How to get the most out of your vendor partnerships
- Participating in beta programs leads to growth for both partners
- An open dialogue is key to a successful third-party relationship
- Engage stakeholders and end users throughout the project
Campbell University, like many small and mid-size institutions, has limited IT resources. Their small staff relied on point-to-point integrations to connect their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with the third-party applications used by departments across campus. But those integrations were becoming unmanageable.
To improve their system integration, Campbell partnered with its ERP vendor Ellucian, participating in the development and early testing of Ellucian Ethos, a platform that connects people, processes, and technology across an institution. This partnership gave Campbell early access to the solution and input into roadmaps.
Here, Josh Tate, a programmer/analyst at Campbell University, shares his experience and advice on how institutions can benefit from a close partnership with their vendors.
Q: How has participating in beta testing programs helped Campbell University?
A: The growth we've had in a year has been absolutely amazing and astonishing for us. The things we've done with beta testing and developing that further has been great. Ellucian's done a great job of giving customers like me opportunities to be able to plug in to different programs.
Let's say you’ve got resources and interest in wanting to be a part of the development of Ethos. They created a platform and a way you could do that. That program included regular meetings that talked about the direction of the platform, how it was heading, what the changes were.
That opened us up to other opportunities. They would say, "Okay, we've got a beta program. Are you interested in participating?"
"Great, we'd love to."
We would try to identify business cases or solutions we thought might benefit both Ellucian and us. Then we would draft those cases, present them, and then we'd become involved in beta programs and start testing.
So, yeah, those were great ways that that partnership for us has been very helpful.
Q: How do you decide which projects to test, and in what order?
A: Part of what drives the decision of course is the need, but we try to look for projects that would be easy to accomplish, that wouldn't involve a lengthy implementation or development, projects that would give us an immediate return or a major benefit to the university.
Maybe it's a project with heavy manual processing time, a lot of people involved, or a lot of inefficiencies. The return would be greater than the investment.
Our first project was developing a new graduation application, streamlining the process.
A lot of times, we'll look for projects, too, that may help further push the capabilities of the platform. It's more work on our part. It's a little more work on Ellucian's part. But ultimately, it benefits us as a customer, and it also benefits other customers and partners.
Q: Can you talk about how you engaged your third-party vendor, Hyland, to implement the graduation application project?
A: Ellucian has set up a model for success for third parties that want to integrate, that want to make their API compatible with Ethos. But one of the key things in making that happen is the customer.
As a customer, one of the things we did that really made this successful was we went to Hyland and said, "We've got a platform, we’ve got a business case. We've got a test environment. We've got data."
They've got a test environment, too. But it's a little bit different when you have the opportunity to work with a customer who has actual data, who's got real data that you can test against.
When we went to Hyland, I said, "My boss is willing to let me take my time and my resources, and we're willing to, as a university, let you use us as a resource, if you're willing to dedicate resources and time to Ellucian so that you can further develop your API to work with Ethos and we can make this solution happen."
We were instrumental in reaching out and continuing those talks with Hyland, and with Ellucian. And I think that's very key in any third-party relationship.
Q: What does your senior management think about this partnership?
A: Right now, they're looking to me and what my opinion is. They're looking at the successes that I have on my side, on my team, on the development. They're very optimistic. They're starting to see some of the advantage.
At this point, they have let me have the freedom and the time to do things like working with Ellucian and working with our third-party vendors to help them develop the platform. And they've allowed me to do that because they've seen the benefit. So, I think we're sending the right signals to senior management.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for IT shops like yours that don't have a large team? What should they be doing to make their project successful?
A: Make sure you engage your stakeholders, your end users, as much as you can. Don't leave them out. One of the things we did was make sure we had a very good understanding of our stakeholders’ business processes before we did any development work.
Is there anything that they're unhappy with? Is there something that they want to change? Maybe there's something that they're doing that is not efficient that they hadn't thought about.
If there's something that doesn't need to be done, if there's data that's not needed, if you can identify those things and those steps, then it can save you on development time.
And for us, every minute, every hour we've got is gold. The more time we spend up front identifying those things, that means less development time—or less wasted development time—for us.
The other thing I would say is test, test, test. Use tools to test and make sure your development is working. The last thing you want to do is get to a certain point in development, and then you've got to figure out why it’s not working. So, make sure you test along the way.
Campbell University’s next project is already in full swing—and they’re looking ahead to future collaborations with their business partners.