Mergers and Acquisitions in Higher Education

Elizabeth Farrell |

Tambellini Author

Top of Mind Podcast: Mergers and Acquisitions in Higher Education
Estimated Reading Time: 22 minutes

The pace of mergers and acquisitions has rapidly accelerated in higher education in recent years as institutions adapt to a changing market. But what happens behind the scenes when two institutions decide to join forces?

Northeastern University’s CIO, Cole Camplese knows firsthand from his experience building a unified technology operation for his institution’s recent partnership with Mills College in Oakland, California. Learn about all the planning and efforts involved in this month’s podcast.

Highlights include:

  • Combining campus cultures & change management
  • Dealing with supply chain challenges
  • Rebuilding network infrastructure

Topics:

  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Network Infrastructure
  • Change Management
  • Budgeting
  • Leadership

Transcript

Elizabeth Farrell:
Welcome to the Tambellini Group’s July Top of Mind podcast. I’m your host, Liz Farrell. This month, we are talking about higher education mergers and acquisitions, along with all the tech considerations that accompany them. With so many institutions facing economic uncertainty and declining enrollments, the pace of closures, mergers and acquisitions has accelerated in higher education. According to statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, close to 200 institutions, which is about 15% of all US degree granting institutions have closed in the past decade, and that’s four times the number compared to the previous decade.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, they reported that from 2018 to 2022, 95 colleges completed mergers compared with 78 over the 18 years prior to that, and that’s based on data from EY-Parthenon. So as more institutions are exploring their options to avoid closures or even looking at ways to expand their footprint with these opportunities, we’re exploring all the strategic efforts and decision making involved in combining two institutions.

And today, we are lucky enough to have Cole Camplese joining us to give us a peek behind the curtain of how Northeastern University, where he serves as VP and CIO approaches mergers from a technology perspective. Cole has been in this role at Northeastern for the past five years and has spent the last 25 years in technology and leadership roles at institutions including University of Chicago, Stony Brook University and Penn State. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today, Cole, and welcome.

Cole Camplese:
Hi, Liz. Thanks for having me.

Elizabeth Farrell:
Well, I’m so grateful you’re here with us because Northeastern has such a unique model and it seems to be a big part of the reason why the institution has had this enviable distinction of being in a face of expansion. So, can you start by just giving our listeners a bit of background about that model?

Cole Camplese:
Sure, Liz. Northeastern really is unique in a lot of ways, but I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention really the ethos of the institution is that of experiential learning. We were founded with the idea that our students wouldn’t just receive an incredible liberal arts or technical education, but they would actually be out in the field working. So we have what’s called co-op, and all of our students are required to complete co-ops. Many of our students do up to three, sometimes even four co-ops in their four or five years while they’re on campus. And what this gives them is it gives them a few things. Obviously the real-world education aspect is critical to what we think makes a well-rounded graduate, but it’s also the opportunity to explore many disciplines. So you can imagine a bio student who really thinks she wants to be in biotech engineering, and she goes and spends six months working in a lab.

But what she realizes is during that, she really finds a passion for helping people in different kinds of ways, and then she decides her next co-op is going to be a non-profit somewhere in Africa. And so, it really brings the outside real-world aspect of learning into the classroom and it takes the results of our faculty’s research and contextualizes it against real-world problems. And I think that that’s really the thing that is so exciting about Northeastern is that our students have this grounding in real-world learning, and it’s given us the opportunity to really think differently about place. And I think when we really made the leap from a small college into an R1 university, the idea of having opportunities in various places to connect to industry, to connect to problems of practice, to connect to context in various parts of the world was really at the root of what we’re seeing at Northeastern today.

Elizabeth Farrell:
And it’s also something, I mean, if we’re talking about what has been a challenge for a lot of institutions is showing that value of a degree. We see a lot of declining enrollments, but we know like, I’ve read 2021 for instance, there were over 90,000 students applying for 2,600 spots at Northeastern. That puts you in such a rarefied space.

