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Banner system brings new possibilities to Concordia’s campus

In the fall of 2006, Bruce Vieweg came to Concordia’s campus as a consultant of the current operating system, Legacy. After that meeting, Vieweg made suggestions to the president’s cabinet; one of which was to purchase a new system.

“[Legacy] didn’t meet the information and service needs of the college,” Vieweg said. “After meeting with the president and reading the mission, I came back in April. After a whole lot of discussion, the college decided to use Banner. Lots of private schools in Minnesota use it as well.”

Web Specialist Alex Sze designed the Legacy system 10 or 12 years ago, so working on the new Banner system has been an interesting experience for him. Currently, he is a developer for Banner at Concordia.

“It’s a lot of work. I think once we get the thing implemented, it will be a great step forward for the college,” Sze said. “This falls into the category of something the college has to do.

Sze knows that this will be a big change, and that some faculty will be more open to it than others.

“It’s like anything else that’s new; they’re used to the old system even if it did involve shuffling paper a lot,” he said. “People need to become more comfortable with it. I think that it provides capabilities that we didn’t have before.”

Vieweg claims the school needed to make the change to a new system for several reasons.

“We had very limited online services at all,” he said. “We also didn’t have any opportunity to look at how we do our business. No one can afford to waste one penny in administrative areas in this day and age. You need to maximize every dollar spent in the classroom and out of the classroom.”

Vieweg said the bottom line of getting the new system is this: to improve the way in which the campus operates. The new system will take many services that were paper-based and put them online. One of the biggest changes many people are looking forward to involves registration.

“Registration will be online and students will not be standing in line in Lorentzsen Hall,” he said. “That’s a pretty substantial change.”

One thing Linda Brown really enjoys about the Banner system is the real time, up-to-date information.

“We used to get monthly updates, and you were always behind,” she said. “In this system, that’s online and everything gets posted as soon as the batch is run. It’s the access to information in a timelier manner that will be the real benefit to people all across campus.”

For students, having online access to their own accounts in real time will be a huge convenience factor. They have done a lot of examination of how things are done and what changes are being made.

“Sometimes changes are easier to accept, communicate, and live into than others, but ultimately we’re going to get there,” Brown said.

Marla Branden was hired as the Banner Project Manager, and for her, the experience has been positive.

“It’s a major change, and with change there are always challenges, but in the end it’ll be a good change,” Branden said. “Bruce never said it would be easy. It is not just a flip of the switch. It’s taken a lot of planning on each of the groups’ part.”

Currently, few resources are up and running besides Human Resources and Financial Aid. The student system goes live in March, and then students can look at their accounts online. For any staff or faculty on campus, there will be information about the jobs and direct deposit available online. In September, Vieweg is confident that a new addition of Banner Systems will inspire students to not panic about their majors.

“It’s called a ‘what if’ analysis,” Vieweg said. “This will allow students to see if, for example, they wanted to change from a music major to an education major. They could see how close they are to completing that degree or how many credits they still need.”

One thing that may be a little complex about Banner is waiting for the Legacy system to fall out in August 2009.

“The transition period is rather difficult because we have to maintain the Legacy system as well as the new system,” Sze said. “The old student system will be turned off in the end of August. It will be a little bit easier when they only have the new system.”

Another interesting thing about the new Banner Systems involves the different tabs. Every section of people gets their tab: faculty, work life, students, etc. If a person is involved in more than one of those areas (for example: a student who works on campus), all of the areas they are involved in will show up.

Director of Residence Life Jasi O’Connor believes this change will benefit more than just students.

“For the people who work here, it changes how they do their work,” she said.
“Things you might have done on paper before, you’ll be doing online. I anticipate as we get into the system, get more familiar with its full functionalities, things may change, but it’s hard to see those now.”

Another interesting aspect of the new system involves something not many people are aware of yet.

“There will be a new housing program that will allow students to pick their housing online,” O’Connor said. “This year students will go online and select a room, which is more convenient for students.”

Even though the Banner system involves one unified system, there is some room for adjustment.

