.

Furthermore, NNU belongs to a consortium of eight universities in the United States that are affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene. Three of them also use Jenzabar CX, which makes it easier to collaborate and share programmed businesses practices.

Today its integrated ERP system contains roughly 950 database tables that encompass 15,000 fields of information and span 10 years of university operations. “That is a lot. But because we have really good reporting systems and the ability to mine and look at that data, we can make some good business decisions from that data now. For instance, we can see the results of our recruiting efforts: We contacted this many students; this many students actually came; this many students graduated; and this is what they are doing now in their lives. Before, we were never able to do that kind of data mining and tracking. It is really quite significant for us. And it helps us to see if we are accomplishing the vision and the mission of the institution,” said Kellerer.

Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is how university describes its approach for systematically analyzing and streamlining its business processes in order to drive greater efficiency into the organization. It begins with selecting a process to analyze, such as an aspect of registration or alumni relations. They map out the process from beginning to end, including the inputs and outputs, the departments and people and systems involved, and how long it takes. Stakeholders and staff take a close look and brainstorm ways to speed up the process and make it more efficient and cost-effective. Kellerer continued, “In the end, we come back with an ideal approach and then look at the differences… We usually end up with five or six projects that will help to speed up that particular process. And we are doing that for seven or eight different processes on the campus at a time.”

“Some of the time we get together and say, ‘It is actually running pretty well.’ Sometimes we get together and say, ‘We really have a lot of work to do here.’ And if we’ll put a dime toward fixing this problem, we can save fifty cents. It does take a little effort to get you there, but once you are there, it pays off.”

Automate Contingency Deposits

In one example, they looked at the process for receiving contingency deposits which students send to secure a place at the university. When admissions received a deposit, an administrator went into the ERP system and entered a check mark for that student. Then he or she emailed two other departments to indicate the deposit was received. Each of those departments had to go into their portions of the ERP system and place a check mark to make reservations for things like classes and dormitories. It was redundant work, so they automated the software. Now when one department indicates a deposit was received, the other check marks are automatically placed.

Correcting a procedure like this might seem obvious, but they usually evolved for perfectly good reasons at the time, according to Kellerer. Sometimes it was prior to computers. As the university and its systems changed over time, the procedures became outdated. VSM is a means to identify and revise them.

Eliminate Paper for Continuing Education Classes

Another VSM project addresses the administration of continuing education classes. NNU handles 17,000 registrations for continuing education credits every year. Class attendees are professionals like teachers or social workers who need to stay current and maintain their certifications by taking a class or two during the summer. Many of the professors who teach continuing education are not full-time professors on campus. Rather, they are outside experts enlisted to teach special classes, and may only do one per year.

If we’ll put a dime toward fixing this problem, we can save fifty cents. It does take a little effort to get you there, but once you are there, it pays off.
– Eric Kellerer

These continuing education professors were not able to use NNU’s online system for class administration, and everything was done on paper through the mail. Class lists were sent by mail, and since the law requires professors to have a current class list, the university had to mail a revised list whenever there was an add or drop. Final grade sheets were also sent by mail. If a student disputed a grade, the university would have to send the professor another sheet to fill out and return. All of this consumed a significant amount of paper and postage and time.

Their solution was simply to add the continuing education professors to the system and enable them to perform these administrative tasks online. It was relatively easy to reprogram Jenzabar CX for this change. “Because the classes are already in the system. The students are already in the system. It just was that the professors weren’t in the system for these specialized classes,” he said. “This project is just finishing, but it will probably save in the neighborhood of 7 to 10 thousand pages mailed a year.”

Continuous Improvement into the Future

As the VSM initiative continues to improve operations, Kellerer feels positive about having deployed the integrated ERP system. “I think it has been wonderful. Not always easy. You don’t always make VSM and programming decisions easily. But that is what we’re about – trying to improve one bit at a time. And it was very important to have chosen Jenzabar early on. I think it has been a good decision for us,” he said.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.