University Accounting Overhaul Year Behind, Over Budget

A year behind schedule and at twice the expected cost, Harvard's radical accounting overhaul known as Project ADAPT is finally grinding into action-though only two pieces of its first phase are in place, three years after the project began.

ADAPT--an initiative aimed at revolutionizing the way records are kept and money monitored across Harvard's 10 schools--has been in the works since 1996.

Harvard is currently operating under an archaic accounting system developed in 1948. An explosion in information technology, coupled with exponential growth in the size of the University, have rendered the old system all but obsolete, officials say.

"There are key questions we can't answer today, like `How many employees does Harvard have?'" says Peter J. Segall, executive director of ADAPT.

The University responded to these needs with ADAPT-which sought to computerize the University's financial information and record keeping, making it more accessible to administrators who need it.


Provost Harvey V. Fineberg '67, who oversees ADAPT, describes the project as "truly fundamental," remarking what he calls "the invisible backdrop of how the University functions."

But ADAPT has now ballooned to cost twice the University's original estimate, and is a full year behind schedule.

To date, ADAPT has managed to put into place only two of its key pieces: an on-line expense reimbursement program and another budget management program, and ADAPT managers expect more functions will be available this summer.

Now estimated to cost $100 million, ADAPT is eventually expected to deliver, but in order to complete this massive project, the University must ensure that the delays that have plagued ADAPT thus far become a thing of the past.

Meeting Deadline

ADAPT is divided into three phases, each with set goals, but Phase I-implementation of the so-called "core financials"--has yet to be completed.

"We don't have much time now to accommodate further slippage," Fineberg says.

From day one ADAPT has faced logistical problems. In the world of high-priced computer consultants, Harvard has learned that the buyer should beware.

"Working with consultants," Fineberg says, "is... a lesson to be learned."

ADAPT first hired consultants from the firm KPMG, but the firm "did not understand higher education," Segall says.

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