A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth. How do you know when your company or organization’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system is the white elephant in the room? There tend to be two main drivers: 1) you cannot get rid of it; 2) upkeep and upgrades cost a lot of money. This is what the IT department at Gettysburg College had to deal with in regards to their particular PeopleSoft ERP system. However, their white elephant had “red and green stripes.” The green refers to money lying around it and the red reflects people lying around it. Turning the PeopleSoft system into something of value was so important to the college because of its reach and scope within the campus community.
About 10 years ago Gettysburg started with the implementation (’99-’00) of their PeopleSoft ERP. The school spent $15 million on this implementation. Rodney Tosten, the current Vice President of IT at Gettysburg College was a teacher for the college at the time. He can recall other faculty members being upset at the amount of money spent on a back office ERP system. The maintenance costs were a quarter of a million dollars per year out the door just to keep the system running. The system in general did not seem like a good fit for the college. In terms of personnel costs, the people who were involved with this project are no longer working for the college. There have been two CIOs that have come and gone since this particular project started. There are also political costs associated with the ERP system. It was difficult getting the faculty to feel comfortable using the system. When they were logged into PeopleSoft, all they think about is the amount of money that was spent on it and not about its value. It turned out to be the system on campus that people loved to hate. The costs at that point seemed to far exceed the benefits and it left people like Rodney wondering, “where is the payoff?”
To find out how Rodney and Gettysburg College turned their white ERP into gold, take a look at our IMF Report: Customizing an ERP to Support the Core Mission of an Organization.