Cole Camplese:
Yeah, it really does. And the national rhetoric around the value of higher education comes into play when you look at this and you think about. My background is in psychology, and I remember coming out from my undergrad and really my only pathway was graduate school because I hadn’t been exposed to the various opportunities that existed in my field. It took me really more than a decade to understand that I could have done much more than that. So, the aspect of the real-world learning has led to just this incredible popularity of Northeastern and what used to be considered a safety school in Boston is now a premier academic destination for some of the countries best and brightest.

And like you said, over 90,000 applicants for so few slots, it’s become so incredibly selective. And when you think about that, you add in the fact that we are also a very large and complex university, very much like a traditional institution. You mentioned my three previous institutions, and we’re just like that with a massive research plant. But in addition to that, we layer in the real-world learning piece and a focus on the human engagement in the world has created such a dynamic opportunity for students. And let’s be real, parents are a big part of helping students in high school select where they go and parents hear that whole value proposition and they want their students to graduate in four and they want them to be immediately employable. So Northeastern has become really a premier destination because of that, I think.

Elizabeth Farrell:
You mentioned too, in this model, you think about place differently, and is it 13 different locations that you have at this point?

Cole Camplese:
Yeah, we have 13 campuses and always potentially counting, that’s part of our strategy. And I think what’s really fascinating about our model, because many places where I’ve been in a lot of places in higher education, they have what I call outposts. University of Chicago is obviously a world-class university with campuses in other countries and some scale of degree offering, but not really at the level that we think about what our campuses do. Our campuses are tied to the local economy, they’re tied to the local context of the region, we’re in Canada, we’re in the United States, we’re in the United Kingdom. And a lot of times, not only do we value the local context of those campuses, we expand upon them and take great advantage of the local opportunities that not only it affords our students, but our researchers to partner with industry.

So you can imagine what it looks like to be in Seattle, what it looks like to be in Silicon Valley, what it looks like to be in Charlotte with healthcare and these other regions, and it allows us to really strategically target degree programs and offerings that make sense regionally and also enhances the brand of Northeastern writ large.

Elizabeth Farrell:
Yeah. It’s not just sort of like, “Oh, you’re going to go study abroad or study remotely,” it’s this whole holistic experience.

Cole Camplese:
It really is. And I’ll just mention that, in addition to these 13 campuses, within that, three of our campuses now offer undergraduate degrees. So, we are the only US-based university that offers an undergraduate degree in the United Kingdom, and that’s very unique. So, our Oakland campus at Mills College that I think we’re going to spend some time talking about today, Boston and London are campuses where students can fully matriculate. And that is really interesting. And I mentioned experience as an ethos, the next layer of that is mobility. So you can imagine a student who wants to spend her first year or first semester studying in London, her second semester in Oakland, come back to Boston and maybe return to one of those campuses for co-op or other kinds of activities. Not only are you getting this real-world experience, you’re getting really a global perspective on what the future of work looks like.

Elizabeth Farrell:
And I’m also thinking too, just thinking back to when I applied to school or when other people I know applying to school, it’s so hard sometimes, you don’t want to be limited by one location. It’s an extra cool factor, I think, for students because you aren’t just choosing, “Oh, I’m going to be in Boston for four years and I’m limited to the network in that region or the internships in that region and everything,” you can be in literally on the other side of the country and even across the pond in the UK having an access to all the European market and the network there.

I mean, it’s just an amazing model that you have. And I’m sure everyone else is thinking, “Why didn’t we think to do that too?” But it takes some time to build. And one of the things when you mentioned talking about place differently, you mentioned Mills College, and that was the springboard for having this discussion with you about partnerships, whether they’re mergers or acquisitions of institutions. Northeastern has been it seems like even since the beginning of the pandemic even accelerated its approach to looking at other schools where they can extend this model domestically.

Cole Camplese:
Yeah. In a lot of ways, the pandemic. I think for probably all your listeners, many of the CIOs saw the pandemic as a tale of two cities, the worst of times and best of times in so many ways. Northeastern approached the pandemic in a very different way. When many universities were retrenching, we saw it as an opportunity to do a handful of things and do them at a level that I was lucky enough to be engaged with. One of them obviously is this growth model. The other being just really leaning into digital and digital transformation. We were able to move the needle on digital transformation at the onset of the pandemic in a way that many institutions sort of slowed down, we hit the go fast button. President Aoun really saw the moment along with the board of trustees as one moment to think even bigger as it relates to how we think about place.

