A $212 million plan to standardize administrative functions across University of Wisconsin System campuses has been given the green light by the UW Board of Regents. The project aims to standardize things like payroll, purchasing and human resources by replacing more than 700 different systems with centralized, cloud-based software by 2026.

During the Thursday, Oct. 8, regents meeting, the board discussed a long-range plan to cut down on what is described as an "unwieldy" number of administrative policies, processes and technology systems across the campus.

A report presented to regents suggests UW campuses must navigate more than 700 different systems for employee compensation, university finances, human resources and research administration. As a result, "faculty and staff are forced to divert time and attention away from mission-critical work as a result of the UW System's unnecessarily burdensome administrative infrastructure."

In addition to the time and cost factors, the report states the myriad of administrative systems makes it more vulnerable to cyberattacks because it is "almost impossible to securely maintain."

During Thursday's meeting, UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson said the state's 13 universities and 13 branch campuses have created unique and redundant administrative functions for basic budgeting, which complicates their ability to respond quickly to financial challenges like the coronavirus pandemic.

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"We cannot even tell at the end of a month, a quarter, what our financial balances are," said Thompson. "That, to me, does not speak well for this particular great university."

Thompson said at UW-Madison alone there are 39 different computer-based systems for purchasing goods and making payments.

"This fragmented approach to IT decision-making has created duplication, standardization issues across the UW system, leading to higher costs that are unsustainable at present funding levels," said Thompson.

To address the fragmentation, the UW System plans to move human resources, finance and administrative functions tied to campus research to centralized, cloud-based platforms accessible by universities and UW System's central office staff.

Planning for the UW System's Administrative Transformation Program began in 2019. The goal is to begin implementing new systems by July 21 at UW-Madison and the UW System offices. Implementation at the state's other campuses will begin in January 2024 with a project completion date of July 2026.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $212 million. The UW System report states the central office and UW-Madison are working with the state Department of Administration to finance that through the state's master lease program, which state government uses to purchase equipment and service contracts. The plan still must be approved by the state Department of Administration.

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