“You can do some customization of it, like adding different channels or deleting certain channels,” she said. “It’s one place to go and get everything as opposed to go here to get this and there to get that.”

Vieweg couldn’t say enough about the group of over 100 people who have dedicated everything to the Banner system.

“People have worked incredibly hard to implement this system, and it has been heroic,” he said. “While these folks are building new systems, the college still has to run. This has been an enormous undertaking that we have done very quickly.”

Brown also appreciated the commitment that the core teams of over 100 people have done.

“Time commitment has been really consistent,” she said. “The people in the offices have picked up extra work to help. It’s been a huge undertaking and it still is.”

Brown thinks students will appreciate the ease of keeping up to date records of their accounts and having access to that information whenever they want. For staff, especially for budget managers, Brown believes they will appreciate having access to information in a timely manner.

“This is much timelier than we ever could be with the old paper system,” she said. “It involves the ability to retrieve information from the system which helps to make better decisions, and I think everyone will appreciate that ability.”

One aspect of the Banner System and how Concordia has chosen to us it really stood out to Branden.

“Not every institution chooses to go live with all modules like financial aid, student, etc., because you don’t have to purchase all of them,” she said. “The college made the decision to purchase all of them so they can all work together, making it a nice clean integrated end result.”

Another thing Sze really likes about Banner is the unification it will bring across campus.

“I like the fact that it’s fully unified and we have one central database,” Sze said. “It’s a full enterprise system. You can have some assumption that all of the pieces will be consistent.”

Sze appreciates the effort that Concordia is putting out to ensure a smooth outcome.

“I think it’s good that Concordia is making people aware of the project and giving them some background,” Sze said. “The technology support from the college was not quite where it should have been so it’s nice that they finally made the commitment to get a state of the art system.”

Vieweg thinks very highly of the Banner system, and he anticipates the students to be very excited about it as well.

“I think the students are going to be thrilled to finally have online access to all types of information,” he said. “It’s the way it should be. This holds enormous potential. Whether that potential is realized or not will remain to be seen.”

One small change will help make it easier to transfer and apply credits to and from different colleges, starting this fall. Banner supports credit counting rather than course counting, so classes which are one credit now will be four credits once this change is made. Another interesting aspect of the Banner system is called C-Port.

“This will be the doorway into the majority of the information Banner will hold,” Vieweg said. “It has unprecedented access to information, and it is a very secure system protected with firewalls and other kinds of protection.”

The one thing Brown is really looking forward to also involves the timeliness of receiving information.

“The best aspect of the new system is being able to get information in a timely manner of sufficient quality and depth so we make better decisions,” she said. “There used to be flexibility in writing reports but a lack of flexibility to construct reports, which was a time consuming process. Now it’s a relatively quick process.”

Vieweg had one last thing to say when discussing the importance of Banner here at Concordia.

“It’s really an essential, foundational piece for the college,” he said, “a solid info system that’s built on state of the art business processes and rules.”

The Concordia Language Villages will now also be integrated using the Banner System.

“The Language Villages for a great extent has been kept separate from the college in the past,” Sze said. “Banner will help the Language Village use the same data base and applications as the regular college. That’s going to be a huge project to add a something that’s been separate from the college for all these years.”

Although a lot of work is required, Concordia has done really well with the implementation process.

“We are moving through this implementation in a quick manner,” Brown said. “We are doing it 18 months beginning to end, from once we decided on banner to when it’ll be done. Most institutions are more like three years.”

Brown realizes that having unrealistic expectations is simple but should not be done.

“It’s naive to think it’ll be perfect,” Brown said. “There are some processes and practices and maybe even policies that have had to be changed or adapted as we have moved through this implementation.”

Some areas of the Banner system may be clumsier than people on Concordia’s campus are used to.

“There are lots of areas where it’s going to be great, and other places will be different. We’re working through those things too.”

In the end, Brown believes it all comes down to realizing the direction the college is going.

“We knew we needed to do it because of the shortcomings in our current system,” she said. “This year we certainly have also experienced the fragility of the old system, such as programming things that have just failed. We knew that this was coming, so we’re very grateful we decided to do it when we did.”

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