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Finding Solutions: From Proposals to Procurement

By April 23, 2019 July 1st, 2019 No Comments

Edge Selects New ERP Technology

Advances in information technology have not only redefined how educational institutions provide a student learning experience, but also how they handle their day-to-day operations, including human resources, finance, and student information. Many schools are replacing older legacy systems with centralized enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms to improve the administration process and seamlessly connect departments.

In the state of New Jersey, the higher education community has utilized a short list of vendors and product solutions to handle business solutions, including ERP. Edge recently conducted a comprehensive analysis of available SaaS (Software as a Service) ERP systems to take a closer look at the student information system (SIS) and constituent relationship management (CRM) functionality and examine whether the technology was serving the educational and administrative needs of students in New Jersey.

Meeting the Challenges of a Changing World

Dr. Edward Chapel, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Edge, and stakeholders from member institutions across New Jersey gathered ERP requirements and evaluations to gain insight into the needs of the education community. “The same solution has been in place for nearly three decades,” shares Dr. Chapel. “However, the profile of the higher education student has changed dramatically.” Most of the older software systems were built with a traditional first-time, full-time student in mind. “The nature and demographics of those seeking higher education has changed and the older legacy systems have been scrambling to redesign and rebuild to catch up and address these changing needs,” says Dr. Chapel. “Non-traditional students, returning students and adult learners have different service and educational needs compared with first-time, full-time college freshmen.”

Edge recognized the importance of gathering requirements from across the New Jersey educational community and allowing a request for proposal (RFP) for ERP with CRM embedded. “Edge formed a committee with four colleges representing the community college sector,” explains Dr. Chapel. “This committee would meet with vendors and take note of the capabilities of each product and how each vendor has adapted their products to meet current needs. With this input, Edge developed a request for information protocol of requirements and capabilities we wanted each vendor to demonstrate.”

Developing a Request for Proposal

Edge knew they must form a knowledgeable and experienced team to create an effective RFP and bring the best solutions to light. With the help of project manager and purchasing agent for Edge, Walter Lewis, Edge gained valuable insight into the RFP process and utilized Walter’s extensive experience in public procurement in higher education to overcome challenges. “Navigating all the rules and regulations that apply to public entities and public procurement can be difficult,” explains Lewis. “Edge wants to not only bring value to its members, but also to the taxpayers, since public procurement often involves expenditure of taxpayer funds. We also want to move stakeholders toward an understanding that procurement is not just an operational exercise, the process can bring strategic value as well.”

Edge and the committee met with four vendors who provided useful insight into what’s new in the ERP space and how their technology is adapting to the new requirements of the student population and the digitization of communication tools. “The final RFP document was an open request and included about 2,000 lines of requirement specification that each of the responding bidders had to answer,” says Dr. Chapel. “We wanted to see common requirements like registration and calendar features, but also the personalized features and functionality of the CRM module. The leveraging of social media to engage the new generation of digital era students was also essential.”

Gathering Requirements

Edge found when evaluating various solutions against a set of requirements, the most objective and effective way to conduct the evaluation was to design the RFP process so vendors self-scored the bulk of the 2,000 requirements. Since the focus was on an ERP system, the evaluation covered human resources, finance and administration, and the student information system.

The evaluation team then reviewed the vendor scores and adjusted the results if the vendor’s response didn’t meet the team’s needs. The scoring system consisted of a numerical scale depending on the hierarchy of each requirement. “For example, a score of 0 would be allocated if a vendor did not have the requirement,” Lewis explains. “A score of 1 was given if the requirement had to be customized programmatically, a score of 2 if a third-party vendor had to provide that particular requirement and a score of 3 if a separately-priced vendor-provided module was needed to cover that requirement. A score of 4 was given if the requirement was covered as a core part of the vendor’s platform.”

