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ECC set to install new computer systems that will cost $7 million

Erie Community College will begin installing new administrative computer systems later this month in a project that will take several years to complete.

College officials anticipate spending more than $7 million over the next five years to implement new systems for administering human resources, payroll, finance, student registration, financial aid and other student services.

Erie County legislators had to approve the college's plan to contract with IBM and Workday for the project.

The legislature signed off on the plan Thursday, although not without fireworks from one county legislator who warned that the college was headed for fiscal calamity by using its fund balance to pay for the project.

"I don't want to be micromanaging ECC. We shouldn't be doing that. But it's our job to look at the finances of Erie County and of ECC," said Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca. "After we approve this today, they're down to $5 million in fund balance. That's dangerous. Approving this today without discussion is wrong and it's not in concert with what this body is supposed to do."

College officials disputed Lorigo's fund balance assertion. ECC's savings account currently was $14.6 million and would be reduced by $3 million in 2017-18 to help pay for a new software subscription with Workday, the IBM contract and additional staff to install the new computer system, said Michael J. Pietkiewicz, senior vice president of operations at ECC.

The college's current Ellucian Colleague software system is about 30 years old and is too outdated to be effective anymore, ECC officials said.

"Of course we have been upgrading it as we go along, but it has been patched up with band-aids," said Farhat "Meena" J. Lakhavani, vice provost and chief information officer. "We are spending so much time fixing things instead of actually doing the work."

The new system ultimately will end up saving the college $3.7 million in subscription fees over the course of 10 years. Those projected savings don’t include other savings that will result from increased efficiencies and functionality, Lakhavani said.

Dan Hocoy, who took over as ECC president last week, said recent system crashes have forced applicants to print out applications, fill them out by hand and send them by mail. Administrators have been signing off on payrolls by hand, as well.

"It's not a good use of our time obviously," Hocoy said.

He likened the current system to a car that has had multiple repairs and lost its wheels.

"We're stringing it together with whatever we have – duct tape and floss. It's time to get a new car, which requires an investment," he said.

Legislator Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst, said he was concerned that the Workday software package that ECC officials chose was not the same software used by most colleges and universities within the State University of New York system.

"I'm not convinced that this system is going to work properly and function properly on day one," said Rath. The contract passed by a vote of 8 to 3. Rath voted against it, as did Lorigo and Legislator Lynne M. Dixon, I-Hamburg.

ECC officials said Workday has a proven track record with higher education institutions and major corporations. The company, they added, was chosen through a thorough request-for-proposals process. ECC board members selected Workday in May over two other potential vendors, Banner and Oracle.

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