Higher-Tech Higher Ed

CIO Roy Hart explains how he completed a challenging two-year overhaul of Seneca College’s legacy tech systems, on time and under budget

“I like very challenging projects that will really make a difference to the organization I’m working for. The opportunity at Seneca College to completely replace the entire ERP [enterprise resource planning] suite of data management applications was a very engaging problem. The old system had been developed over 30 years and was using a custom, in-house design that was outdated. The college needed to modernize by providing a system that could be expanded on and modified as technology evolves to meet the needs of a modern institution.

“I have, at some point in my career, done just about every job in IT. That gives me the ability to easily go down to the lowest level in an organization and ask the right questions to get the right answers.”

I also had the opportunity to reinvent the IT function and turn it into a professional, highly functioning IT service within the institution. Now we have a full change-management system, standardized business processes, problem management, and ticketing—all of things you would expect of an IT organization serving an institution of our size. We also replaced the server infrastructure, data infrastructure, phone, and e-mail systems. After replacing the LAN in the coming year, every piece of technology in the institution will be modernized.

Photo by Seneca College
Computing commons at Seneca’s Newnham campus. Photo by Seneca College

I have a background in working for large, complex institutions to deliver tangible results. For example, I was the first CIO for a school board where I built their IT structure. I also worked as a negotiator for the Ontario judiciary on their security and IT services. I put in place a brand-new structure to be separate from the legislative and executive branches of government. Each position has provided an opportunity to hone my skills in management and problem solving.

Over a career of 20-something years, you build a lot of different experience. I have, at some point in my career, done just about every job in IT. That gives me the ability to easily go down to the lowest level in an organization and ask the right questions to get the right answers. I know IT at an expert level, which helps me deliver solutions to complex problems.

From the business side of things, I’m able to easily speak in those terms because I’ve worked with such diverse business sectors—including education, insurance, health care, and law—on complex issues and difficult negotiations. I had to resolve very challenging issues with multiple stakeholders. That background has given me a well-rounded set of skills to handle multiple problematic scenarios so that I can effectively make informed decisions.

There are still tons of things I learn as I go through big projects. There was a lot of change management involved in the ERP overhaul to help my team understand what the best decision would be and to ensure that the project was implemented to meet the needs of the entire college community.

Next time, I will likely create a separate track that is strictly focused on business-process changes and how they impact people who receive the project. The business changes enabled through a huge ERP project can be a difficult adjustment for users. I want to help all the stakeholders feel that they own the change. That’s something I would want to take up before a project started, if I could do it over again.

As is, I’m pretty happy with the results. It was 26 months from boots-on-the-ground to completion. We started out with solid governance and stuck to it. When we’ve needed to apply more rigour, we have, which means that every single milestone I’ve reported [has been] on time, on budget, and on spec. Now I can’t wait for it to be completed and to take a break before tackling the next big project.”