I just returned from the Educause Enterprise Technology 2009 conference in Indianapolis that focused on ERPs in higher ed. Very impressive group of a higher education technologists, academics and managers all gathered to discuss the impacts of ERPs on our institutions. Lots of good discussion on the approaches to ERP from vendor purchased to community source and open source. Clearly there is disagreement as to the right approach, or in fact if there is a right approach. Advocates for community and open source squared off (with great civility I might add) with those in the vendor environment outlining the pros and cons of each. There was considerable discussion about the overall costs of vendor supplied ERPs and much discussion about the "fact" that ERPs are not mission critical to higher education. I must say that I would take a stand that ERPs are not mission critical when they are working but become highly mission critical should they fail. Whether anyone likes the concept or not, universities today, big and small, are both academic and business environments. To look solely at academics and research as the "mission" of the institution speaks only to part of University roles. ERPs are a tool that allow colleges and universities to conduct the business portion of their environment. However, business needs to be defined broadly, not only as dollar transactions but as functions that facilitate planning, readiness, management, records, counseling, student financial support...I could go on for quite a while.
I think many long for the days when the business side of universities played a smaller, less consumptive role. There was a very good session on the role of technology in creating an ability to bypass the traditional learning environments and allowing for the collection of knowledge in differing ways from what we see today. Somewhere down the road, education may swing more toward the older notion of Socratic teaching where the student will be able to seek out through technology the education he or she needs, when it is needed and in a manner that fits the student's learning style. But in the reality of today, in the complex realm of law, accountability, certifications, accreditation, globalization, regulation and legislation, ERPs serve a needed and, yes, at times, mission critical role.
I took part also in considerable sidebar discussions about a hybrid approach where some open source bolt ons could be appended to a core vendor ERP to make the most of additional development beyond the vendor supplied upgrades. Interesting concept already being used in some institutions. HEUG should look more closely at providing an open source reference in HEUG online to point to available open source options that are potentially compatible with either Peoplesoft or EBS.
This Educause conference will be presented virtually next year. You might want to look for information about the program from Educause. It is a worthwhile and valuable conference that gets you to think about your assumptions..Nice job Educause.