USF Health goes cloud ERP to boost its disaster recovery and IT support options

Profile picture for user Mark Samuels By Mark Samuels November 30, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
The experience of this University of South Florida research organization shows that moving ERP data to the cloud takes careful planning, but the shift brings big benefits.

USF Health sign on paediatrics unit
(USF Health)

USF Health, which is part of the University of South Florida, is reaping the rewards of its carefully managed move to a software-as-a-service ERP solution. With large volumes of data to transfer, the key to success was its use of dry runs to plan a schedule for the move. Teresa Deckard, Senior ERP Analyst at USF Health, recommends other IT leaders moving ERP to the cloud should take a similar approach:

The best thing I can recommend is that you develop a timeline and have that move figured out from day one about who's going to do what and when. Having that timeline really helped organize what we needed to do.

Deckard led the recent project to upgrade USF Health's on-premises legacy system to the Unit4 Financials SaaS platform, which she described in a session at the vendor's Experience4U virtual event earlier this month. One of the key factors behind the shift was creating peace of mind around a worst-case scenario. She says:

Disaster recovery is crucial — knowing we could have unexpected storms at any time is an issue. We serve patients in the community — and it would be very difficult for us to recover if we didn't have a solid disaster recovery plan.

Up until recently, USF Health — which provides an integrated approach to research, education and healthcare — was running version 13 of Coda Financials, which is no longer supported by Unit4. Deckard says her organization appreciated it was time to upgrade to a newer version of the software, but Deckard was also keen to explore whether a move from on-premises provision to the cloud could help her deal with recovery and support concerns. She explains:

We had the challenge of developing a stronger disaster recovery plan. In Florida, we have hurricanes and unexpected storms that come in, and we needed a more dedicated IT support environment that had the expertise of Unit4. We also needed more resources and we believed it was time to take advantage of the SaaS model.

Deckard ran a cost/benefit analysis and found that the budget required for both on-premises and SaaS provision was relatively similar. However, the potential benefits from a move to on-demand IT weighted the decision heavily in favour of a move to the cloud, as she explains:

We knew we could get great IT support through the Unit4 community. We could also get an integrated disaster recovery plan through the Unit4 cloud. Finally, the continuous release provided by Unit4 over the cloud could remove the concerns of upgrading and offers better protection for our systems.

Making the switch

Deckard says USF Health made the switch to cloud-based Financials two weeks prior to her presentation. The biggest challenge facing her team during the move to the cloud was dealing with the large amount of data that her organization holds. It stores all file attachments due to regulatory requirements from its auditors.

She says storing all that data wasn't much of an issue when the company ran its on-premises ERP system. However, when the organization went to the cloud, the team recognized that transferring the data successfully was going to take a large amount of time. As a coping strategy, they undertook dry runs and added contingency She explains:

A couple of weeks before we went live, we had a dry run, which was perfect. We didn't have a single hiccup through that dry run. So, it gave us an exact timeline of how long everything would take.

The dry run helped establish a schedule for the transition to the cloud. The team even included an extra day for contingency in case of issues. In the end, she says this spare time turned out to be a "great idea" because the team encountered unexpected network downtime and data loss. The team used the contingency to recover the network and data from ongoing back-ups — and was still able to go live on the cloud without impacting users. As part of their roll-out plan, the team also decided to avoid adding additional features that might have created further complexity:

We did back-ups as we went along each day. So, that gave us a point of reference. And then we also didn't implement any new features at the go live. We're going to do the implementation of new features in phases two and three.

Deckard says the shift to the cloud might have only happened two weeks ago, but the organization's employees noticed quicker response times in Financials immediately. Another big benefit is that the IT team was able to upgrade its Coda XL implementation to 64-bit, which she says provides better compatibility with its Microsoft Office 365 products.

Flexibility and value-add

The third benefit relates to flexibility. Deckard says many of USF Health's employees are working remotely due to the pandemic. That remoteness presented an issue when the organization was still using on-premises ERP software, as employees would often have to find a dedicated workstation to log-on to the USF Health Network to run reports or approve procurements. She says going to the cloud provides a much better fit with the new normal:

Our providers move around from site to site and most of them work from home now. Being on SaaS with Unit4 means they can log-in from anywhere and from any workstation. And that has been a huge win right off the bat. People don't have to go through a VPN connection or any other special workstations just to get logged in.

Deckard says they're now starting to think about additional features that might be added in the coming months:

We're looking forward to better efficiencies and controls in the system. The people who approve reports and procurement are also looking forward to the mobile app, so that they can run approvals on the go and create a faster process.

At a personal level, Deckard says she's looking forward to being able to take advantage of the continuous release updates that a shift to the cloud provides. Rather than having to spend resources updating on-premises technology, she'll be able to dedicate more time to value-adding management activities:

Everything's taken care of now. I don't have to worry about updates and the company will be able to use me as a resource on other systems and other projects, so I'll be building out more reports inside the ERP system.


To read diginomica stories from Unit4's X4U digital experience visit our Experience4U 2021 event hub. The virtual event ran from November 16-17th and sessions are now available to view on-demand. Click here to see the agenda and register now.