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? It's easy to forget just how serious the problems faced by ASU's administrative computing systems were in August of 2005, only two years ago. Many readers of this blog probably have no idea. But the depth of the administrative computing hole in which ASU found itself provides an important backdrop to this project, and fortunately we have the independent report that three experienced reviewers gave to ASU in January of 2004 to give us all a common understanding of just how precarious the situation was.

So, what did James Bottum, Chief Information Officer & Vice Provost for Computing & Information Technology at Clemson University; Ken Klingenstein, Chief Technologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder; and Joel Hartman, Vice Provost for Information Technologies & Resources at the University of Central Florida have to say about ASU's administrative computing situation circa 2004? Their report is exceptionally frank, as shown by the following excerpts from the full report:

Planning and implementing a new ERP system typically takes 5 — 10 years.

The current administrative computing strategy is flawed… the strategy appears to be based more on avoidance of making the required investment than developing the administrative applications and services required to meet the needs of IT’s constituents now and into the future. An effective forward-looking ERP strategy needs to be defined and costs identified so that attention can be drawn to the considerable planning, implementation, and funding requirements.

Given the age of IT’s ERP systems and their reliance on COBOL, planning efforts should start immediately for transition to a new ERP system.

The university's administrative computing systems will soon be at the end of their life cycle and need to be replaced... In the meantime, the current systems will likely not scale to the university's stated enrollment goal of over 90,000 students, and the lack of integration between systems will become increasingly limiting and problematic.

Planning needs to begin immediately to assess the true useful life of current administrative applications, and to develop and gain consensus and support of university administration for a plan to have replacement systems in place when the legacy systems inevitably reach the end of their functional lives.

The campus has a fragmented approach to enterprise-wide applications, both ERP and others, that warrants a solid underpinning to provide the levels of service needed now and in the future.

The IT organization does not exhibit a 'can do' attitude and seems to defensively retreat behind a perceived lack of resources... The current state of central IT organization and operation is not sufficiently aligned with the university's directions to become a significant partner.

There is little historical evidence of comprehensive strategic planning, both at the university level and within the Information Technology unit... IT's vision, directions, and challenges are not widely recognized or understood throughout the institution.

The report of these experienced university CIOs made it abundantly clear: as 2004 opened, ASU was neck-deep in trouble and its administrative systems were on the brink of sudden unpredictable collapse. And throughout 2004 and deep into 2005, it still had not found its way out of that trouble. ASU did very little other than continue to patch the existing systems with chewing gum and bailing wire. And so the trouble grew as the systems continued to age.When I arrived at ASU in August of 2005, ASU's administrative computing car was still limping down the road, but with a horrible knocking sound coming from up front and inky black smoke curling out of the tailpipe. Not the best time to be looking for a new car, especially if the dealers tell you it will take 5-10 years to get it delivered.

Next Up: Building institutional will and confidence around an ice cream flavor.