The University of Mississippi and SAP ~ A Brief History

Shortly after Robert C. Khayat became Chancellor of the University of Mississippi (UM) in 1995, he initiated a comprehensive review of university business processes.  This activity evolved into a major reengineering effort and the replacement of aging mainframe computer systems and software.  Since the early 1980s, UM had run its business and academic software applications on homegrown COBOL code using a hierarchical CA-IDMS database and hosted on a succession of IBM and Amdahl mainframes with the MVS operating system. The COBOL and CA-IDMS database implementation was later augmented with Huron Objectstar, a rapid-development application system.  While the mainframe platform had served UM well for almost twenty years, the business process review specified that UM would need to modernize its IT infrastructure and move to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system in order to fully support the University's mission and future needs. 

Ole Miss runs SAPDuring this same time period, Carolyn E. Staton was named Provost, Johnny M. Williams was named Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, and Emmette F. (Buster) Hale was named Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology (CIO).  These three individuals served as the executive sponsors for the ERP project. It was decided early on that a single ERP product would be selected vs. "best of breed," mostly to exploit the single database feature of an ERP and to avoid the costs associated with maintaining multiple vendor platforms and expertise.  UM's original ERP implementation included the Oxford, Southaven, and Tupelo campuses and the Grenada and Booneville sites. 

About forty UM employees participated in an ERP selection process that included detailed functional specifications, scripted demonstrations, and a formal evaluation mechanism.  Almost all of these employees came from functional areas. In 1997, UM selected SAP as its ERP solution. Shortly afterwards, UM initiated procurements for hardware and consulting services.  Sun Microsystems was selected as the hardware vendor, and Oracle was selected as the database platform. SAP Consulting, with Holland Technology as the prime subcontractor, was selected as the implementation partner.  Through various mergers and reorganizations, the lead consultants who worked on the original UM SAP project are now associated with LSI Consulting.

UM held a project kick off in 1998, launching the implementation of SAP's financial, plant maintenance, materials management, and human resources modules. The first three went live in 1999, and human resources went live in 2000.   These "go lives" were planned with the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem in mind.

At that point, SAP's student system, known then as Campus Management, was still in development, and Arizona State University (ASU) was serving as the pilot university for the U.S.  In the early 2000's, ASU withdrew as a pilot, citing other more pressing university priorities, and SAP approached UM about serving in this role. UM agreed, and, thus, the four pilots for the Campus Management module became UM, Newcastle University (Great Britain), KU Leuven (Belgium), and the University of Basel (Switzerland). Although the role of pilot would require a substantial investment of resources and personnel, e.g., "sweat equity," UM embraced this role, viewing it as an important opportunity that would result in direct influence on product functionality. Richard (Rick) Thurlow, longtime manager of UM's legacy student information system, played a critical part in helping SAP developers understand the requirements of typical U.S. university.

UM's Campus Management implementation began in September 2001 with the definition of the academic structure and culminated in May 2003 when UM transitioned to the new platform for everything except transcript processing.  The Amdahl mainframe was taken out of commission in December 2003.  By then, UM was fully live with SAP for all business and academic functions.  

UM has continued to implement new functionality, including a digital imaging system, SAP Adobe Interactive Forms, SAP Process Integration, SAP Netweaver Portal, and SAP Business Information Warehouse. In 2008, UM implemented degree audit within what is now called Student Lifecycle Management (SLcM). The current area of focus is mobility, and UM is serving as a ramp-up customer for Netweaver Gateway

In 2007, after evaluating student information system options, the UM Medical Center made the decision to partner with the UM Oxford campus to have its student system hosted in SAP.  This project had a phased go live beginning in June 2008 and continuing through January 2009.  Whereas the other campuses are all hosted in the same SAP client and share configuration, the UM Medical Center is hosted in a separate client allowing for logically separate implementations but still benefitting from running on shared hardware, operating system, and database platforms.

When university leaders began looking at ERP options in 1997, they sought a committed partnership that would carry UM into the next 15-20 years.  They set as a goal not only to implement an ERP system but to put in place a flexible, lasting technology infrastructure that would help advance the university's mission for the long term.  SAP has met this need superbly as is evidenced by numerous projects that have been implemented throughout the last decade, projects that were unknown at the time the software was selected. Today, UM is able to grow and adapt to the changing world with relative ease due to the vision and investments in technology that began over fifteen years ago.

- K. Gates, February 2012