The University Record, October 7, 1998
By Jane R. Elgass
It may be a tired cliché, but the fact that change is difficult is being witnessed daily in offices all across campus.
The long-awaited transition to M-Pathways, which ultimately will give us administrative systems that really serve our needs, is causing "teething pains," according to Provost Nancy Cantor, who asked faculty last week to "bear with us" as the University experiences the inevitable disruptions in a variety of procedures as the transition is made. There are lights at the end of the tunnel.
In an e-mail memo, Cantor noted that tremendous pressure is being put on administrative staff, who have had to learn how to operate new and cumbersome software, master new jargon and find the data they need in unfamiliar forms and places.
"It is the nature of the way that we do things that most of the concrete consequences of these disruptions, such as late statements of account that are difficult to decode and delays in reimbursements, will be communicated to you by support staff."
The provost asked those experiencing emotions ranging from annoyance to frustration over routine tasks that have suddenly become difficult to "resist the temptation to blame the bad news on the messenger."
"The changes that we are beginning to implement are large ones," Cantor said, "and mastery of the new system will take time, effort and practice. If it is of any comfort, we are not alone. Cornell, Berkeley, Northwestern and many others are implementing essentially the same suite of systems that we are, and are experiencing similar teething pains."
The largest systems being replaced by M-Pathways are financial (purchasing, travel reimbursement, financial operations, etc.), student administration (recruiting, admissions, registrar, financial aid, etc.) and human resources (pay, benefits, etc.).
The new financial system was implemented July 1, and "has been accompanied by substantial transition problems." Admissions went "live" Oct. 5, with the rest of student administration expected to be in place in early 2000. The human resources system will follow that.
"We are learning from the process, however," Cantor noted, "and the 'rollouts' of successive parts of the new systems should be easier in no small part because the process and methods will be more familiar."
Some may ask "Why change?" if the process is so difficult and the old systems seemed to work just fine.
"The answer," Cantor said, "is that the old systems did not really work so well." For example, they did not keep track of financial information in a timely manner and could not easily provide data showing students enrolled in joint programs. "They were idiosyncratic by school and function," Cantor noted, "often requiring that people needing information from other units find just the right person at just the right time."
The old systems were "as easy to use as they could be" and were familiar, but not very powerful.
"The new systems will have much richer and more flexible data structures," Cantor explained, "allowing far greater coordination across campus and much more flexible and powerful use of data in support of our day-to-day operations at every level."
One of the lights at the end of the tunnel? The paper TAD will have disappeared.
"Without minimizing the considerable disruption that the transitions are causing and will cause anew," Cantor said, "I am convinced that in the long run we will be better off for having modernized our administrative systems. Please join me in providing our staff with the patience and support that they will need in the months ahead."
Individuals who are experiencing problems with the new systems as well as those who simply want to know more about them should contact their unit liaison. The Office of the Provost has provided funding for at least one M-Pathways liaison in every school and college, generally a senior administrator in the Dean's Office. They are listed on the Web at www.mpathways.umich.edu/helpdesk/liaisonlist.html. A more extensive set of resources about the M-Pathways project is at www.mpathways.umich.edu.