|Photo: Eric Denna|
In 2002, the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) published “The Promise and Performance of Enterprise Systems for Higher Education,” by Robert Kvavik, Richard Katz, and others. In it the authors estimated that more than $5 billion had been spent on administrative and ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems.1 One can only imagine what has been spent since then—and what is being spent this year and what will be spent in the coming years. Whatever the amount, it is likely to be very substantial.
When the Kvavik and Katz data gets resurrected at a discussion around the water cooler or at conferences these days, the reactions range from “so what, that’s the cost of doing business” to “hmmm, I didn’t know that, I wonder what we spent” to “you have got to be kidding me, that can’t be right.” What seems the most striking is that we don’t know if the money spent was too much, too little, or just right. We have a hard time showing, in a verifiable way, that the benefits exceeded the cost of implementing the new systems. Regardless of the reaction, we seem poised to do it all over again.
Even more troubling than the amount spent, Kvavik and Katz reported that many of the projects that contributed to the $5 billion price tag failed in that they came in over budget, took longer than planned, or did not deliver the expected value. Why? Kvavik and Katz explain:
External forces such as quality of software or consulting were found to be less influential than internal forces. When asked, these institutions revealed that the major obstacles to completion were mostly internal to the institution. They include data issues, cultural resistance to change, and lack of understanding of software capabilities. The realization that the greatest implementation challenges are the result of internal institutional issues—not external forces—contradicts a popular message prevalent in the industry for the past few years. It’s interesting to discover that the institutions themselves—their cultures, their people, and their historical decisions—are the primary hurdle to clear for a successful implementation, not the technology, the consultants, or the vendors.2In other words, the project aspects over which we had absolute control were the most frequent causes of failure. No wonder, then, that in a recent discussion Vicki Tambellini, a widely regarded expert in the higher education software market, noted that a number of institutions seem to be deliberately waiting to replace or upgrade these systems. As she has tried to understand why, she has learned that most of them anticipate making significant investments in administrative systems in the coming three to five years and are waiting to see what shakes out in the software (tool) marketplace. Specifically, many are watching the emergence of cloud-based software vendors, otherwise known as Software as a Service (SaaS).3 What is troubling, however, is that most appear to be preparing to make another “silver bullet” bet, thinking all they need to worry about is picking the right software tool to be successful. In other words, they are concerned with external forces, which Kvavik and Katz found to be “less influential.” There appears to be little happening in terms of dealing with internal forces—the “major obstacles” to which Kvavik and Katz refer.
Source: EDUCAUSE Review