The rigorous process included specific designated contacts for exchanging information, answering all vendor questions and ensuring all vendors received a copy of the Q&A. All communication with vendors was maintained in writing. To maintain an unbiased review process, separate teams evaluated the requirements and the cost. “Edge wants to guarantee each vendor has an equal and fair chance,” says Lewis. “We wanted to ensure that challenges and protests for the RFP process can be answered without jeopardizing the results. If the results were jeopardized, we would have to go through the entire process again.” From start to finish, the process took twelve months — seven months spent on planning and gathering requirements and five months to publish the RFP, answer vendors questions, receive bids, evaluate the vendors’ responses and allow vendors to demonstrate their products. Requirement and cost evaluations were then conducted separately before finally narrowing down the best-fit bids.

Dedicated Efforts Allow Big Gains

Edge’s comprehensive approach included input from multiple stakeholders across the higher education community and drew upon their combined experience to assemble and execute an RFP. “Our strategies and solutions are formulated based on member-informed processes,” Dr. Chapel says. “Any individuals considering these applications can rest assured that the best talent and resources were used to conduct as effective RFP solicitation as possible.”

“The efforts of both stakeholders and bidders have broadened the options available to any institution in the state,” Dr. Chapel says. “We crafted a comprehensive RFP and outlined capabilities that would apply to any school. Our goal was to provide a great service to higher education in New Jersey by creating a detailed due diligence process and providing additional options for serving the students of New Jersey. The scoring was fair and effective and we believe we’ve identified two new alternatives that represent viable business and student information solutions for the future.”

The Winning Solutions

Of all the proposals, Campus Management and Jenzabar were the selected bidders and were able to skillfully re-design traditional solutions and encompass modern technologies and capabilities. “All the bidders brought valuable and unique capabilities to the table, but the awards were given to the most compelling compendium of capabilities,” says Dr. Chapel. “The two chosen vendors have solutions that are the most responsive to the changing needs of students in this digital era and represent the total cost of ownership and return on investment requirements for our members. Jenzabar did an excellent job of rewriting legacy software to a pure cloud-based modern technology and Campus Management has more bundled into their product than any other vendor, while providing valuable analytics tools for every institution.”

Advantages for Edge Members

“Edge wanted to create a streamlined process for members who are considering a change. You can look at what you are doing today and the solutions you have in place and compare them with the viable, vetted alternatives we have found,” says Dr. Chapel. “You have options. You can renew the solution you have or procure from these two latest-generation alternatives without having to go through the tedious RFP process. Edge awarded contracts to solutions that are cloud-based, highly customizable, with CRM and digital media capabilities built in.” With effective marketing and retention tools also included, the selected solutions allow institutions to connect with students through all points of the life cycle — from prospective student to alumnus.

RFPs take time and a great deal of patience. As Lewis describes, “Procurements are complex undertakings. Edge is a lead public procurement vehicle in New Jersey and we understand the challenges of the process. We utilize best practices in engaging stakeholders and vendors and will take on the heavy lifting of procurement to ensure the process is completed successfully in a timely way.” Rather than spending time and resources navigating through the rules and regulations required in developing an RFP, members are able to focus on the value and benefits a new product can provide.

Incorporating New Technology

Edge is committed to providing members with opportunities and new perspectives that allow for transformative growth and possibility. “We help our members understand and appreciate the changes that are taking place in the digital era,” says Dr. Chapel. “We have identified solutions not only in regard to ERP, but within the many facets of technology. We are here to help and guide members through the digital transformation of their business and operation models to better serve their constituents, students and faculty.” Edge not only brings members new solutions and simplifies the procurement process, but also presents a disciplined approach to incorporating new technology into each institution.

Specifically with implementing a new ERP, Dr. Chapel says Edge is here to help. “We want to ready our institutions to undertake a replacement of their ERP solutions. We understand implementing a new ERP is a huge cultural and organizational change and we want to prepare our members to make the most of the new software applications that are available,” says Dr. Chapel.

“Many times people make the mistake of taking old processes and force fitting them into a new business solution, when in fact the new business solution was designed to meet evolving needs more effectively,” Dr. Chapel continues. “New technology provides an opportunity for organizations to take a look at their existing strategies and find a solution that allows their business priorities to meet their technology priorities. Edge does not just identify a technology solution; we do a deep-dive analysis into current operating methods and provide valuable guidance on implementing change. We are dedicated to helping each member through the entire process and making sure you have what you need to be successful.”