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Early in his term as president, Neil L. Rudenstine asked his staff, "How many people work at Harvard?"
But they could not answer. The University's ancient information systems could not produce that kind of report.
According to Assistant Provost Daniel D. Moriarty, the University's chief information officer, unanswerable questions like Rudenstine's prompted the administration to consider sweeping system reform.
"The alternative of not doing something was nonviable," says Provost Harvey V. Fineberg '67.
From those discussions, Project ADAPT was born.
"This project is not just about technology," said then-Provost Albert Carnesale, in his announcement launching ADAPT in 1996. "It's about fundamental changes in the way we conduct the business of the University."
Though many users of the financial information system are up in arms about its current flaws, the potential upside--once everything works--will be to dramatically increase the kinds of information at administrators' fingertips.
"ADAPT will enable us to make use of technological developments that are on the drawing board and likely to emerge over time," Kim B. Clark, dean of the business school, told the Harvard Gazette in 1996. "Without ADAPT, Harvard would not be in a position to take advantage of important new capabilities."
Then-Assistant Provost Anne H. Margulies touted the project's collaborative nature.
"This is not a central administration project. This is a University project," Margulies said. "The central administration could not do it on its own, and none of the schools could have done it on their own. It was planned and designed with the whole University as a group."
When the dust has settled on the new systems, ADAPT will have changed the way Harvard works for the better, says Elizabeth C. "Beppie" Huidekoper, the University's vice president for finance.
"When we wired the campus, people asked us if we would really need e-mail and now, of course, it's essential," says Huidekoper.
She predicts that some day, people will think the same thing about ADAPT.
Huidekoper identified the following goals of the new financial system designed and implemented by Project ADAPT, noting that there is still work to be done on several:
Data will be entered once. Under the old system, data had to be entered separately into each department's systems. That meant that the same numbers sometimes got typed over and over by different people, in different offices. Now, new electronic processes mean that data is entered once and transmitted across the University electronically.
More authority and accountability will be delegated to the faculties. Easily available information means that the faculties will no longer need to ask the central administration every time they need a fact or figure. Faculties will have greater control over their own budgets.
Shadow systems will be eliminated. Some parts of the University have developed their own computerized accounting systems, unconnected to the University-wide system. These "shadow systems" create extra work because data must then be transformed before entering the University-wide system. Huidekoper says supplemental systems that are integrated into the University-wide systems, such as a grant management system at the School of Public Health, will not be changed.
The system will offer better tracking and reporting. The new system will allow administrators to quickly retrieve data that was previously inaccessible to them, like expense reports broken down by individual professor or project.
Comply with government and grant requirements. New laws and regulations introduced over the last decade have increased Harvard's onus to provide data for oversight purposes. The new system will meet these needs.
Meet information security needs. Overlapping security checks will ensure that the right users have access to the right information, even in Harvard's decentralized atmosphere.
Meet Year 2000 compliance needs. Many of the systems replaced on July 1 were not Year 2000-compliant, part of the reason for selecting a launch date before the New Year.
Make the systems user-friendly. The new system was supposed to create easy-to-use online windows for data entry. Huidekoper says that while she knows there is a great deal of work to be done, the systems were intended to make users' lives easier.
Make the systems flexible. Any system that operates across the University must be designed to easily adapt to any one department or faculty's peculiarities.
Plan for the future. Some day, the systems may totally eliminate the need for paperwork, allowing all purchasing to be done online. For example, a user could view an electronic catalog, order test tubes and complete all of the approval, billing and payment without getting up from the computer.
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