Friday, September 28, 2007


It seems that last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal article about ASU’s ERP implementation has stirred considerable discussion in various venues around the country. Much is being extrapolated from some fairly vague details in the article. While we appreciate the Journal’s take on our progress, short articles like this have limited space for specifics. And focusing on controversy, while providing a provocative read, doesn’t create the best backdrop for discussing the broader issues.

In the interest of spurring a solid debate on the virtues and drawbacks of ASU’s approach, I'm using this venue to answer some of the questions that the Journal article either missed or answered incompletely. Hopefully the context added here will contribute to public debate.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

What a fine "sole" you have...

You may be familiar with the Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Shoemaker and the Elves. For those who are not, the story goes as so:

Once upon a time there was an impoverished shoemaker. With his last piece of leather, the shoemaker prepares to craft his final pair of shoes. He lays the leather out onto a table, intent on finishing the shoes early the next morning. The shoemaker awakens and to his surprise, finds the shoes already made, and sells them for a lofty profit. Next night, same deal. Long story short, it turns out that while the shoemaker sleeps soundly, two tiny elves prance into the shoemaker’s shop and skillfully fashion fine pairs of new shoes.

ASU’s partnership with Google is much like the story of The Shoemaker and the Elves. Through Google, ASU is able to rise in the morning and discover new applications and features without ever having toiled in the process. This very morning, the ASU community awoke to find Google Presentations added into Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Google Presentations lets users create online slideshow presentations to share with fellow students, teachers, friends, and shoemakers.

We just woke up one morning and there it was, ready for all of us to use. It's like magic.

Check it out and see for yourself.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Strategic Technology Alliance: Avoiding the Phoney War

Regents Vanilla helped us build institutional will quickly by using NAU's version of PeopleSoft as a reference implementation. But just using NAU as a model wasn't enough. In order to get started right away, we had to find a way to avoid the Phoney War.

According to Wikipedia:

"... the Phoney War was a phase in early World War II marked by few military operations in Continental Europe, in the months following the German invasion of Poland and preceding the Battle of France. Although the great powers of Europe had declared war on one another, neither side had yet committed to launching a significant attack, and there was relatively little fighting on the ground."

In the context of an ERP implementation, the Phoney War is the part where you've declared your intention to implement an ERP system but lack the technical resources or expertise necessary to implement it. In the traditional mode, this means that you send a large number of your folks to school where they learn how to bring up the various platforms you'll need. Much hardware is bought, software installed and patches applied. Lessons are learned as systems fail and are restored due to nuances in the deployment of the databases, development environments, and applications software that go into making an ERP.

This normally takes a considerable amount of time, especially for an institution the size and complexity of ASU. The real Phoney War lasted several months and ASU's Phoney War would certainly have lasted at least that long. We needed a way to trim nine months to a year off the front end of the development schedule so that work on a Regents Vanilla solution could begin immediately. Our answer came in the form of a strategic technology alliance. By finding a partner that was already skilled in the deployment of PeopleSoft applications, both for development and large-scale delivery, we could eliminate much of the start-up time and have confidence that the solution we deployed would be able to handle ASU's loads.


Applistructure: The Marriage of Applications and Infrastructure

Arizona State University's hosted PeopleSoft Applications System reflects its first move toward the marriage of enterprise applications and infrastructure technology known as applistructure. The entire system, spread across over 25 UNIX servers, has close to 11 terabytes of disk and a 1/2 terabyte of memory allocated to it. In addition to the UNIX servers, 32 physical and virtual Windows-based servers also support the application system.

The 3 main non-production environments (development, test and training) consist of a production-sized database for each of Oracle's four Enterprise Applications (PeopleSoft Enterprise Performance, PeopleSoft Human Resources/Student Administration, PeopleSoft Customer Relationship Management and PeopleSoft Enterprise Portal). In addition to these 12 environments, there are 15 specialized environments to help support rapid implementation of the entire technology stack. The total 27 non-production environments have over 6 terabytes of space allocated to them.

The 4 production databases consume over 1 terabyte of space. To access the production systems, users encounter their first of many custom integration points in the custom single sign-on process. Users are then routed through load balancers to one of 21 web servers, then on to one of 24 application server domains. To allow for efficient batch processing, there are 9 batch/reporting servers. The partnership between ASU and CedarCrestone's Managed Services Center allowed for the application system to be quickly scaled from a peak of 2,600 concurrent users in March 2007 to managing over 5,800 concurrent users in August of the same year.

In addition to user volume, ASU's Enterprise Applications are also able to provide and consume web services. Integration points such as tuition payments, distribution of PeopleSoft transactional data to University systems campus-wide, and notification of service outages of University systems, have all been redeployed as web services - with more to come.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Regents Vanilla

regentsvanilla.jpgThe 2004 independent CIO’s report did not paint an encouraging picture: IT with a “can’t do” attitude; a serious risk that the administrative systems were at the end of their life, subject to unpredictable failure; no strategy or institutional will to address the issue -- and even if the institutional will could be summoned, any fix would likely take 5-10 years and $70-$100M.

Not good.

Within days my arrival at ASU in August of 2005 (New Post), it became clear that if ASU were to move forward technologically, some solution to the ERP puzzle would have to be found: a daunting task since smart people at ASU had been trying to solve that puzzle for the previous decade.


Monday, September 03, 2007

How Deep Was the Hole?

Today's post is the first in a 3-part series on ERP the ASU Way. In comparison to the traditional university take on ERP, the ASU Way has shown itself to be lower-cost, lower-risk, quicker to get in play, and nimbler once it's deployed. ERP the ASU Way doesn't begin from a blank page. It relies on strategic technology alliance to get a faster, safer start and uses the Implement, Adapt, Grow methodology to replace critical enterprise processes quickly, then nimbly adjusts them to fit. Over the course of the next week or so, I'm going to expand on this approach here, and the way we used it to dig ASU out of a serious and very risky hole, a hole where it found itself after 25 years of underinvestment in administrative computing systems.

Why would we bother changing these systems -- Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Records, Registration, Talent Acquisition, and Payroll -- in the first place? We've spent about fifteen million dollars on development so far: that's a lot of scratch. And even if 6 of the 7 systems went in smoothly, you have to admit Payroll wasn't painless. (If your pay is one of the ones affected, it was the definition of painful!) So what's the hurry? Couldn't we have left well enough alone?


Sunday, September 02, 2007

How 'bout those Devils!!!

How about those Devils last night? That's the way you do it!! From where I sat, they looked very good, on both sides of the ball, special teams, few penalties...Very encouraging. Congratulations to Coach Erickson and the whole team. An awesome debut.

Even with such an auspicious start, I noticed that about midway in the second quarter, some of the guys behind me in the stands were already starting with the Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda. Shoulda run this play. Coulda taken better advantage of that opportunity. Woulda been better this way than that way.

Of course, armchair analysis is part of the game. Part of every game, really. Every real fan does it. And the coaches do it too, of course, to understand where things went right and wrong, to better prepare for the next game.