Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Why Banner?

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As I have settled into my position as the leader of the IT group responsible for Banner and the website, I am surprised how often people ask, "Why did we go to Banner?  POISE did everything we needed the way we needed."

While POISE was literally before my time at F&M, I have to admit that what I know about POISE is impressive.  It was the result of 25 years of custom software development.  A quarter century is an incredible amount of time for a software system to support an enterprise, and its longevity was a testament to the men and women who built it.  

That said, POISE faced fatal problems.  

1. The people who built and maintained POISE were retiring.  We've had our most senior software engineers move on to life after F&M, and with them went virtually all of the knowledge required to keep POISE ticking.  Even today we occasionally have to contract them back to solve problems as we transition.

2. The operating system that POISE runs on, VMS, is very old and is in declining use.  We still have a couple of people here who cut their teeth on VMS and love it for its rock-solid stability.  Unfortunately, it gets harder and harder to support VMS or find engineers who have even seen the operating system before.

3. My understanding is that the hardware that POISE was running on was becoming woefully out of date and needed replacement.  But, in the meantime, we had moved most of our infrastructure to a much more inexpensive, energy efficient, and easier to maintain set of servers that would not support the POISE system.

4. The vendor who provided the original system software for POISE, Jenzabar, was no longer providing technical support or service for the product.  That becomes a critical obstacle when creating new functionality or fixing problems.

Taken altogether, what that meant was that there was no choice about whether or not to move away from POISE (and quickly).  The only question was what to move to.  After what I hear was an exhaustive and exhausting evaluation process, Ellucian Banner came out on top.  

While I was not a part of that process, I can tell you a few reasons why Banner is widely used in higher education:

1. Its strongest module -- its core -- is the Student module.  Other systems have their core strength in finance or HR.

2. It has an incredibly large user base, larger than any other higher education "ERP" (enterprise resource planning) system.

3. It works on commodity hardware that is cheap and easy to install.

4. It works on standard database technology that is easy to support.  It is relatively easy to integrate Banner with third-party systems.

5. It brings together related functions of the college - HR provides the job, Payroll pays you for it, Finance budgets for the pay.  Student workers bring in the student module.  Accounts receivable can put holds on registration for students who have outstanding balances.  These are just a few of the examples of cross-functional integration.

6. It brings 21st century features for students, faculty, and staff - online registration, online address and phone updates, online degree audits, online benefits enrollment, etc.  It also allows us to extend those features, like adding photos to the course rosters for faculty.

7. Ellucian, the vendor, provides constant updates to the functionality as well as updates reflecting new educational, tax, HR, and financial regulations.

8. It provides an incredibly robust reporting platform, allowing us to bring together data from every single operation at the college into a single source and combine that data into a form that allows for intelligent decision making.

For all that is good about Banner, there are some problems.  The user interface is extremely clunky and sometimes downright unintuitive.  It has a high learning curve for the ITS staff.  It requires professionals in functional areas like HR and finance to have a more in-depth technical understanding of the system.  Replicating all of the reporting is an incredibly time consuming task.

More than anything though, the main challenge has been trying to replace in less than 2 years a system that was the result of 25 years of custom development.  While we still have a long way to go, I am impressed by what our team has accomplished so far.  

If you ever have questions, problems, or suggestions regarding Banner, please contact me personally (jay.eckles@fandm.edu, x4575) or go to http://helpdesk.fandm.edu.

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