Colorado State University Saves Millions, Celebrates First Successful Campuswide Launch of Kuali Financial Software

Colorado State University is the first in the nation to go live campuswide with the Kuali Financial System, a first-of-its-kind “community source” system designed by and for higher education by a nationwide team of partners. This approach saved the university millions of dollars and is attracting considerable attention from colleges and universities nationwide.

Pat Burns, vice president for Information Technology and interim dean of Libraries, and Allison Dineen, vice president for Finance, will address how Colorado State was able to launch the new system and save millions during the annual EDUCAUSE conference Nov. 3 in Denver.

The transition to the new system—which involved the training of more than 400 campus users—took place in July and has gone relatively smoothly, say campus officials, who hail Kuali as a primary example of how institutions can contain costs in higher education through innovation and collaboration.

The CSU system launch was made possible through the work of The Kuali Foundation, a non-profit organization that coordinates the development of free and open community source administrative software under the Educational Community License. In October 2006, the foundation announced the first release of the open source Kuali Financial System, funded in part by a $2.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Due to the need to move to a 21st century financial system, Colorado State volunteered to take the lead on pioneering use of the new system.

The code that drives the new financial system is a product of the Kuali Community, a consortium of higher-education institutions that are working together to develop open-source systems that directly address the needs of all forms of colleges and universities, including public institutions of higher education. The community source concept provides an opportunity for the higher education community as well as commercial affiliates to join together to develop, maintain, sustain and enhance systems that meet their specific and unique operating needs.

At CSU, the campus implementation team worked closely with Kuali and campus users throughout the process to tailor the system to meet CSU’s needs.

“The implementation team, made up of a small group of individuals from Information Systems, Financial System Services and Business and Financial Services, worked for two years to prepare for implementation of the new system at CSU, working double-time to bring the project in on time and at a cost far lower than anyone had originally anticipated,” Burns said.

Throughout the process, the implementation team was instrumental in engaging the campus community in the decision-making process regarding functionality parameters of the system. Representatives from the campus community also participated in training the more than 400 campus users.

The Colorado State University Board of Governors recognized the need for an updated, integrated financial system at Colorado State in 2006. At that time, the cost to purchase an existing, off-the-shelf financial system was projected to start at around $6 million or more, without the full functionality that CSU needed.

“The total cost for Colorado State’s new system and its implementation came to less than $2 million due to the university’s willingness to partner in the development and launch of Kuali,” Burns said. “We were able to implement the state-of-the-art infrastructure for a fraction of the cost of our peers through a partnership with the Kuali Foundation and reliance on our experience in finding innovative ways to deal with limited resources.”

“As a Carnegie doctoral-granting research university, CSU is obligated to keep meticulous financial records that are subject to review by state and federal agencies. Kuali is the wave of the future,” Dineen said. “Kauli provides the functionality we need to efficiently and effectively manage our complex financial environment.”

For the campus, the benefit of the new system is that it is web-based, allowing all authorized users easy, online access. Documents in the system can be routed electronically for approvals and then electronically stored, saving paper and staff time. Purchasing, inclusive of an online catalog ordering system, is integrated into KFS. The system also supports multi-year budgeting which is instrumental in supporting research grants and contracts.

“All in all, KFS provides tools and resources resulting in more secure, effective and efficient management of CSU’s finances and resources,” Burns said. “This will allow us to manage our finances; whereas the old system only recorded our financial transactions. It’s software designed by higher education for higher education. And we get a round peg to fit into a round hole for a price that is far lower.”

“Controlling costs in higher education isn’t just about cutting budgets,” said CSU President Tony Frank. “We also need to be increasingly innovative and entrepreneurial in our approach to doing business. This is a great example of what we can achieve by taking such an approach. I think the CSU and Kuali staff who worked so hard on this initial launch should be very proud that their work will be a model for other universities around the world.”

Highlights of the new Kuali Financial System

• Colorado State University went live with KFS on July 1, 2009, after a more than two-year implementation effort.
• CSU was the first institution in the world to go fully live on KFS, demonstrating proof-of-concept for this new model of software development by and for higher education.
• Over the next two years, Colorado State University will complement KFS with the Kuali Coeus research management “community source” system. KC will be replacing a “home grown” research system that has been developed and used by CSU over the past 20 years. The two Kuali systems, KFS and KC, are currently the only systems in existence that provide integrated functionality between financial management and research management.
• KFS was developed by a community of higher education partners, by and for higher education, and provides excellent and relevant functionality.
• KFS is a fully integrated, advanced system combining the functions of transactional recording, accounting, budgeting, on-line purchasing, and procurement card processing.
• KFS offers integrated modern workflow for on-line routing and approval of electronic documents, thereby increasing operational efficiency and accountability.
• KFS is extensible with the flexibility to add electronic documents in other areas such as work orders and travel docs.
• KFS provides the ability to attach supporting documents to transactions, which allows the system to store such copies electronically instead of in multiple, distributed file cabinets.
• KFS uses the advanced Service Oriented Architecture model, providing the ability to integrate easily and transparently across other applications such as between research and human resources.
• Robust reporting tools have been implemented, and are being enhanced to provide much- improved management and analysis tools for the campus.
• KFS is accessed through the use of contemporary technology via a web browser.


• CSU’s total cost for implementing its new financial system came to about $1.9 million—far less than the typical cost of implementing a new system at an institution this size.
• Participation in the Kuali Foundation as a member requires the payment of a nominal annual fee of $25,000. Additional opportunities to participate and influence the future direction of the individual Kuali systems are provided through partnerships and memberships within the respective Kuali system boards.
• As a partner institution of the KFS board, CSU contributed two java programmers to the Kuali Community’s KFS team. In April, these programmers returned to CSU for the university’s implementation effort.
• No backfill of campus staff occurred – functional and technical staff implemented the system while simultaneously fulfilling their daily operational responsibilities.