The University Record, September 10, 1996

M-Pathways, the `invisible project,' revealed to U community

[This is the first in a series of articles on the M-Pathways project that will appear in the Record.]


By Gretchen Weir
M-Pathways Project


Visitors to Michigan campuses this fall might conclude, as they admire the impressive new facilities, that the University's preparation for the 21st century is nearly complete.

Yet a major renovation is just beginning, according to Randy Harris, associate vice president for finance. "We are engaged in a massive project," Harris says, "that is not as obvious as new buildings but is just as important to the University's future." The invisible project he referred to is called M-Pathways, and it won't be invisible for long. "As we phase in parts of the M-Pathways system over the next three years," Harris notes, "everyone in the University, whether they are faculty, student or staff, will have easier access to information they need."

The M-Pathways Project, an outgrowth of the Strategic Data Plan (SDP) adopted by the University in March 1995, is dedicated to streamlining the University's administrative processes. Defining more efficient ways of doing work is only part of the project's purpose. It also will result in campuswide information systems that support new ways of doing business.

The scope of this endeavor reaches across the University's organizational boundaries. "Every part of the University will be affected," Harris says. "We've broken the project into subproject teams working on student information, human resources, physical resources, financial operations and research administration, but the need for cooperation across areas is essential. We need participation from every area of the University." Harris chairs the Process Management Lead Team (PMLT), a steering committee that heads the project.

Over the next three years, project teams made up of representatives from the schools and colleges, as well as central offices, will document how work currently is done and recommend improvements. A variety of methods will be used to elicit comments and suggestions from the University community about the kinds of information needed to carry out those tasks. Armed with the specific data requirements, the M-Pathways project teams will adapt a set of flexible business applications provided by a company called PeopleSoft. The result will be several integrated information systems that will capture and share information necessary to departments, schools, colleges, and the institution as a whole.

"This project is just as important to the academic side of the University as to the financial area," says Bob Holbrook, associate provost and member of the M-Pathways steering committee. "Researchers, students, and individual units will all benefit from sharing information and not having to enter data that has been already collected elsewhere. If schools, colleges and researchers take part in defining M-Pathways so that their particular needs are met, they won't have to keep up their own databases."

"Because of the breadth and complexity of what we're trying to do," says Marvin Parnes, assistant vice president for research and another member of the steering committee, "we will not be able to meet everyone's expectations in the beginning phases of the project. That is why it is so important for people to participate in discussions of this project and become knowledgeable about its scope." M-Pathways project teams are scheduling focus groups and presentations as well as putting together e-mail groups to establish a dialogue with the University community. The M-Pathways web site, which is still under construction at http://www.mpathways., will soon have a place for comments as well as a list of scheduled events. "It's not too late to be heard," Parnes says.

Upcoming articles in the The University Record will include information about pilot projects and projected schedules for implementation of M-Pathways modules. For additional information, contact Gretchen Weir at 647-6219 or

Just what is

The M-Pathways Project, formerly referred to as the PeopleSoft Project, is not just about implementing a new computer system.

Nevertheless, the choice of PeopleSoft last January was important. The University was grappling with how to provide information across campus in a more efficient way. Replacing old centralized information systems and modifying the separate but duplicative systems that had sprung up in various units was not the answer.

The University sought a solution that would meet the needs of both central administration and individual departments. The solution also had to be flexible enough to change as needs change.

PeopleSoft applications use client/server technology. Processing is distributed between the central computer (the server) and the user's workstation (client), which means that, while the databases reside centrally, individual users have the power on their own machines to enter and retrieve the information they want.

PeopleSoft also provides a package of programs that makes it easy to modify their basic applications. Although the University will not have to start from scratch in designing the kinds of programs it needs, it will be able to create systems that are easily customized.