Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Four Upgrades

Two years ago we talked about the possibility of overlapping ERP upgrades as if it were an insane, doomsday scenario. Yet here we are, upgrading PeopleSoft Enterprise HCM, Oracle E-Business Suite Financials, and Hyperion Planning (a.k.a. "EPM"). And, oh by the way, let's replace existing reporting tools with OBIEE+. How did we end up here?

The economy had something to do with it. Not only because we put the brakes on funding our own large-scale IT projects, but because others did. We don't like being first movers, so when others postponed their projects, we postponed ours even longer.

Oracle's support timelines had something to do with it. Not only schedules for declining support levels, but also recent decisions about extensions of those timelines, waivers of extra fees, etc., which may have skewed behavior at Harvard and our peers.

Our upgrade strategy had something to do with it. Some organizations have a codified ethos. Upgrade immediately. Upgrade as late as possible. Upgrade in-kind. Upgrade with enhancement. Never upgrade. Our ERP upgrades have tended to follow a Goldilocks approach on timing—never too early, hopefully not too late. They have generally also taken a hard-line on scope—no new features unless absolutely necessary. So what happens when the business demands more dramatic expansion of features? And if new executive leadership defines de-customization as a strategic objective? Goodbye, miminum scope.

Our operational calendar had something to do with it. One business line says April or bust. The budgeting system is off-limits from December to June. Financials stakeholders don't want anything putting fiscal year end at risk, so that rules out June to September.

Slip a year here and a year there and you end up with 4 Upgrades proceeding in parallel.

We didn't want to be in this position, but there is a silver lining. We should realize economies of scale for project management and quality assurance. We can combine forces on common tools such as BI Publisher. We can share costs on dedicated testing and training facilities that no one project could afford. And from a cultural standpoint, the entire organization shifts into “project mode” at the same time, rather than in pockets. Scary as that might be, isn’t it also a little bit exciting? (Or maybe just for a dyed-in-the-wool implementation guy like me…)


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