Profiles of individuals in roles that support the work of the chief business officer—and who represent the majority of the Business Officer reading audience
By Margo Vanover Porter
Tea Time for IT Director
After an action-packed day as the project and systems development director at the University of California–Davis, Radhika Prabhu follows a routine. "The first thing I do when I get home after a long day is have my pot of English tea," she says. "The whole family knows when mommy gets home, she's got to have her tea."
Her family includes two sons, six and eight, and husband, Varma Penmetsa, who is a research scientist at UC Davis.
Do you ever find it difficult that both you and your husband work for the same institution?
No, I find it to be a benefit. I'm on the administration side of the house. He's on the academic side. The benefit of working for the same institution is that I am able to consider the academic and teaching perspective when we bring in new systems and put processes in place.
What gives you the most satisfaction in your work?
The challenges. There's never been a better time from a project and systems development perspective to be in higher ed because of the focus on streamlining processes and putting more modern systems in place. For example, one project that we're working on is the replacement of our current payroll personnel system. It's a UC-wide collaboration that will replace our old payroll system with PeopleSoft. That by itself is a huge stride.
What skill do you find yourself using that you never thought you'd need?
People skills. I have a Java programming and systems implementation background, but to manage organizational change, I need more than technical skills. I need to be able to talk to the folks who will be using the system and understand their needs.
What's the biggest issue you see facing your profession right now?
Managing multiple initiatives and system changes at the same time that resources are dwindling.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is technology to financial management these days?
I would say 9.9. Right now, we are implementing job payroll, financial, and document management systems, and we are replacing our e-procurement system pretty soon. Because folks want to mine data, we are receiving more requests for better reporting out of the data set. People not only want transactional reporting, they want meaningful reports for financial forecasting.
Where should institutions be placing their technology dollars right now?
Better integration technologies. As technology has matured, more Web services allow interaction between different systems. When we put in new technology, we have to focus on allowing these technologies to talk to each other so we can pull data from different systems.
When you implemented the Kuali Financial System, you worked with campus focus groups to obtain feedback. Was there a common theme?
The biggest concern was just the change itself. After all, we were replacing the financial system. Users asked questions such as, "How much of the current business process will have to change?" and "What will be the learning curve?" UC Davis was fortunate in that our table structures and data remained the same. In addition, the system is Web-based, which departments really like.
What do you wish were different about your job?
The current budget climate. Our resources have been shrinking, which has caused constraints on our systems and implementations. It's a challenge to get the resources.
Has the structure of your department altered since you've been there?
Yes. Because of budget cuts, we're seeing more consolidation. At the same time, new units are forming. For example, now we have a project management office, which we didn't have when I first joined 10 years ago. We're evolving.
MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.