And at the time, many small liberal arts schools were really struggling because with closure or at least remote work comes a massive amount of investment, a campus needs to stay open. And Northeastern, many campuses went fully online, we did not, we actually built digital tools that allowed our students to stay on campus, get tested every three days. We built a dynamic scheduling platform that allowed students to be in gentrified classrooms based on an algorithm that selected number of times in class, how many times they wanted to be there, either their credit load, their placement year, etc. So, we did a lot in the pandemic time to really think about how we would position ourselves post-pandemic. And Mills was obviously, I think, probably the largest and most complex thing we did during that time, for sure.

Elizabeth Farrell:
So let’s talk a little bit about Mills. It seemed like you all already had a program or a location in San Jose prior to Mills.

Cole Camplese:
San Jose and San Francisco, which now we loosely call Silicon Valley, but again, graduate campuses. Campuses for graduate students to matriculate either experiential PhDs or master’s degrees, professional master’s degrees, etc. Mills afforded us an opportunity to think beyond graduate education and really think about what does a West Coast Northeastern look like from an undergraduate perspective clearly while maintaining graduate programs on that campus, but thinking far beyond that.

Elizabeth Farrell:
So tell us a little bit about Mills. What situation were they in? I mean, I had seen some things where this had been an all women’s college back in the ’90s. They said, “This is not a viable model anymore, we’re going to go coed.” And I’ve seen this a lot having been a reporter covering this back then that alumni, others are really against that, so then they decided not to do that, there seemed to be some other issues. How did this come to be?

Cole Camplese:
Well, I can’t speak to how did it come to be in detail because that’s the purview of the board and others. But I will say that Mills is an exceptional institution, widely known for its focus on women’s rights, gender equity, really internationally known as a place to be. And yes, it was a women’s college, they were coed in the graduate program prior to working with us. However, they were struggling financially as, like I mentioned, many smaller schools were. Mills is an absolutely beautiful campus, I can’t express to you the natural beauty associated with this campus, the acreage, the opportunities it affords. And in a weird way, like us, they had a very specific ethos. And I think that that’s what made the match so attractive is that we were both a little quirky in that we were focusing on very specific things. And when we started talking, there was just a natural flow between the two entities that I think made it a very interesting match.

And you mentioned alumni and existing students, etc., maybe at first had, I would call issues with the idea of this changing. And I think the fear of big Northeastern coming in and wiping out that history was in the back of people’s minds. But we went in with this attitude that, hey, there are 100 faculty members here doing great work. There are already hundreds of students here doing great work. There are staff here doing great work. There’s incredible academic leadership here doing great work. And so, when you use the word merger, acquisition partnership, I mean, I think we really thought about this as a partnership where they were ahead of us in a lot of areas just like we were ahead of them in a lot of areas. And I think together, it made the opportunity one that was very attractive to both parties.

Obviously from a financial perspective, it’s attractive for everybody, but at the end of the day, the fit has to be there, you have to be able to forge a relationship and a partnership based around shared values. And I think that our two leadership groups were able to communicate that shared value structure and value system in a way that allowed this to be an executable relationship going forward.

Elizabeth Farrell:
So there’s that first step where there’s that, as you mentioned, very high level leadership involved in, does this have the potential to work, is this going to be a cultural fit? And we see, for instance, in the corporate world, partnerships, mergers, acquisitions, that whole group looks very promising at first, then things sort of fall apart, the devil gets in the details there. So that obviously has not been the case here. So after that high level vetting is done, both parties are amenable, they’re going to move forward, when does the CIO and the team get involved? Because I also notice Northeastern has CIOs a lot of its various campuses as well. So, what is the first thing that you’re being asked to do and what is the first thing that you want to know?

