San Diego State Campus Retailer Uses Cloud to Solve IT Problems

By Michelle Rafter

Jan. 30, 2013

When San Diego State University’s Aztec Shops switched to cloud-based payroll software in 2012, it wasn’t because of problems with its existing program.

The move was more about fixing internal shortcomings at the nonprofit retailer, which runs two book stores, dining halls, summer conferences and other cost centers at the state school.

Aztec Shops had been using Kronos Inc. on-premise software since 2007 for payroll, timekeeping, performance reviews, open enrollment, family leave and other human resources functions for 850 employees. But as the years went on, the $52 million division’s bare-bones information technology staff was having more trouble juggling software upgrades along with maintaining accounting, inventory, point-of-sale and other non-HR software.

When Leah Messenger, Aztec Shops’ project/payroll manager, learned that in order to upgrade to the latest version of the software, the department also would have to upgrade two of its three computer servers, it was the last straw. She got her director’s approval to jump to the cloud version of the same product.

It didn’t happen overnight.

The university needed to take extra steps to keep data secure, including running time clock information through a virtual private network before sending it to the vendor and getting it back again. The entire process, from initial discussions to working out an implementation plan to adopting the new software, took from fall 2011 to July 2012. Physically turning on the new software took three days. “We took the system down one day, tested the other and were up the next day,” Messenger says. “I’d say it was a trying feat, but we got through it and it’s worked for us.”

Initial feedback has been positive, especially because the cloud-based software works faster than what it replaced, which no one anticipated. “It’s surpassed what we expected for speed even during heavy traffic times,” Messenger says. “There have been some hiccups, but it’s usually network connections and probably a university glitch.”

Aztec Shops pays a monthly subscription fee under a two-year contract. Right now, the overall cost is about the same, though Messenger thinks she will save in the long run by avoiding future IT upgrades. “That’s where we’ll get the bang for our buck— and peace of mind,” she says.

Michelle V. Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor. Comment below or email

Michelle Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor.

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