Choosing an ERP for a global study abroad program

Semester at Sea's new ERP system will add harmony to operations

Selecting and implementing an ERP is hard work, but the end result is worth it.

There comes a point when all growing organizations face the difficult decision of how to move forward with technology that will best support its ever changing needs.  Any time you alter the underlying systems that run a business it can be a drawn out, difficult, emotional and political decision.

Ultimately the goal is to select a product that best meets the organization’s immediate needs while also offering the flexibility to grow and change over time without incurring high costs for each shift. This ensures that the total cost of ownership is spread over many years.  The last thing you want to do is start looking to replace software within a year of implementing it due to a poor fit.  The reality is that this sounds much easier than it is for many institutions.

ERP planning for Study Abroad Organizations
ISE is not a typical higher ed institutions.  We’re not even a typical study abroad organization. So while our selection of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to replace our current ATLAS software has been a long process (over one year), it hasn’t been mired in many of the issues often seen in other organizations. This can be attributed to the energy and dedication of our employees, as well as to several steps that were taken during the process to ensure that all departments were represented and included in the decisions and discussions.

Narrowing down our choices
To start, the need for change was recognized early, before it was truly critical to do so, which gave ISE the time to make a thorough and well informed decision.  Then a team consisting of representatives from all departments was formed to review and evaluate potential ERP routes, products and vendors.  After receiving proposals from many vendors several were selected to come present their software to the team and from those two finalists were chosen.

Distinguishing between the finalists
These finalists were industry leaders in higher education ERP systems and had years of expertise backing them.  They were invited to come back to present to the entire ISE organization and to provide hands on demonstrations to any employees wishing to see the software applied to their daily tasks.

All participating employees were then asked to fill out and provide feedback on their impressions of the two ERP products and the team was asked to complete a lengthy functionality document in which they ranked the performance of each product on how well it met specified needs.

Selecting an ERP system and moving forward
Datatel’s Colleague system came out as the best matched system that would meet our current needs while allowing for the flexibility to grow and move forward.  Everyone at ISE is excited to move forward with the implementation project in the coming months so check back periodically to see how things are progressing.

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About the Author

Communications Coordinator

Communications Coordinator

Established in 1963, Semester at Sea is the only study abroad program of its kind in the world. Using a ship as a traveling campus, undergraduates, lifelong learners, faculty, and lecturers live and learn together while circumnavigating the globe each fall and spring semester and exploring a world region each May and summer term. Credit earned is fully transferable by the University of Virginia.