Skip to main content

SkyVU steering committee provides update on initiative to upgrade, improve university systems

by Oct. 27, 2016, 10:27 AM

Vice Chancellor for Information Technology John Lutz served as master of ceremonies for the SkyVU Town Hall on Oct. 25. (Vanderbilt University)
Vice Chancellor for Information Technology John Lutz served as master of ceremonies for the SkyVU Town Hall on Oct. 25. (Vanderbilt University)

More than 350 faculty and staff participated in a town hall meeting Oct. 25 to learn more about SkyVU, the new cloud-based Oracle solution that will provide support for many of the university’s financial, administrative and research support systems effective July 1, 2017. Two hundred faculty and staff participated in person at the event at the Student Life Center, while another 150 participated via a livestream of the event. SkyVU Executive Steering Committee members shared information about SkyVU’s mission and how this implementation will support the university’s academic mission and implementation of the Academic Strategic Plan.

The cloud-based system will replace approximately 15 current web applications and provide a modern and synchronized environment to allow university faculty and staff to spend less time on paperwork and more time on efforts that contribute to the university’s mission.

“This is an investment in Vanderbilt’s future and community that will provide staff and faculty more time to focus on other initiatives to help us continue to advance,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente said. “We are laying the foundation for the next generation.”

As Vanderbilt has seen tremendous growth in the last three decades, its core systems have not kept up.

“We have created homegrown systems to extend the life of other legacy systems,” Associate Vice Chancellor for Internal Audit and Institutional Risk Management Dennis Johnson said. “We need to upgrade to mitigate risks.”

The risks posed by continuing to use legacy systems include the decline of vendor support for systems, the rising expense to maintain systems, the decreasing availability to support legacy systems internally, security issues, and the separation from Vanderbilt University Medical Center. These legacy systems are owned by the Medical Center; as part of an agreement between the two entities following the separation last spring, the university will continue to use Medical Center-owned legacy systems until the organization develops its own.

“In the interim, the Medical Center will likely want to make changes to its legacy shared systems, and these changes may not be desirable for the university,” Johnson said. “We want to mitigate any kind of risk we have in sharing systems.”

Vice Chancellor for Administration Eric Kopstain likened Vanderbilt’s legacy systems to a 30-plus-year-old car that desperately needs replacing.

“In effect, we are trying to replace a car we bought in 1985. Do we want to build a new car that only a few people can maintain and repair, or buy the most fuel-efficient, modern vehicle with maintenance warranties and repairs?” Kopstain said. “This is the situation we are in and why we have chosen to move systems to the cloud with SkyVU and a solutions-driven approach.”

A solutions-driven approach considers best practices while customizing only where Vanderbilt has a strategic need or advantage. The requirements-driven approach, on the other hand, customizes the system to match current business processes, which is the approach Vanderbilt has historically taken. The issue with this, Kopstain said, is that the current processes may not be as modern as they could be with a solutions-driven approach.

“As we look forward with Oracle Cloud, we won’t have to provide the maintenance and regular upgrades to keep current,” Kopstain said. “Through configuration and modifications within the parameters of cloud service, SkyVU will meet Vanderbilt’s needs.”

This will, in turn, save both time and effort for the institution.

Dalana Robertson, assistant vice chancellor for finance and controller, described one of the upcoming changes involving the chart of accounts. She and Kopstain explained how SkyVU will align Finance, HR and student structures and provide functionality unavailable today.

“We will soon have great flexibility to capture detail that is very important for specific organizations,” Robertson said. “This will be quite transformational for analysis and reporting processes.”

However, this change will not come without its challenges.

“SkyVU is going to require us to think and operate in new ways,” Wente said. “Sometimes change is uncomfortable and requires us to dig deep inside. … We will do this together.”

The SkyVU team has created the roles of Change Champions and Change Agents to include the Vanderbilt community in the project. Change Champions are university staff members who meet monthly with the SkyVU team to engage in major messaging originating from the project team and are responsible for disseminating that information to their specific areas. Change Agents are university faculty and staff members who will participate in bi-weekly webinars to understand more granular information about how to operate within the new systems.

“What matters now is getting all of you on board,” Vice Chancellor for Information Technology John Lutz said. “Decide on a role you can have to lead this change with us. It’s great to be a follower, but we’d like for you to be a leader.”

To sign up to become a Change Agent, fill out a registration form by Tuesday, Nov. 1. Change Agents are invited to drop by one of two open houses to receive SkyVU materials and to meet the SkyVU Change Management team. The first open house is Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. to noon in Sarratt 325, and the second is Nov. 8 from 2 to 5 p.m. in The Commons Center, Room 233.

Wente, Kopstain, Lutz, Johnson, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Chief Financial Officer Brett Sweet and Chief Human Resources Officer Barb Carroll are the SkyVU steering committee members.

To view the town hall in its entirety, watch the recording located on the SkyVU website. For more information about the project, email