Brian’s Song

Katherine GraysonLSU CIO Brian Voss bemoans overspending on collegiate ERP systems, and larger campus issues are crystallized.

In our June 28, 2006 C-Level View eLetter, Louisiana State University CIO Brian Voss delivers a strong argument against some current enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendor practices. Yet, while I see validity in a number of the points he makes, I do feel Voss neglects to address two critical underlying issues.

Voss’s criticism is aimed at what he sees as the underhanded practice, on the part of the vendors, of drawing institutions into hugely expensive implementations, and then, after the fact, offering increased ERP capability and better return on investment (ROI) for “small” additional investments. Voss claims these investments can hit seven figures, and adds that vendors often do not even clarify ROI before the initial investments are made—only after the fact, when they are seeking more dollars.

He also claims that ERP vendors are branching into services to capitalize on campuses’ needs to augment systems which should have met those needs from the get-go. Finally, Voss brings up the issue of the competition for techspending dollars: He maintains that the flow of dollars into administrative systems “will completely consume our centralized IT resources in the very near future, and…CIOs will no longer be able…to meet the broad spectrum of IT needs on campus.” He is concerned that refocusing on ERP will lead to a “fracturing of IT on our campuses.”

Many CIOs are even blunter about these issues than Voss is. One technologist told me last year, “I’m sick of fighting for every dollar for any number of important tech purchases, while the president directs millions into ERP.”

Yet, the fault lies not in those sly ERP vendors, but in ourselves. In the years I have monitored ERP spending and implementation in both corporate and academic America, I have witnessed identical missteps and their results: 1) Any institution or organization that allows technology purchasing decisions to be made by a single office—the president’s or the CIO’s—often finds itself faced with faulty tech purchases; 2) any organization that allows a vendor to present an ROI picture prior to a technology purchase often rues its product choice.

Yes, academic institutions have a habit of fostering spending resentment: One area gets money while another is overlooked. But when it comes to tech spending, it d'esn’t have to be that way. Build and foster tech-review and decision- making teams comprised of representatives from all involved campus areas: IT, academic, financial, operational, even student. Commit to decisions made multilaterally from the ground up, taking into account all pertinent needs. Commit also to decisions that are made only after a thorough examination of potential benefits and ROI has been completed, and never allow a vendor of any product or service to conduct that research in place of the institution.

If these measures are put into place, it is more likely that no ERP purchase will disappoint at the levels still being reported by some institutions. It is also less likely that one tech purchase will be made at the sacrifice of another. Voss makes valid points about ERP nightmares, but that d'esn’t mean they have to persist.

Katherine Grayson, Editor-In-Chief
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