Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Big Year Begins

It is going to be a big year in Cambridge... At least in the realm of student information systems. 

At the risk of jinxing myself (and my team) we are less than nine months away from transforming the way students at my institution select and enroll in classes, engage with academic advisors and self-service advising tools, and otherwise manage their academic records. If all goes according to plan, we will be marking off a series of exciting milestones, almost month by month.

Next up is a smaller "back-office" release in late January, followed by a large back-office release in March. In parallel we will begin usability testing of the new course catalog search mechanism, student self-service, advising self-service, and faculty self-service. Those major end user components will be phased in during the summer ahead of next academic year. 

Here's to an awesome (though not "Banner" -- ha ha -- SIS humor) year ahead!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 in Review (Personal)

Once again, I set a few targets for 2014 in the broad categories of Reading, Writing, Running, and Cooking. If one measures one's life in new recipes cooked, books read, and miles run, then I really had a banner year in 2014... So here I'll use my blog to pat myself on the back.

Two years ago my wife and I resolved to read more... Not that we weren't already doing a fine job relative to many other new parents who abandon the practice entirely (or those folks who never read in the first place), but we wanted to affirm a dedication to something we both love. This year I set a target of 10 work-related books and 25 regular books. If there is one misstep, it's that I only read two work-related books -- both were outstanding: The Lean Start-Up and Don't Make Me Think. But I absolutely killed it on the pleasure-reading front, reading a total of 74 novels or non-IT non-fiction works. The number staggers me... Granted, there are a lot of quick hits in the roster -- breezy books such as the outstanding Lew Archer series of mysteries by Ross MacDonald, dark thrillers by Jim Thompson, and a handful of Georges Simenon stories. But I also tackled Hilary Mantel (the remarkable Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) and Henry James (The Ambassadors). Without a doubt, this was my most prolific year as a reader -- even now I sit surrounded by novels that I've started and hope to finish in the first month of the year -- a Jim Butcher Dresden Files novel, Tolstoy's War and Peace, and an 1800's gallows confessional for my next graduate literature class! (As if I weren't busy enough already, I pursued a graduate-level literature class this fall and will take another one in the spring semester at Harvard Extension.) My renewed goal for 2015 is to read 40 -- that literature class alone dictates seven -- and at least three having something to do with IT...

From a running standpoint, I had an official goal to run 350 miles -- that seemed like a reasonable target, more than I've ever managed in a year before, nearly seven miles per week... Well, that goal fell in May, as I took a more serious approach to the treadmill ahead of my 15-year college reunion. Ended the year having run 812 miles, on my feet 111+ hours. That translates into an insane (to me) 15 miles per week on average, the pathetic 3-mile weeks this autumn buoyed up by a few 30-mile breakthroughs last spring. Hoping for a more consistent 2015 and setting a time goal for the year (motivated by sub-par 5K in mid-December) to best 24 minutes for 5K in an actual road race!

As for cooking, I followed my 42 new recipes in 2013 with an unreal 81 in 2014. Sure, I gave myself credit for some rather simple dishes as I experimented with grilling and new vegetables, but I'm excited to have expanded my repertoire a bit beyond shake n' bake. As with last year, here are the best three new things I made last year:
1. Bucatini with Tomato, Guanciale, and Chile
2. Crispy Salt and Vinegar Potatoes
3. Scarpetta's Tomato-Basil Spaghetti
But really, the best tasting thing I cooked this year were garlic scapes, a vegetable I had never heard of but found at several farm stands in Maine back in July... So damn good.

And finally, we turn to writing. I wrote practically nothing again this year. 17 sad blogs, a handful of tweets, and two rather good papers for my literature class in the fall... Not a single sentence that I might seek to publish. Thinking long and hard about whether to set a goal for myself in 2015. At the minimum, I'll reaffirm a commitment (likely again to be broken) to blog more often!

2014 in Review (Professional)

Another year ends; another lament on my inability to commit to blogging. Ha ha! (Final tally: 17 blog posts, half my output from 2013, and only 25% of my goal for the year...)

Despite my social media failings, 2014 was an intense year at the office. We poured the foundation for our massive student information system project, with our quiet foundational release in November. Although we pushed some more visible scope from November to March (more on this in a future blog) we made a ton of progress on a ton of organizational, technological, and process topics... 

Our experiments with Agile continue (and I'll be presenting on this topic in Nashville at HEUG) with mixed success. I'm thrilled with it for our user experience track, having watched my user stories come to life in the form of a brand-new, modern user interface atop PeopleSoft Campus Solutions (I'm also presenting on this in March!) But in other areas, we have been less successful. Still we persevere, adapt, learn, adapt again, and keep marching. 

I immersed myself deep in the world of user experience (UX) and we have been getting a lot of good internal press (with faculty and students) from initial previews. I'll have a lot more to say about this in a few weeks, as we launch formal usability testing. As it turns out, delivering an "excellent user experience" (as the project charter promises) is going to be one of the easier aspects of the program -- we have a much steeper climb in areas where status quo business processes, even some rather agonizing paper-based processes, are being upended.

The big launch looms -- and grows nearer not only because the days keep falling away, but because we keep uncovering business events earlier in the summer that cause us to inch the go-live date a few days sooner. Whereas we once spoke about August, we're starting to talk about July or even June. Soon, it won't be practical to speak in terms of how many months remain until go-live, but we'll be thinking in weeks, then days, then hours... It should make for another thrilling year!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Alliance Submissions Done

I've been busy on Twitter lamenting the fact that I'm staying back at home while so many of my #highered colleagues and friends travel west to San Francisco or south to Orlando for Oracle Open World and EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. It has been 7 years since I failed to attend either of the marquee events for people who do what I do. It was the right call, given all that's happening at work, but that doesn't change the feeling of loss -- that I'm going to miss something earth-shaking or simply valuable. Twitter is a tool, but it's hard enough to keep up when you're sitting in sessions furiously refreshing while trying to listen to the speakers...

So I went ahead and started thinking ahead to my next big conference -- the Higher Education User Group's Alliance Conference in March -- and I wrote up my compulsory two proposals. My team will surely submit more substantive ones on the Campus Solutions modules, but I thought the two most important topics for me to present on would be User Experience (UX) and Agile for SIS. We'll see if the selection committee agrees.

8 Weeks to Go

The intensity level around my office has gone through the roof since September 1st and the launch of our agile-defying systems integration testing phase ahead of our planned November 24th launch of the first phase of Harvard's launch of Oracle's PeopleSoft Campus Solutions. Every morning, the entire team crowds our too-small conference room for a fifteen-minute report from each product owner on the progress made in their teams the prior day, activities planned for today, and their current impediments (if any). The daily meeting sets the tone for the day and has proven an efficient path not only for resolving cross-team blocking issues, but for bringing those of us on the periphery up to speed.

We are facing the usual litany of issues, but rallying around them for quick resolution. I always marvel at how easy it seems to be to solve hard problems when faced with acute time pressures. If someone could only crack the nut of achieving that same level of sharpness and efficiency before it's almost too late...

Now we are counting down in single digits. 8 weeks until we flip the switch. 6 weeks until we make the call on whether we're ready. A thousand test scenarios to run through between now and then!