Calif. State University System Streamlines Financial Applications Across 22 Sites

When officials at the 22-campus California State University (CSU) system decided to upgrade their financial applications, they knew some big changes were in store. End-users sought a highly intuitive GUI as well as the ability to access data via the Internet. Administrators wanted to create a common feel across applications while reducing the number of platforms supported by programming staff. CSUís deadline for implementing a viable solution was about six months.

A Head Start

Providing a head start, the university had in place some "very good" legacy applications, says Chuck Kensicki, director of business management systems at the Chancellorís Office in Seal Beach. "These programs are finely tuned and fully debugged over many years of use. They reflect the functional requirements of the university and would be very hard to replace." He adds that officials wanted to make the applications more accessible to people on different computing platforms. "We needed access to mainframes, RS/6000s and relational databases.

Kensickiís department is responsible for delivering to all 22 campuses CSUís Business Management Systems including the Financial Records System (FRS), which covers general ledger, accounts payable, procurement, fixed assets and plant maintenance.

The FRS typically runs on IBM mainframes under MVS/CICS environments, with some RS/6000 AIX and Digital Equipment Corp.ís Alpha VMS systems mixed in. Applications developed and tested at the Seal Beach office are maintained by IS departments at the local campuses. Local personnel must also develop their own applications in non-financial areas such as admissions, registration and computer science.

"We set the example," Kensicki explains. "The solutions we use in the financial applications area will be evaluated by the other campuses for other applications as well, so we look for solutions that other programming departments will want."

When it came time to upgrade, Kensicki looked into Salvo from Simware, of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He initially became interested in the product as a GUI front-end for the FRS applications, replacing the traditional forms and menus that had existed for decades. "Quite honestly," says Kensicki, "people found it difficult to log onto the host machine. They were also frustrated with the problems of navigating through the system, screen by screen."

Information Overload

Some users complained of being overwhelmed with too much information or too many choices. People wanted to see only those screens that related to their tasks. "Executive management would not want to see the same screens as a department head, and neither would want to see all the same screens as an accountant," says Kensicki.

The university had to choose between two user access methods: "native," in which Salvo merely retransmits screens to the browser, or "smart," whereby the software works in the background and presents a fully customized GUI with the appropriate information.

Officials opted for the "smart" mode because it better suits non-technical users. "I usually try to hide from the user what screen theyíre going to access," says Kensicki. For example, rather than entering "251" to create a requisition, users navigate via clearly labeled windows, pop-up menus, scroll bars, etc., commonly found in Web pages.

"What once might have been implemented as a series of eight screens may now be able to be accomplished within a single window," observes Kensicki. He estimates that it would have taken an in-house programmer a year to realize all that functionality.

Meeting the Deadline

By contrast, Kensicki expects his staff to be able to finish within six months all the "behind the scene" codes for Salvo that will give the system a complete makeover. He attributes the shortened implementation time to the ability to leverage existing applications.

"[Salvo] provides an extremely efficient and consistent way to access our legacy applications without a lot of reprogramming," Kensicki says. "It also solves the problems of how to support a diverse and changing mix of platforms and applications, whether they are old or new. Salvo is truly an outstanding solution."     

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.