Cole Camplese:
Well, at Northeastern, I’m the tip of the spear as it relates to information technology strategy for the institution. We don’t have additional CIOs at campuses, we have IT folks there obviously that have to do day-to-day support functions. But I was lucky enough to find out a little early, but not as early as you might think. I mean, Northeastern has this approach, and President Aoun is a person that once his strategy is locked, he executes with velocity. And when you have a leader like that with the backing of the board and a senior leadership team who are pretty much laser focused on what the execution strategy looks like, the expectation is that people in roles like mine are going to make it happen. So you have people like myself, you have the folks who operate facilities, human resources, academic programs, etc. where I feel like we have good leadership in place at those layers.

And so it really is, “Here’s the direction and let’s assemble a team now to solve for all of these problems.” And going back to the pandemic, one thing we did very early on is we broke down the walls between our organizations. And I can’t stress the importance of that enough in an approach like this, and that is that I was told that I didn’t have a lane, just like our VP for facilities was told she didn’t have a lane or HR didn’t have a lane, and we all had specialties, but we were all asked to act as leaders that bled into other lanes. And I think that when you do that, ego gets pushed aside, turf gets pushed aside, and you end up with this approach where you just have a group of leaders trying to do what’s best for the university and for the outcome. So, we closed the merger July 1 of, what is that, 2022, I think I found out sometime in January.

Elizabeth Farrell:
The prior January?

Cole Camplese:
Yeah, January to July. So maybe I had six months of planning, but we were not able to do any work until July 1 and then we opened for fall. So you can imagine the flurry of activity that occurred from July until late August, September to really completely retrofit a campus and modernize it.

Elizabeth Farrell:
Wow. You said that you couldn’t do any work until that closing in July, but was there between that January and July any planning or vetting?

Cole Camplese:
Oh my God, yeah. The amount of planning was unbelievable. I and a handful of my team did fly out to Mills in very late January, early February, and do what I would call a back of napkin assessment across each domain that we were thinking about physical infrastructure, including network infrastructure, which was not built out in a way that would meet the standards of what we would expect for a Northeastern student to experience. Classrooms were in dire situation, you have to understand that Mills had gone through a period where they didn’t have dollars to invest in things. And so, especially in the fast-paced world of technology, and in particular, the acceleration that happened during the pandemic and expectations of what classroom technology looked like, we were behind the eight-ball there. So, everything from learning management systems to enterprise planning environments, to networking, to research, computing capabilities, classroom standards, AV across campus, desktop, computings, managed devices, security, the list goes on and on and on.

So we were blessed in that Mills had an existing IT staff, and in a strange twist, about six months or so before Mills, I had created a new leadership person on my team, our AVP for global IT. And so, there was a natural place to operationalize that team the minute that those staff became part of the Northeastern ecosystem that they could report directly to Matt Meyer who was in that role. And what we found really was a group of IT staff out there who were skilled and very excited to do work. You can imagine very few people in IT want to sit on their hands. We are problem solvers and we want to attack opportunity, and so when you’re asked to not do things because of funding constraints, there was a pen up energy, I can’t explain like, first, the look of confusion and fear, and then throughout the day that we spent with them going from that to, “Oh my God, we’re going to get to do some really interesting things.”

And I think that we look at IT as ones and zeros, but at the end of the day, it’s a people business, and I think a lot of CIOs will tell you that, but in a merger, acquisition partnership model, if you don’t win the hearts and minds of the existing talent and get them moving in the same direction, it’s very difficult. And again, we had our own team put into place, we were able to acquire very prime real estate central on campus, we built what we call a Tech Bar, it’s modeled after Apple’s Genius Bar model that sort of became ground zero or the hub for all of our activities. And members of my team spent really their summer, they left Boston and moved out to Oakland to lead this transformation and fly back and forth. I was there multiple times, multiple weeks over that summer, but we literally had boots on the ground from Boston for months. And when I say months, really two and a half months between closing the deal and our first class of students showing up.

Elizabeth Farrell:
Wow. It’s interesting when I’m thinking about overall applicability of this trend, when there are similar things happening with other institutions, there’s usually, as you mentioned, one is in a financial position where they haven’t been able to invest as much and you think, well, that’s going to be a common challenge that anyone in your position when they’re doing a partnership with another institution is going to face, they’re behind in certain aspects because they haven’t been able to invest. But I’m also hearing the flip side of this here is you have IT people with this sort of pent-up demand and enthusiasm that you get to harness. So, it’s not even necessarily a disadvantage to have not had that investment done in a way because it’s something that you can leverage.

