Marist, CNR Collaborate On Technology Management

Mar 27, 2015

Credit Courtesy of Marist College

Two colleges in the Hudson Valley are teaming up for technology. One college is a leader in cloud computing and is offering its services to another campus two counties to the south. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has more on the new hookup.

Marist College and The College of New Rochelle recently announced an effort to implement and host a fully integrated Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP, system on a privately-shared high performance platform. Essentially, the idea is creating a new operating model for technology management in higher education. Bill Thirsk is Poughkeepsie-based Marist College's Vice President of Information Technology and CIO. He describes what this is all about.

“Part of Marist’s mission is to be a leader in using information technology in higher education. So doing things like that is very native to us. And we have the platforms, the servers, and the network, and the staffing to be able to manage those kinds of things. It’s what we call a core competency,” says Thirsk. “The College of New Rochelle is a little different. Their programs are not deep into technology. Technology for them is not a core competency, yet they have recognized the need to have really great technology supporting their curriculum and their programs. So they asked us would we be willing to share services with them. And they are embarking on putting in an entirely new what’s called an ERP, which is really the administrative system that does registration and grading and financial aid and all the administrative functions a college has to perform, and could we help them save a lot of money in doing that so they wouldn’t have to reroute funding from academics over to administration. And we thought it was a very cool idea.”

The capability to provide shared services was developed in the New York State Cloud Computing and Analytics Center at Marist College through a joint research engagement with IBM. Thirsk says Marist will manage the system for The College of New Rochelle.

“We have enough capacity with what we do in research where we spun out a cloud, cloud computing which is all the resources you need to run an organization, on behalf of The College of New Rochelle and we are providing them the consulting they need, our intellectual firepower, so that they can come up very quickly and very inexpensively and make that leap from where they are now to where they know need to be at a very low price and a fast pace.”

Thirsk says a new system carries a price tag of well more than $11 million. He says by turning to Marist, The College of New Rochelle saved more than half that amount. Thirsk gives an example of how the shared service will benefit The College of New Rochelle.

“Previously to our engaging with them, they were dealing with a Web design company that was not in the state of New York and was not being really responsive to their needs, to really update their websites and make it socially active and attractive to new students and current students looking for information about what’s going on on campus, etcetera, etcetera,” says Thirsk. “What we did is we said was, look, don’t use that commercial system anymore. We’re going to provide you open source, which is written by programmers who do it for fun. So we’re using open source, there’s no commercial fees for that. And we said, now you’ll be able to manage your own content when you want to, how you want to, and with your own design. So we gave them back full control of their communications systems, which automatically upgraded the interaction they were having with the people that were interested in the college.”

Catherine Cioffi is spokeswoman for Dobbs Ferry-based Mercy College. She says every dollar spent is a student’s tuition money, so spending wisely and saving where possible is appropriate.

“If it means partnering up with another school in a program, on software to save tuition money, to save dollars that are students are giving us absolutely we should do it,” Cioffi says. “And we are doing it.  And it’s smart for everyone.”

She says Mercy is exploring a partnership, but would not tip her hand.

“Like Westchester County, the Hudson Valley, there are many colleges here and a lot of us have specialties in certain areas and a lot of us have programs that complement each other,” says Cioffi. “And so, yes, looking and exploring ways that we can make the college experience and the degree that our students are getting the best possible, we’re certainly going to do that.”

Meanwhile, Thirsk says his college’s technological partnership with The College of New Rochelle keeps the services and money spent local.

“The companies that provide these types of systems are not in the state of New York. So all that money would have gone to another state, to a company in another state,” says Thirsk. “So we were able to not only help them a great deal with savings, but keep that revenue stream inside the state of New York where it can be better applied.”

While not technological in nature, other private colleges and universities in New York are teaming up for programs as both cost-cutting measures and ways to expand options for students. For instance, Clarkson University is exploring a merger of graduate programs with Union Graduate College in Schenectady. And Albany’s College of Saint Rose and Pace University School of Law in White Plains have teamed up to enable qualified Saint Rose students to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a law degree in six years. There are also discussions about shared services between Albany Law School and the University at Albany.