The University Record, April 5, 1999

Lack of benefits so far makes M-Pathways transition tough

By Gretchen Weir
M-Pathways Project
Peg White (right) and Shelly Feldkamp look at an online purchase order using M-Pathways software. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services

It has been one full year since M-Pathways Student Recruiting went into operation, nine months since M-Pathways Financials replaced 25-year-old accounting systems and six months since the University's admitting offices began using new admissions software. The Space Management system is being used by units across campus for the second year to complete an annual space survey online. How is the campus doing with all this change?

"One of the most difficult aspects," says Laura Patterson, M-Pathways project manager, "is that we haven't seen major benefits yet." The Strategic Data Plan, the impetus for the project, argued that the University could not continue to compete for the best students, faculty and research projects unless it could rely on a common set of information for doing business. "M-Pathways is putting that data infrastructure in place," Patterson says. In the next few years, she predicts, the University will be able to offer service and information that never would have been possible in the old world of separate and redundant systems.

"We've only begun putting pieces in place," Patterson says, "but both users and the project team are getting better at making the system work." The benefits of a shared information system will multiply, she says, when the Student Administration and Human Resources Management Systems are added in the next two years.

In the meantime, users across campus are using M-Pathways in these ways:

  • Online Procurement. Learning to make purchases online has been difficult because of PeopleSoft's numerous screens. Staff and researchers who before July 1 relied on Purchasing Services to order for them find it particularly difficult to remember how to use the system because they use it infrequently. U-M Hospitals and other units solved this problem by assigning individuals to do online ordering for a number of departments. Nancy Clark of the Health System Attorney's Office suggests another good solution: "I use my P-Card as much as possible."
    Peg White (right) and Shelly Feldkamp look at an online purchase order using M-Pathways software. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services

    The Department of Biology has made purchasing easy for its 30 research labs by constructing a Web order form to capture purchasing information. The three central purchasers then use either P-Cards or online POs to place approximately 35 orders per day. "We've made it work," says Sheila Dunn, even though the edit and budget checking process at the end of each order takes longer than she would like. This editing process guarantees that there is a budget for the purchase and that the user is authorized to purchase against that budget.

    Other staff members who frequently order online have gotten more comfortable with the system. Shelly Feldkamp, from the Department of Ophthalmology, finds that online non-POs and contract POs are working well in her area. "My biggest problem is helping vendors get paid for POs that were issued before M-Pathways." Tracy Justice of Health System Planning and Marketing reports she finds online ordering easy. "I even got a travel reimbursement deposited in my account within five days last week," she says.

    This quick turnaround reflects recent improvements Accounts Payable has made in processing travel and hosting reimbursements. Current processing times are close to the goal of providing reimbursement within three weeks. Direct deposit reimbursements are occurring faster. Individual travel and hosting non-PO vouchers can get held up, however, if supporting documentation or the vendor code is missing.

    Payments to outside vendors, however, are taking longer than Accounts Payable would like.

    "Current turnaround for invoices is half of what it was in January and February," says Marty Parsons, manager of Accounts Payable, "but there are system and process problems to iron out. The goal is to pay invoices within 30 days unless early payment results in a discount."

    Phil Abruzzi, director of Purchasing and Stores, says that the University is working to repair damage that has been done to the University's relationships with vendors. "We appreciate that many vendors have been willing to continue to support the University's work in spite of late payments," Abruzzi says. "We know it has been difficult for them." The M-Pathways Help Desk (936-7000), which fields as many as 75 calls per day from vendors, is helping keep vendors informed about reasons for delays.

  • Financials Reports. Another area of concern has been late monthly reports. The project is taking steps to reduce the time it takes to "close the books" each month so that reports can be produced sooner. Reports are now being mailed by the third week of the month.

    "What has been difficult with M-Pathways Financials is getting better," says Gail Gentes, administrative manager in the Division of Kinesiology. "Now that we are getting monthly statements sooner, and they are more complete, we can see that M-Pathways offers much greater detail than the legacy system."

    Peg White, research grants accountant in Ophthalmology, agrees, although she complains that M-Pathways reports can be hard to read. Many administrators especially like the new voucher detail reports because they supply the detailed information needed to be sure charges are billed correctly. They also like being able to get ad hoc reports from the data warehouse.

    "It has been very hard to get used to the new system," Gentes admits. ChartFields, the set of values that must be assigned to every financial transaction, were particularly difficult. "Now that I see their ability to group and ungroup financial activity," she says, "I wouldn't want to go back [to six-digit legacy codes]."

    Linda Mills, administrative manager for both the School of Art and Design and the College of Architecture and Urban Planning, says the best thing about the new accounting system is the control it gives schools and colleges over their General Fund (tuition and state appropriations) monies. "We can do General Fund transfers ourselves," she says. She also appreciates the M-Pathways data warehouse, which is updated weekly, offering more current information than was available in the legacy system. "But it will take time," she predicts, "to resolve the angst caused by not having timely and complete reports."

    Laura Strozeski, senior admissions counselor, School of Music, says, "M-Pathways Recruiting and Admissions is very much what we hoped it would be. It is simply great to have an integrated, up-to-date database of applicants, their credentials and their application status at all times." The School of Music has found Business Objects, the tool used to query the database, and ImageNow, the optical scanning system that allows School of Music staff to see applications online, easy to use and helpful. "Because of M-Pathways, this year's applicants are receiving notification within a week of when the School of Music makes an admissions decision," Strozeski says. "This is an enormous improvement in service to our prospective students over the old system."

    The Office of Undergraduate Admissions is similarly pleased with M-Pathways, according to Lorraine Lamey, assistant director. M-Pathways has helped her office get the best of both worlds. "The software allows us to individually review tens of thousands of applications and yet takes advantage of the economy of scale when it is time to generate mailings after the decisions have been made."

  • What's Coming. "None of the systems is complete," Patterson notes. "We learn from our mistakes before moving ahead."

    Central offices will begin using Asset Management to track capital assets in June. Also this summer, the Hospitals' Materiel Services, which supplies medical and surgical supplies, will begin using PeopleSoft Inventory software, and the Office of the Registrar will begin using PeopleSoft to capture curriculum and degree requirements information.