Programs Cause Headaches at Number of Universities
Jakovljevic - March 15th,
As reported by The Nando Times on February 14, 2000, it was supposed to
be as easy as point and click for Northwestern University students registering
for winter classes last November. The university was one of many that
spent millions of dollars installing new software from Pleasanton, CA-based
PeopleSoft so, among other things, students could register online instead
of on campus. However, as hundreds of students tried to register from
their rooms, point and click turned into crash and burn.
at PeopleSoft, one of the world's top business management software-makers,
say that the problems were to be expected, especially as large universities
scrambled to ready their systems for the year 2000. Northwestern is one
of several universities that installed PeopleSoft programs to replace
outdated, non-Y2K-compliant computer systems, only to find serious glitches.
Problems have delayed tuition bills and financial aid - and last winter's
more than a handful of students tried to register simultaneously, the
portal just shut down," said Rebecca Dixon, who as associate provost of
university enrollment had to set up an emergency registration process
at the school's computer labs. With spring registration right around the
corner, Northwestern administrators are wary of a repeat performance.
King, PeopleSoft's director of marketing for education and government,
said it's extremely complicated to transfer old university systems - fragmented
from department to department - into new ones that share records from,
for example, the financial aid office and the registration office. Northwestern
decided to go with PeopleSoft in 1996, before the company had readied
the first release of its student administration software, which came out
in December 1997. Since the university was one of the first to test that
software, it was natural to have kinks to work out, King said.
than 420 universities use the software. "It is a young product," King
said. "There are lots of nuances to this type of software and this type
addition to Northwestern, other schools that have experienced problems
- Cleveland State University, which hired a law firm to sort out problems
that delayed financial aid for thousands of students and sent costs
of installing the programs soaring from an original estimate of $4.2
million to $11 million.
- Boise State University, where transcripts were delayed and costs
had ballooned to $16 million - almost three times the original estimate
- by the end of last year.
- The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where trouble with PeopleSoft
software created a loophole for students with poor grades who otherwise
would have been asked to leave school for the spring semester.
said PeopleSoft cannot be blamed for all the problems. At some universities,
she said, data entry errors hindered the software's ability to work. She
also said cost overruns often have nothing to do with PeopleSoft. For
example, Boise State had to change from a three-year implementation plan
to a two-year after its unnamed original software provider went bankrupt
and it switched to PeopleSoft, she said.
plans to try online registration again this week for the spring quarter.
Dixon said students successfully added and dropped classes online last
month, so she's hoping registration will work as well. "It'll be time
before you can say that we've got smooth sailing," Dixon said, adding
with a laugh, "I hope in my lifetime, and I'm only 60."
This is more bad news on the recent spate of ERP implementations gone
awry. While there are no indications of litigation in this case, and while
PeopleSoft officials cite some valid points in its defense (e.g., inherited
implementation problems, data capturing errors, an overwhelmingly ambitious
implementation effort, etc.), this is nonetheless bad news for PeopleSoft.
renowned for its intuitive user interface, its product is indisputably
complex and requires a great amount of training and implementation effort.
Moreover, PeopleSoft has been remiss in Web-enabling its applications,
and therefore "the relatively new technology" excuse from its official.
Look for PeopleSoft's more nimble smaller competitors to vigorously try
to take advantage of its tarnished image in this case, particularly Lawson
Software with its "Self-Evident Applications" motto, and SCT Corporation,
its fierce competitor within the higher education arena.
There are two probable caveats in this particular case.
organizations often chose to follow a "Big Bang" approach, that is, rather
than moving to the new system one component at a time, they do it in one
fell stroke. Many companies start out thinking in terms of a Big Bang,
but later decide to follow a "phased" approach, in which new parts of
the system are introduced incrementally. This more cautious strategy allows
system bugs to be found and corrected before moving on to the next phase,
while reducing the shock within the user community that inevitably accompanies
new corporate-wide system implementations. Big Bangs are misleading in
their promise of "once and it's done" benefits as investments made to
remedy problems can quickly outweigh anticipated savings.
the majority of ERP vendors are only novices in Web-enabling their products.
Similar hiccups to those above-mentioned are expected to occur in the
future and should be reckoned with in advance.
educational organizations currently initiating an ERP software selection
are advised to research the major ERP players in this niche, seek assistance
in the selection process from unbiased service providers, and base their
decisions only on existing functionality that the vendors are able to
demonstrate during scripted scenario sessions.
involved in selections or early project planning should seek expertise
from professionals who understand the pitfalls of implementations and
can offer guidance.