One year ago this month, the university and health system asked whether or not the Johns Hopkins enterprise could benefit from, and realistically tackle, a massive and unprecedented overhaul of its business administration systems. Hardly a let's-do-it-over-a-weekend sort of endeavor, the project was more akin to transforming a sleepy New England town into Silicon Valley.
A Herculean task? No doubt. Doable? Yes. In fact, to quote a shiny-domed captain of a starship named Enterprise, the official answer from senior JHU and JHHS administration in regard to proceeding with the proposed overhaul was a unanimous and resounding "Make it so."
Following a five-month feasibility study, the university and health system have recently entered the second phase of an ambitious effort to transform Johns Hopkins' largely outmoded and hodgepodge financial and administrative systems into a more sleek, integrated 21st-century model that would serve nearly the entire enterprise.
The results of the feasibility study, which concluded in October 2002 and involved an outside consulting firm and more than 300 Johns Hopkins personnel, recommended the implementation of the Enterprise Business Systems project, a single software-based computer system that would effectively tie together and streamline selected Johns Hopkins business functions, including purchasing, accounts payable, payroll, grants management, general ledger, materials management and human resources.
With phase one completed, the questions being asked now are just how sleek, integrated and comprehensive does the system need to be, and who will design it? Stephen Golding, executive program director of the Enterprise Business Systems project, is focused on finding out.
Golding, who is also executive director of finance at the School of Medicine, said the project's current phase is an information gathering period in preparation for a request for proposal that will guide the process of selecting an outside vendor. Specifically, Golding said his group, the Enterprise Resource Planning Committee, is looking to identify the functional requirements of the system, the Johns Hopkins personnel who would play a role in its implementation and what internal training would be necessary.
Golding said Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will be this massive new system.
"The breadth and scope of this project are immense. We are trying to implement a host of new functions and also do it across all Johns Hopkins entities--no small task," he said. "For a project of this magnitude, you have to do a lot of planning and design work before you implement such a system, particularly at an institution such as Johns Hopkins where you traditionally have a decentralized approach. So, before we charge forward, we think it's critically important that we allow the user community the opportunity to weigh in on a matter that is so integral to their jobs."
To engage and inform the community, an Enterprise Resource Planning Web site, located at www.jhu.edu/erp was recently launched. The site contains project status, contacts, project-related job opportunities, information about training sessions and answers to frequently asked questions. The ERP team has also set up a Web site at www.jhu.edu/erp/Secure_Private/index.htm which contains a draft version of the requirements of the new system, a document on which the user community is encouraged during the next two weeks to comment and offer additions.
"Our immediate next step will be to evaluate all the assembled requirements and include them in the RFP," Golding said. "These requirements will help the solicited vendors to develop scenarios of real-life uses, such as how a research grant account is closed out, for example."
The new Web-based system would be fully integrated, with a consistent look and feel throughout the various applications. The objective is to make business-related processes more efficient and, where applicable, standardized. It will replace aging legacy systems--some of which are nearly 20 years old--that are considered unnecessarily cumbersome and not cost-efficient.
The executive steering committee for the project includes senior representatives from both the university and the health system. Co-chairs are James McGill, the university's senior vice president for finance and administration, and Ronald Werthman, vice president for finance at the Johns Hopkins Health System.
The project's scope will not include student information systems or patient and clinical billing, although the ERP system will interface heavily with these systems. Institutions not affected by the proposed changes are the Applied Physics Laboratory and Howard County General Hospital, both of which have already developed their own integrated administrative systems.
According to Golding, the university's and health system's business systems have in the past been underinvested and have not kept up with the rapid pace of operations and other capital projects. He added that Johns Hopkins is not alone in considering such a major overhaul of its business systems, as peer institutions such as Michigan and Duke have in the past five years implemented systems integrated across a university and health system.
"Many of our current systems are very old and simply don't take advantage of present Web-based technology," Golding said. "They are also very costly to maintain, and we concluded that instead of a series of minor updates and fixes, it was better to start from scratch. This new system will be virtually paperless and, because of its integrated structure, we feel our compliance issues will be better addressed. We need to ensure that all the requirements pertaining to research, patient care and teaching are being adhered to."
Golding said that Johns Hopkins plans to select a vendor by Jan. 1, 2004. Following the selection, the design and implementation phase will begin. The current schedule is for implementation of the Enterprise Business Systems project to be phased in methodically from 2006 to 2008.