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Outside the corporate world, the nonprofit arena tests the determination and diplomacy of IT leaders.

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Hites says the ERP rollout cost just $15 million, about one quarter of the cost of a similar system going in at a comparable university in the region.

"Getting it done" was his greatest contribution to the project, he says. "We had a long history of finishing projects almost all the way."

Hites cites several reasons for the success of the huge project. "We had universal buy-in throughout the university before we started," he says. "And we empowered the functional units to manage their own portions of the project. For example, it was not thought of as an IT project in the financial aid office or an IT project in the registrar's office."

Another success factor was that the multidepartmental steering committee overseeing the project, which Hites chaired, took a tough stance on scope creep. "We had a strict adherence to a vanilla Banner," he says.

The university's president played a key role in keeping the SunGard Banner software "vanilla," or unmodified. He gave the 20-person ERP Steering Committee unprecedented power to make policy decisions that might have required many months of deliberation by the faculty senate, employee organizations and others groups.

"I was able to convince the president that if he would help us in this way, we could stay on budget and on time," Hites says.

For example, the committee was able to quickly make a major change to payroll that reduced what had been multiple pay cycles, such as biweekly, semimonthly and monthly, to one standard schedule.

"Normally, that would have had to go through the faculty senate, employee organizations and so on," Hites says. "It would have taken six to nine months, and they still might not agree."

The steering committee had to be chaired with a delicate touch, Hites recalls. "We had a tremendous amount of 'trust but verify.' We didn't make people hit every single milestone, but we did hold them publicly accountable for what they said they were going to do. When you are in a group of 20 of your peers and you're the one who didn't hit your timeline, it doesn't take very many words to make you feel bad."

The difference between big projects at universities and those in companies, Hites says, is the lack of well-defined hierarchies in academia.

"We have three separate but equal parties — students, faculty and administration," he says. "If you don't work with them throughout the whole proc­ess, any one of them can make your life miserable."

"Hites made this possible simply by taking the lead," says Ben Woods, senior vice president for planning, physical resources and university relations. "A step of this magnitude cannot be taken half-heartedly. It needs a champion who is absolutely committed to seeing it through successfully."

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