May 22, 2019 Richard Rezler
In June 2017, Washtenaw Community College experienced a complete information technology (IT) network outage that lasted three days. The impact on the college was significant and affected everything from new student applications and Fall semester registration to students’ ability to attend online classes and complete assignments.
“The network outage prompted us to conduct a comprehensive review of our entire IT infrastructure and staffing,” said WCC President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca. “We have a responsibility to ensure that the college has a sustainable, secure and robust IT infrastructure that meets the needs of all WCC stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff and community members now and into the foreseeable future.”
The college spent the next two years assessing its IT capabilities and looking at best practices. During that time, two public retreats were held in January 2018 and March 2019 to update the WCC Board of Trustees on technology. The college also brought in additional resources in the form of an outside consultant – Campus Works – to augment its existing staff in the areas of strategic planning and data security and to assist with the implementation of the assessment plan. Even with increased resources, the technology challenges faced by the college continue to outpace the college’s IT resources.
Ongoing cybersecurity threats and the potential exposure of student and employee data is a challenge all higher education institutions face. Other IT challenges facing WCC include the existence of legacy IT systems running core applications requiring highly specialized skills to maintain, the increased demand for online classes, and increased use of technology in classrooms and labs – particularly in the college’s Advanced Transportation Center and Center for Nursing Excellence and Allied Health.
“The advances in technology have far outpaced what can be reasonably expected from our internal capabilities and continue to grow exponentially,” said Bellanca. “To do nothing in the face of the changing technology environment would be irresponsible especially with respect to consistent and increasingly sophisticated data security threats. We also have a fiduciary responsibility to the community to control IT costs, which have increased 25 percent over the last four years.”
After considering both the full direct staffing and blended direct staffing, supplemented with consulting services models, the college determined that moving to a managed technology services model will provide the best combination of IT capability, service support and cost.
To address the college’s need for a sustainable technology environment that is reliable, secure and meets or exceeds stakeholder expectations, WCC proposed to its Board on Tuesday, May 21 that the college enter into a strategic partnership with higher education software and IT service provider Ellucian to provide technology management services including onsite support staff for the college.
Ellucian is the provider of the college’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, Banner, which is in use at 2,400 higher education institutions worldwide. Banner is the systems backbone of the college that supports all key student, financial and human resource transactions. Most other software applications utilized by the college must integrate strongly with Banner, which has been in use at the college for 20 years.
“Through this partnership, if approved by the board, WCC will have access to the best-trained Banner IT professionals to more fully utilize our ERP system and other core systems that integrate with Banner,” said William Johnson, WCC Vice President and CFO.
Under the proposal, Ellucian would be accountable for all facets of the current and future technology needs of the college, including developing and maintaining the Strategic Technology Plan for the college in collaboration with internal stakeholders. In addition, the college has numerous legacy systems that need to be updated to more fully integrate with the college’s existing ERP system.
“Ellucian is 100-percent dedicated to higher education and has the expertise to provide proven effective practices, because of the breadth of support for higher education administrative and academic technologies,” said Johnson. “The proposed partnership with Ellucian will afford WCC a strong opportunity to leverage the resources of an elite higher education technology provider in a cost effective manner.”
Ellucian provides technology management services for more than 160 higher education institutions, including 90 community colleges in the U.S. and three community colleges in Michigan.
The annual cost is approximately $5.2 million representing about a $600,000 annual cost savings to the college. This cost is all-inclusive, fixed and not subject to escalation and will allow the college to increase its ability to support additional technology in classrooms and labs and for student services without incurring additional costs.
The proposal, if adopted by the board at its June 25 meeting, would impact 31 full-time IT staff members at the college.
All full-time IT staff will be afforded an opportunity to join Ellucian’s team of over 3,000 employees serving the higher education community worldwide.
Those who choose not to join Ellucian will be offered a Transition Assistance Plan that includes 12 months of salary and a 12-month extension of medical benefits coverage based on 10 or more years of service. Comparable packages will also be offered to employees with between five and 10 years and those with less than five years. Employees will also have the opportunity to receive career coaching and support to assist staff transition to new roles, careers and opportunities through Right Management – a leading career management and talent development company. The affected employees will also receive a five-year extension of WCC tuition benefit for WCC credit and non-credit classes for employees and eligible spouses and dependents.
“This decision was made after a long and careful review and with the knowledge that many good people would be affected,” said Bellanca. “We believe this proposal best balances the needs of our employees by providing an opportunity to join Ellucian’s team with the needs of our students and community. It was a difficult decision, but one made in the best interests of our college.”
Media contact: Brendan Prebo, AVP Marketing and Communications, 734-677-5225, [email protected].