Construction Project Management, Process Improvement
Northeastern University Integrates ERP with e-Builder
by Evan Hill | October 19, 2021
Northeastern University has integrated e-Builder with other university systems to build a true enterprise project management system. The university’s average capital expenditures total $160+ million, with more than 250 projects annually. Their goal was to integrate e-Builder with university systems to create a complete solution that supports their capital program.
The IT team focused on three key areas:
- Ensuring e-Builder would integrate with other university systems currently in place in an enterprise solution;
- Automating cost processes to simplify cost tracking and reduce repetitive tasks like commitment approval, change management, and payment requests; and
- Improving project delivery efficiency to benefit overall efficiency in the capital program.
Improving overall project efficiency was a main focus of the integrations at Northeastern. “Specifically, we wanted to improve the timeliness of data entry and retrieval and maximize the use of different data sources we have around the university to collect information,” says Gary Younger, director of program/project controls and IT projects. “We also wanted to eliminate redundancy between systems and make sure data only needs to enter the system once.”
The university team did an audit of manual processes in place, such as processing invoices. “When we gathered all that information, we realized that by implementing this integration, we could save 95 days per year of a full-time employee’s time,” Younger says. “That broke down to 67 days on the commitment and payment request process and 27 days on monthly cost reconciliations between e-Builder and our general ledger.”
Northeastern focused on two key integrations: linking e-Builder with an existing space management system (Archibus) and capital project request and program financials (Banner).
On the Banner side, one of the integration routines they have in place relates to vendor or company information. “We make sure that the vendors listed in Banner and e-Builder are identical, from identification numbers to sequence number, which represents the location of each vendor—it’s all synched up,” says Younger. “We tag e-Builder vendors in that university-wide system, which allows us to filter out the information we don’t need and only import the vendors that support the overall capital program.”
Northeastern has also established a bi-directional integration for contracts and purchase orders. “All of our contracts and purchase orders get initiated within e-Builder and go through the approval process there,” says Younger. “Proposals and contracts are attached to this process and once everyone has approved the project, it gets sent automatically to the Banner financial system.” The Banner system quickly returns a purchase order number that is applied to that workflow process within each building. “Within a few minutes, that purchase order gets initiated and the commitment is ready to go.”
Other integrations cover approved invoices, journal entries, and pre-approved incoming project requests routed through Archibus.
“This is a great opportunity to bring together these disparate groups within organizations—from designers to planners to engineers and contractors—and give them the information they need in a warehouse they can all access,” says Becky Tamashasky, executive vice president of vision and product engineering at Cityworks. “That better informs what they do in their individual jobs every day.”
Keeping Pace with Technology
Looking to the future, the Northeastern team wants to continue to grow its ability to integrate systems and provide real-time information to project teams. “Right now, our input process is based on flat files,” says Younger. Scheduled reports come out of e-Builder daily, and CSV files are sent to an FTP site, where they are captured, validated and confirmed by the financial system. “It’s a very simple and stable integration method, but it does pose some challenges and limitations.”
While the current method works for now, Younger wants to see the university begin to take advantage of e-Builder’s app exchange, incorporating APIs and pre-built integrations. “We really want to create direct connections to the data sources, which would provide more real-time information and open up more integration possibilities across the university.”
Northeastern’s facilities management team is also developing a central data warehouse to evaluate how the university is doing across multiple areas including capital planning, building, operations, and deferred maintenance. “We want to be able to capture all that data and tell a story through more graphical reporting,” Younger says. “For example, we’d like to have a digital campus map where you could click on a building and see all the capital projects that have taken place there over time, along with work orders, energy consumption, and other details. It would help our planners to be able to see all that information at a glance.”
For more details on how Northeastern University is creating a connected construction platform—and to hear about another in-depth customer integration with Workday at the University of Southern California, watch the complete Elevate 2021 On-Demand session.
Key Topics Covered: infrastructure