Adjusting To Project ADAPT

Communication breakdown between central administration and schools is root of problem

Five years in the making, the first phase of Harvard's Project ADAPT, that relating to financial systems, was implemented July 1, dramatically changing the way Harvard processes financial information. When the $112 million Project ADAPT began, reform of the information system was sorely needed, and although any project of this size is bound to bring minor bugs and annoyances, most of those affected by the change were willing to go along.

Unfortunately, turnover at the top and breakdowns in the lines of communication have resulted in an unacceptable degree of inconvenience from a system whose overall cost exceeds the one-year operating budgets of Harvard Law School or the Graduate School of Education. Given the frustrations of those using the system, Harvard's central administration must make strong efforts to restore communication between designers and users, and plans for the next step in the system's development, human resources, must avoid the errors that have thus far plagued Project ADAPT.

The goals of this first stage of Project ADAPT were noble: to improve the efficiency, capabilities and performance of Harvard's financial information systems. A successful Project ADAPT would substantially increase the amount of financial information available to administrators, improving accountability, reducing duplicate data entry, and providing year 2000 compliance as well as compliance with federal and state regulations.

Over time, however, communication broke down in the project designed to promote communication among information systems across the University. Most of the original leaders of the project have left since its beginning. Some of the advisory committees, designed to allow faculties and administrators to share their concerns, were foolishly allowed to cease meeting, while others have met irregularly. The result has been a situation in which end users were forced to deal with otherwise avoidable inconveniences--such as the once-routine tasks that now take a half-hour to complete--leading some to view the project as making the job easier for the central administration and harder for everyone else.

Had the implementation of Project ADAPT proceeded with more input from end users, some of these problems, such as the categorization of foreign post-doctoral fellows as "foreign national vendors," might have been avoided. Others, like the 33-digit project codes required by the Oracle software, could not. But improved communication between designers of the system and end users could have eased the pain of the transition and made the inconveniences seem more like a necessary evil and less like an insensitive imposition from above.

Luckily, administrators such as Elizabeth C. "Beppie" Huidekoper, Harvard's vice-president for finance, recognize the frustrations and inefficiencies that a lack of communication can cause. Low morale and inter-administration enmities can be as much of a barrier to productivity as poor software. The efforts to meet with the faculties, especially the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, should be accelerated, especially before the next stage of Project ADAPT begins. The system should not be given responsibility for handling human resources information without a general consensus among the faculties that they are comfortable with the project and are ready to use the new software. A new commitment on the part of the central administration to hearing and addressing the concerns of the faculties will be necessary to restore faith in the system that was supposed to make everything easier.