Cole Camplese:
Yeah, it is. However, what I would say is what wasn’t in place, and we had to be very creative about, was network infrastructure. Our biggest limiting factor was availability of networking to residence halls and to classrooms and outdoor spaces. So, the buildings were constructed at a time when there was not any structured cabling opportunities. So there were no runways for cabling, you couldn’t pull wires through buildings. So we had to get really, really creative, and I think one of the most interesting things we did is we worked with Verizon to do a site assessment of 5G coverage in the Oakland area, found where it was lacking and worked with them to make sure that they turned up their 5G availability, and then we partnered with them on a one-to-one device model. So, we actually worked with them to outfit every student and faculty member with a 5G iPad, which really was transformational in providing access to students in their residence halls, expanding on the Wi-Fi work that we did.

We spent a lot of money doing a lot of work, but again, we only had really eight, 10 weeks to do this work. And so, imagine being able to walk across campus and actually be able to be on your iPad, turning in assignments, checking in on notes, using one note to sit outside and do your work. Had we not gotten creative with that opportunity, I think the experience would’ve been much more limited. And on top of it, you can imagine the look on the student’s faces when they showed up and they walked into the Tech Bar and there were personalized bags with the Northeastern University logo on them with an iPad, air and a keyboard and an Apple Pencil ready for them to walk out with with a paid cellular plan. Things like that, you have to think outside of what you do at your current location because that’s not something we would do in Boston, that was very specific.

There was a huge gap and we had to fill the gap by being very creative. And the magnificent thing is we had faculty on that campus who had been using iPads for a couple of years to teach, and they actually formed a group that we went in and worked with them on to help feed the eagles, if you will. In other words, there became sort of a grassroots efforts amongst faculty to learn how to wirelessly present in classrooms, how to use their iPad as an instructional tool, how to transform the learning experience for students. And not having things sometimes gives you the opportunity to try brand new things because you’re not limited by existing infrastructure. So yeah, I think in some ways, the gap sometimes allows you to build very novel bridges that you get some unintended consequences from.

Elizabeth Farrell:
It sounds positive as well in terms of if there’s often skepticism over cultural change or things are going away. When they’re coming in, as you said, they’re getting the cellular plan, they’re getting the iPad and everything. I imagine that that may be a cultural change, but certainly not a bad one.

Cole Camplese:
No. There are two cultures coming together, however. And so, I think that’s another lesson is that patience is really important when you do this. Every tweet is not going to be the most positive tweet, and what you hope for is that the community, and I think we saw this, the community self-correct over time as the existing Mills students saw that we weren’t there to take over their university, but to augment their current path of study. And our new students were not coming there to destroy the tradition of Mills, things started to come together. And undergraduate students are incredibly resilient, it’s such an exciting time of their lives that given the opportunity to explore various perspectives is also a really rewarding piece of thinking about doing something like this between a university like Northeastern and what was a smaller liberal arts style college at Mills, it was an eye-opener for both sides, and then a new community and a new culture emerges from that with elements of both.

Elizabeth Farrell:
So, it seems that the student experience is very central to this. You mentioned there were things when you go in there and first, you do this assessment, you’re looking at differences. Would you say one of the top priorities there was ensuring that the learning experience at Mills was at the same level, the student interaction, the eliminating friction, the top priority was to get it at the level that would be expected or was already in place at Northeastern?

Cole Camplese:
Yeah. I think it’s very fair to say that the student experience is what guides all of our decisions regardless of campus. Our chancellor, Ken Henderson, has set the standard that student experience is his top priority. And when you have a very senior leader who says those words out loud, they mean things. And then in our case, our actions follow our words. So my biggest fear as CIO was that I wasn’t going to be able to deliver on that experience for students. And I think that if you looked at each of our verticals, from an operational perspective, each senior leader’s biggest fear was that they were not going to be able to deliver on that experience, because we’re 3,500 miles away trying to shift culture to adapt to systems, etc. But when you go in and you look at things through the lens of our students are the most valuable asset and delighting them is at the very top of the priority list, decisions get made specifically with that in mind, and where you compromise is on other things.

