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Business Officer Magazine

Vantage Point

Spotlight on an institution in one of the constituent groups: small institutions, community colleges, comprehensive/doctoral institutions, or research universities

By Richard Wynn and Michael Casel

Small Institutions
Small College Opts for Open Source IT

At Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania, we have plans under way to implement the Kuali Financial System (KFS) by July 2012. As Jennifer Foutty, executive director, Kuali Foundation, notes in her article “Kuali System Surprises Skeptics” this will be the first time that a small liberal arts college has implemented the open source system. Created in 2004, Kuali has expanded to multiple modules, which are in use in nearly 70 colleges and universities.

After researching Kuali implementations at other institutions, Haverford's IT evaluation team reached consensus to recommend KFS as our new financial IT system. We believe Kuali offers us the most strategic option, combining the highest long-term cost savings with participation in a national community of institutional colleagues and users.

Replacement Required

For several decades Haverford College used an internally developed, steadily aging accounting system. For those nearly 30 years, we managed to stretch out the use of a home-grown Pick-based legacy system (CAMPUS) purchased in the 1980s. As routine processes became increasingly difficult, we set a priority to select a new general ledger system.

Beginning in September 2010, we assembled a selection team to make an extensive six-month assessment of five alternatives—Kuali and systems from four private software companies.

The selection team consisted of several IT staff, the vice president of finance, the associate vice president of finance, the controller, and the associate controller.

Measured Decisions

As we narrowed the list to three options by spring 2011, three Kuali users answered one of our key questions about the system: Would the community that supports open source software be as reliable as a commercial vendor? Cornell University leaders welcomed us for a visit to their Ithaca, New York, campus; and later we participated in an informative conference call with IT staff at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. Soon after, Colorado State University's director of business and financial services, Troy Fluharty, visited the Haverford campus for a daylong explanation and discussion of the ways CSU had implemented Kuali.

With these three experiences, we began to learn about the growing, supportive network of higher education users who are developing enhancements and freely sharing new applications with other institutions.

We then evaluated systems based on seven factors—strategic fit, risk, time to results, technical fit, implementation cost, cost of ownership, and vendor support—with the first two factors each weighted 20 percent and the others ranging from 5 to 15 percent. This allowed us to assess the total, all-in costs of ownership for the three finalists. Kuali received our highest rating on each measure except risk and implementation cost, and was a close second on those factors. With that, we eventually reached consensus to recommend the implementation of Kuali.

A Fast-Track Future

Kuali appeared to offer us the best combination of functionality, efficiency, and cost, while providing an open source structure with future flexibility for linking with other educational systems. By July 1, 2012, we plan to implement the first three modules—Financial Transactions/General Ledger; Purchasing/Accounts Payable; and Contracts and Grants. We'll immediately follow with the Budget Construction module, to be completed in time for our next budget cycle. We are aware that Kuali's reporting options are not yet especially robust and may need to be supplemented by a data warehouse; we are considering a system such as Jaspersoft reporting that is used by Colorado State.

We realize that our situation may have some key differences from those of other colleges or universities. For example, we faced a situation in which we had to find an alternative accounting system quickly, since ours was rapidly losing functionality. But as the first small liberal arts college to implement KFS, we hope our experience will enable us to assist similar institutions that will adopt Kuali in the future.

RICHARD WYNN is vice president, finance and administration and treasurer, and MICHAEL CASEL is associate vice president for finance and director of investments, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania.

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