Harvard University [Mass]: Y2K upgrade problems

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Headline: Administrative Data Systems Modernized [Harvard Univ., Massachusetts]

Source: Harvard Magazine, September-October 2000, page 75-76.

Education and Fair Use EXCERPTS (sorry, I have no link, this is hand-typed):

Harvards modernization of its financial-data systemsthe first phase of a $115 million University-wide project called ADAPThas been plagued by escalating costs, delays in implementation, and slow system performance

Harvard had little choice but to modernize its administrative data systems. The old central financial system, designed in 1940, ran on customized software written in the 1960s that could not generate reports thorough enough to comply with federal reporting requirements [to trace spending of federal grant money, explained elsewhere in article] and was not Y2K compliant.

Back in 1995, administrators charged with deciding what to do with the old system planned to address these deficiencies, and even thought that a redesign could result in annual operating savings of $2 million. A University-wide financial system, they reasoned, would at once eliminate redundant data entry and the so-called shadow systems: department- or sub-level software that duplicated the work of the central systems. What planners didnt fully appreciate was that the only standardized software solutions available in the marketplace were designed for commercial clients, not universities.

Early estimates of the cost to implement a new system hovered around $20 millionIn 1996 [the estimate] for full implementation was $50 millionBy the time Harvard had selected Oracle to provide the software, the cost was projected to exceed $100 million over five years

[discussion of how complex universities arethen article seems to jump conceptually over how the system was fixed:]

The result is that while end-user complaints about the new systems slowness have abated, the special security add-ons can require as many as eight separate long-ons by a single individual

The expected $2 million reduction in operating costs? We are not seeing that

as of the end of June [2000], expenditures for ADAPT totaled $68 million.

SIDEBAR excerpts: Adapting to ADAPT

System slowdowns and security issues have complicated what planners knew from the start would be a difficult changeover process None of us had experience at this, and we were trying to specify a reengineering process, says associate dean for administrative resources Geofffrey Peters

And there were management problems. Between 1996 and mid-1999, ADAPT lost its first three top managers

There was a reliance on consultants such as KPMG, Oracle, and Sapient, says assistant provost and chief information officer Dan Moriarity, a tendency to rely on outside sources. Moriarity says ADAPT proved much more difficult than anyone expected, even given the way Harvard is organized and the size of the project. The problem was not the information technology, not the software or the servers, he says, but rather the implementation, the change management, and the interfaces between the central systems and the rest of the University.

END sidebar.

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), September 11, 2000


This story gets the Y2K award.

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), September 11, 2000.

Great Article

Welcome Andre

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 11, 2000.

Thanks, Andre.

What a pathetic example of egos gone mad. There are many good software suites that could have handled Harvard's needs if they were willing to be the least bit reasonable.

They certainly are not the only academic institution that uses software.

"None of us had experience in this..." Then why didn't they ask someone who had?

No, I don't really know anything about Harvard and ADAPT, but I've managed conversion to new software from legacy systems in colleges.

It's not that difficult and it should *never* cost that much money.


-- Sally Strackbein (sally@sallyskitchen.com), September 11, 2000.

Wow, the Y2K award, with yellow cluster...is that like a purple heart? Thanks.

What really strikes me about this news item, and one of the others I posted yesterday about a Harrisburg-area health system, is the wail of the administrators/bureaucrats that they were ignorant. Indeed, THEY may be, but specialists who AREN'T ingnorant surely exist around them. In fact, how much do you want to bet the technical people were jumping up and down yelling about problems for months or years, and the bureaucrats ignored them? This is the bane of large organizations, in my experience: as the joke goes, there are two kinds of people, those who manage what they do not understand and those who understand what they do not manage.

We heard repeatedly last year that Y2K was more a management issue than a technical one; the current crop of apparently Y2K-related back- office problems clearly supports that view.


-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), September 12, 2000.

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