And I think that that’s very important to recognize that we’ve tried our best to not compromise around what the experience our student gets. And that experience is everything from safety and security of the campus, availability of advisors, to the experience in the classroom, to what it means to just be a citizen of the campus, experience is a holistic effect. If you’re unhappy with your laundry facilities and happy with your classes, the laundry facilities are still dragging down the overall happiness quotient. So, each vertical had to really think critically about, “Okay, the mail room, are we going to delight students in the delivery of packages?” I know that that sounds silly, but these are things that all add up to the meta experience that a student has. And we tried really hard to make sure that the experience was as good, if not better than it was at Boston. And again, because we had a clean slate in some ways, we could do things there that we couldn’t do here.

Elizabeth Farrell:
Right. Sometimes there’s that burden of tradition or being set in a certain ways that you have to change.

Cole Camplese:
Yeah, it’s always been done this way at all.

Elizabeth Farrell:
Exactly.

Cole Camplese:
Yeah, exactly.

Elizabeth Farrell:
Can we talk for a sec about budgeting?

Cole Camplese:
Sure.

Elizabeth Farrell:
You mentioned planning starts maybe six months ahead of time when you know this is going likely to happen, but the papers haven’t been signed and finalized. How are you accounting for things? I mean, do you have a specific budget? Were you able to stick to it? There’s got to be things that come up that you can’t anticipate. I mean, that’s how it works on any technology project even in one campus that isn’t partnering with another.

Cole Camplese:
Yeah. I mean, the whole budgeting process was very complex because the nature of the deal in the financial arrangement, which it’s not important for me to get into the details of that for the sake of this podcast, but I think what I would say is that what we were asked to do as leaders was create three points on the spectrum. If I were to be able to deliver the absolute best experience, this is what I would need, and that’s this number. And then there’s sort of like MVP number, the minimum viable product number, and then there’s the number in the middle. And I think we really spent the number in the middle plus or minus a little bit.

Really truly the most expensive things were around physical infrastructure, because there is a natural cost savings in the offset of retiring old systems and moving legacy operations to the cloud, moving ERP aspects into the central ERP environment. I mean, we onboarded these folks directly into Workday, etc. so we were able to turn down some things that were existing there to create offset. But the biggest challenge was supply chain. And I think with any of these go really fast projects, probably for the next 24 to 36 months, supply chain is still going to be an issue, we’re still seeing the ripple effect of the pandemic. We were lucky enough that we were in the midst of a large network upgrade in Boston, so we had in stock availability of switching gear and some other things that we were able to literally ship, pack up in Boston and ship to Mills to Oakland to accommodate the extraordinarily tight timeline.

Had we not had that on hand, it would’ve been very difficult. And I think that’s a big lesson learned from this. As we continue to look at where do we go from here, my office is being informed much more early of potential future work in this kind of space because of just being able to stock inventory. The biggest thing when you walk into a new facility is that the infrastructure has to be up to standard, we wanted to deliver a safe, secure, reliable environment, and you can’t do that with an environment that’s beyond its useful lifespan.

So, the lessons learned were about how do we think about sourcing and being able to source quickly is really a huge takeaway from this. But any of these projects, it’s the physical infrastructure and I mean the residence halls, the cabling, and then you go down into the enterprise gear, which is also relatively expensive in the classroom work. Those were the biggies, those were the big cost points from an IT perspective. And we’re doing more work, we’re opening up two new residence halls for this fall. And so this summer, we’re out there doing basically the exact same thing we did last year, running wire, pulling cable, installing new switching gear, hundreds of access points, etc. that are necessary to get at that student experience that we talked about.

Elizabeth Farrell:
You mentioned too, moving to the cloud, ERP systems going to Workday. Can you talk a little bit about the technology debt aspect of it? There are existing contracts that the school has in place, is it hard to unravel those and merge them with others? What was that aspect of it like?

