Brian Cusack on Datatel

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

Every Cooper student remembers the night they registered on the WebAdvisor website. Many frustrated students contacted professors and staff members about the new online registration system. However, WebAdvisor is only a part of a larger software program that is being implemented at Cooper. Data can now being integrated across departments. Here’s what the new head, Professor Brian Cusack, has to say about the administrative software, Datatel Colleague.

The Cooper Pioneer: Can you describe your new role as head of Datatel at Cooper? What are your main objectives?

Brian Cusack: In short: it is my job to see that we use the software to its optimal potential. This breaks down to a number of responsibilities; some are short term and some are long term. We are “live” on most of the modules within the system, but there are still some departments that are working through migrations.

In the short term, it is my job to oversee the successful migration of the remaining modules and deployment of the remaining software applications. Longer term I will be working with user areas to prioritize the needs of the institution and coordinate modifications or enhancements as necessary. I am responsible for developing training programs and documentation so we can implement best practices throughout the institution.

Implementing an integrated software package like Datatel is a large undertaking, but the process allows for two important reflections:

• Looking outward – what new features does the software provide our procedures?
• Looking inward – how can updating our procedures gain the most from the software?

I’m here to make sure we make the most of the opportunities both of those questions present.

TCP: Why did Cooper decide to implement Datatel?

BC: In 2008, Cooper performed a Self-Study in preparation for the decennial Middle States accreditation visit. In 2009, the Information-Technology (IT) Committee was convened as specified by the Self Study. This committee was attended by individuals throughout the institution: faculty, administration, staff and students.

The committee visited other campuses, went to conferences, and discussed the needs of Cooper Union. In 2010, the committee submitted its final report. While its conclusions were many and varied, there was one clear overarching recommendation: “In summary, Cooper Union must install a web based integrated enterprise wide system that encompasses all elements of the delivery of a high quality Cooper Union education. Such a system will include modules that address finance, student, human resources, institutional advancement, advisement, course management and room scheduling. The ideal system will be modular in that each component can be implemented on a standalone basis and integrated as additional modules are implemented.”

Prior to 2011, The Cooper Union housed its data in siloed systems. Each department had its own management system and data warehouse which were selected at various times over the last 30 years. This led to many diverse systems across campus, many of which became problematic to reconcile.

In the late fall of 2010, Cooper Union began researching companies that could fit the requirement put forth by the IT Report. All sorts of programs were researched – but most were too big for us, like the very popular Banner. The field of choices was quickly narrowed to two candidates: Power Campus by Sungard HE and Colleague by Datatel.

Both companies came on campus and presented to stakeholders throughout the institution. At the end of the presentations, feedback from the stakeholders was considered, and Datatel was chosen as the integrated enterprise system for Cooper Union.

TCP: How has Cooper benefited from Datatel?

BC: Cooper is already seeing the benefits of Datatel. Some of these include:

• Data integrity and consistency. For example: when a department looks up the address of a student – every department will get the same address. This sounds simple, but with separate systems it was not unusual for something as simple as an address to vary greatly depending on which department you asked.
• Web-based access: among other actions, students can now register online (I know that was a big deal for the students)
• Admissions can now send out automatic communications to email accounts, and students can check their status of their application online.
• Professors have access to advisement tools they never had before.
• The business office has modern reporting tools they never had before.
• We are implementing scheduling software that will help us make the most of our limited space and resources.

TCP: What has been the most difficult aspect of Datatel to work with?

BC: I’ll give you two: change and workload.

Change is always hard. We are changing from diverse systems that were largely custom designed for individual tasks to an integrated system that is designed to work for everyone. Getting what you need (individually) from a system designed for everyone requires a bit of patience. Some individual tasks may not be as simple as they were before; however, they will be far more accurate in their results.

The added workload of training and migration is significant. We couldn’t stop running the school just so that everyone could be trained on the new system and work through the arduous task of migrating data from the previous systems. Many individuals have had to continue fulfilling their full time responsibilities while somehow fitting in the training and migration needs. It has been tremendously taxing on everyone but the dedication of the Cooper staff has been nothing short of miraculous.

Neither of these difficulties are unique to Datatel. They can be expected from any mass-data-migration. For their part, the consultants and technical support team at Datatel has been extremely helpful.

TCP: Do you have any advice for students, professors, or staff members who are still trying to fully transition to Datatel?

BC: Please be patient but don’t be afraid to share questions or comments. We are all learning and training as we go. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask. If something is confusing – let me know; one of my new responsibilities is to coordinate documentation and training.

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