Better be ready for Banner

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McGill Reporter
March 9, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 12
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 32: 1999-2000 > March 9, 2000 > Better be ready for Banner

Better be ready for Banner

| Remember all that stuff about the Banner Information Systems Project you've been hearing about for the last few years? How much of our budgeting and records-keeping practices were going to be fundamentally altered as a result of it sometime in the future?

Well, the future is now.

McGill's new Financial Information System is operational as of June 1 and the blue and yellow budgetary sheets that administrators and researchers have been filling out for years are about to go the way of the dinosaur.

The FIS launch is the first part of Banner's three-pronged assault on the way McGill currently conducts its business. A new human resources system becomes operational as of next January, while a new student information system will be phased in a few months after that.

"It is really important for us to get off to the right start," says mathematics and statistics professor Roger Rigelhof, the Banner Project's director. "If this doesn't go well, it really will be an uphill struggle for the whole project."

Not that Rigelhof is expecting any nasty surprises. After all, some 1,400 universities and colleges have switched to similar systems and remained intact.

Rigelhof and his team have been in touch with colleagues at several of these institutions to garner tips about how to make the transition to the new systems run smoothly.

Their advice? "Train, train, train and test, test, test," says Cara Piperni, FIS project manager.

The Banner squad has been busy doing the latter and they're gearing up to do a whole lot of the former. March is "train the trainers" month, as the Banner team works with specialists on change management from McGill 2000+, with Banner specialists from SCT (the company that developed the systems) and with accounting and technical specialists to devise a series of workshops aimed at the McGill staff who will have to learn how to use FIS.

Piperni estimates that about 1,000 McGill people will have to be trained initially — budget officers, researchers who head up labs, some departmental chairs. "Basically anyone who handles either the blue or yellow sheets," says Rigelhof. "Anyone who is closely connected to the purchasing/budgeting process." Departments and units will have to settle on who those people are.

"For instance, in some departments, chairs are much more closely connected to the process than in others," says Piperni.

Piperni and Rigelhof have been busy for the past year, paving the way for the FIS launch with a number of information sessions directed to different parts of the community.

Piperni says one question comes up often.

"People ask, are my responsibilities going to change or is this just a new tool? The responsibilities will stay the same. This will be a new and improved tool to get things done."

The next big concern relates to training and support.

Rigelhof and Piperni pledge that people won't be just thrown into Lake Banner to drown.

A help line is already operational (3398), there will be hands-on courses aplenty and Banner reps will swiftly be sent over once FIS is up and running "to do a little hand-holding when it's needed," says Piperni.

But departments have to do their part. And they should have started a few months ago.

"Appoint someone in your department to serve as your Banner coordinator if you haven't done it already," says Rigelhof. "Make sure your people are going to the information sessions. Look at our web site. Directors especially have to make an effort to know what's going on."

Rigelhof and Piperni have been boning up on change management theory. They know that in the face of a big switch like this, a certain degree of resistance is normal.

But Piperni says the people who are expressing their concerns aren't the ones who trouble her — in fact, she wants to know what people are worried about.

"The people I'm fearful of are the ones who haven't said anything yet, the ones who don't want to think about this at all. They're the ones who, once June 1 comes along, will be in a panic."

Rigelhof and Piperni say the FIS system won't be that difficult to master — although it will require most staff to take at least two courses comprising three hours each. Not all staff will go to the same training sessions. Researchers and administrative assistants don't necessarily need to know the same stuff.

An intensive training period will run from the beginning of April all the way through to the end of June. Four training sessions are planned twice a day, five days a week.

"We're on our way to being a paperless society," Rigelhof says. "Everything will be accessible from your computer. We won't have to deal with all the paper shuffling and filing that goes on now."

Rigelhof says FIS will also offer "a much better reporting system." It will be easier, for instance, to differentiate between money that is restricted for certain purposes and money that can be spent on a wider range of things.

"This system will give you more tips, more warnings when things are getting in trouble," says Piperni.

"You'll always have up-to-date information. You'll never overspend by accident," adds Rigelhof.

Ultimately, says Piperni, learning to live with Banner simply isn't a choice. "You might as well ride the horse in the direction it's going. You might as well look at this as an opportunity, not an obstacle."

Rigelhof notes that with the HR and student information system looming in the distance, a good chunk of McGill staff will have to learn how to deal with Banner.

"If we don't get you this time," Rigelhof says with a grin, "we'll get you soon enough."

The Banner Project's web site is at www.mcgill.ca/banner/.

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