Cole Camplese:
Well, honestly, that’s still going on because there were contractual things in place. For example, it was a Google campus. We are largely a Microsoft 365 campus, not largely we are. So, there was a huge lift on migrating mailboxes, Google Drive to OneDrive, which really if you go back up the chain, that’s all identity and access management. And so, we needed to create a pathway for the employees to become employees of Northeastern. And what’s interesting is that we already had models for transfer students, so we were able to do that. There was this huge fear that, “How are we going to get these students from Mills to Northeastern?” It’s like, “Well, why don’t we lean on existing processes and practices?”

And so in some cases, it was just as simple as leaning on decades old approaches that we had. In other instances, it was designing brand new processes going forward. And I think that’s another takeaway is don’t panic, look at what you have in place as it relates to probably novel situations and use cases. So how do you transition all the existing mill students? Oh, we have a transfer process. We know how to do that. Let’s do that.

How do you batch organize staff into Workday with job classifications and grades? We had to do new things there. We had to figure all of that out. But we tried to minimize the amount of new work we had to do relative to enterprise planning by leaning on old practice where it was appropriate and only inventing new practice where it was necessary. We were also lucky that they were a banner shop and we were coming off Banner. So we still live in the banner finance world and the banner student world. We have made the transition to Workday Cloud or Workday HR. So we made the decision right away as we were putting that product in, it was going to be available for the Mills faculty staff. So, it was just a natural transition for that.

We now have our chart of accounts all designed, everything is in place and recognizes Mills as a campus of the university. At this point, everything is fully integrated. There are still some legacy contracts in place that I think this year by about December or January, I think we will be out of the last five or six of those. But again, it’s a people problem. People, believe it or not, are still married to what kind of email client they use. And so, going from Google to Outlook was jarring to some people. Some faculty had gigabytes of data and Google Drive that all had to be migrated, and then those faculty need to be educated on how you use OneDrive.

And I think that probably that was the biggest impact on the faculty and staff was the movement from Mills legacy, what I would consider collaboration and communication platforms to Northeastern, so we leaned in heavily to the whole Microsoft ecosystem at the start of the pandemic, Teams, everything. And so, they went from Zoom to Teams, they went from Google to Office 365, etc. And then we’ve recently started a massive movement to move much of our daily operations to manage services. So we brought them under, for example, our security operations center, that’s a managed service, we did a specific security assessment of the campus on the way in and designed the environment specifically based on the outcomes of that assessment.

And now, we’re re-architecting our network to leverage Mills as a redundant location on the other side of the country for us. So, there’s a lot of stuff that you have to do for day one, and then you start to think about what opportunities does an alternative global location afford, and it’s giving us a chance to rethink the way we take advantage of the global or the regional research and education networks, for example. So, it’s a really interesting and dynamic area to be involved in, and I can’t say enough about how exciting it is to actually get to do that. If you’d asked me 10 years ago when I first started to become a CIO, if I would be doing M&A work, I would’ve said absolutely not in higher education. And here I am. And so it’s added a level of excitement to working at Northeastern, for sure.

Elizabeth Farrell:
Well, Cole, you’ve given us such great insights into the nuts and bolts of how this works, the overall philosophy to it. And I think the big takeaway that at least I have from this is that this can be a great opportunity for an institution if they’re approaching it with the right respect for the culture and the recognition that it’s going to be an ongoing process.

Cole Camplese:
Absolutely, absolutely. And for CIOs out there, you have a CFO for a reason and let them worry about if it’s a financial fit, you as the CIO do everything you can to adhere to the ethos of doing it the right way with the same rigor that you do in your existing environment. And ultimately, I think you can be very successful doing something like this.

Elizabeth Farrell:
Well, thank you so much, Cole, for taking the time today to share your insights with us.

Cole Camplese:
Well, thank you, Liz. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I’ve enjoyed this quite a bit.

Elizabeth Farrell:
And that concludes this month’s edition of our Top of Mind podcast. Don’t forget to check out our other resources and podcasts at thetambellinigroup.com.

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Elizabeth Farrell |
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Elizabeth Farrell is an award-winning communications leader with a proven track record of success in delivering high-impact results for national and global colleges and universities, Fortune 100 companies, dynamic start-ups, and influential nonprofits. She has collaborated closely with higher education institutions over the past two decades in numerous roles including media relations, branding, marketing, business development, and as a journalist for outlets including The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Wall Street Journal, and PBS Newshour.

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