Unintended Change Possibilities with Ellucian Banner 9
Every once in a while, I step away from my regular work of systems operations and put on the management cap. I had always hoped that masters degree would come in handy someday! After a hard day of keeping Ellucian Banner 8 running and pushing out a few more pieces of Banner 9, I take a look at the landscape of Eastern New Mexico University's ERP (enterprise resource planning) and SIS (student Information system) systems and think about the possibilities. I have some training and teaching on the subject of change management, so I hope to share some insights for the university community in general.
The transition from Banner 8 to Banner 9 is interesting. Although it can be viewed simply as a regular software upgrade, it has many of the "earmarks" of transitioning to a completely new management system, especially from the standpoint of the end-users. I was a party to the transition to Banner from other vendors at New Mexico State University several years ago, so I have seen a "real" change from one solution to another, and the move from 8 to 9 seems just as uncomfortable for those who spend the bulk of their time working directly with data.
From the technical side, Ellucian has been dependent on the out-dated and soon-to-be-abandoned Oracle Forms Server, a relic of the old client-server paradigm. To experienced users, this is the interface to which everyone had become accustomed and that some took pride in their ability to understand and use effectively. This user investment in the ideosyncracies of the interface was a career-maker for a number of people who became sought-after "power users", allowing them to move to more lucrative roles in the university and even to other universities that wanted Banner-specific expertise.
When management contemplates a change (especially a larger one). there is a traditional weighing of pros and cons upon which decisions can be made. Investments in the existing systems are part of that calculation as those are often lost in a planned change. For end-users, some consider retirement or employment changes in the face of losing their "power user" rank and re-learning something new. Change is fraught with challenges and managers of information systems must consider the ramifications of each challenge.
Banner 9 puts a wrinkle in the whole effort of change management. There is very little of an "upside" or "pro" to all the challenges of the upgrade, including the potential loss of entrenched "power users". It is like a new vendor coming in to an executive meeting and, during the sales pitch, revealing that there are no effective benefits to choosing their product. Executives would reject such a proposal without much thought. With Banner, there is no real option to reject the "proposal" of Banner 9 - the older version is not going to be supported soon. At best, you are going to lose some of your most experienced people to a change that doesn't really buy you anything positive.
This all sounds very dark and grim, but I can see a distinct silver lining here. Since Banner universities are already having to cope with the pain of change as if they were implementing a completely new system, why not go the remaining distance and actually consider that completely new system? Banner is obviously mature and getting close to the sunset of its life-cycle. There are other vendors in the same product space who are not saddled with old technology (there is still COBOL at the heart of some Banner processes) and were created using more modern paradigms to begin with. As long as you are dealing with all the problems and pains and retirements and resignations of attempting to keep older software relevant and current, why not transfer some of that effort and expense to exploring, and perhaps pursuing, a fresher product that may provide some real benefits, now and in the future?
(I am not compensated for my opinions by any vendors in the university ERP space.)