People Soft upgrade alleviates problems

by Juliette Crane

The University’s PeopleSoft system is reportedly running smoothly, thanks to months of diligent effort by the “performance swat team.”
Over the past three months, the team has successfully tackled many problems that plagued the system during its first six months of service.
In a most dramatic demonstration of performance improvement, the system survived this spring’s open registration for fall 2000 courses. It handled 532 concurrent students users — more than twice last year’s capacity — with the vast majority of course add/drops taking only three to seven seconds.
Many of the PeopleSoft processes commonly used by student services staff used to take minutes. They now require only seconds.
Another major test will confront the new system Wednesday when the University starts sending out its first payroll using the new payroll and benefits system. No problems are expected.
But “if someone does get a cock-eyed check, it won’t be due to an error within the PeopleSoft system, but because someone didn’t enter in the right number,” said Bob Kvavik, associate vice president for academic affairs.
But some lurking problems persist, and the University is scrambling to stabilize the costly system.
“There are continuing problems with the reconciliation of student accounts at the end of the year, along with billing issues,” Kvavik said.
Confidence to face these problems is being boosted by another multimillion dollar allocation from the University. A recent decision from the Board of Regents approved another $3.4 million for maintaining and installing mandatory upgrades to the system.
The University spent $42 million on the system in July 1997 as a solution for year 2000 compliancy. Subsequent investment in the problem-infested system has added another $18 million to its price tag.
About 37,000 students experienced a two-month delay in receiving financial aid last fall. In January, the system had to be shut down following a crash after thousands of students attempted to access the University network at once.
The heart of the problem lies in the PeopleSoft software. Its “Beta” program is originally intended for large corporations rather higher education systems, and the University’s needs simply put PeopleSoft through a bigger test than it could handle.
Vice presidents and provosts from seven Big Ten universities that were experiencing similar work difficulties met with PeopleSoft chief executive Craig Conway in January, when the company promised to “pay more attention to quality control, especially in the area of student financials.”
While the other Big Ten universities used different strategies to deal with the floundering system, most continue to have similar problems with functionality and financials, said Kvavik.
To combat the persistent problems, University officials began using the “data warehouse,” an online feature that stores information and statistics used for reports to federal agencies and internal departments.
To ease the pressure on the network this year, the University will e-mail students class schedules and updated locations and times beginning in late August.
While the University is sending out financial aid award letters later than they did in the past, things are on schedule with the new system, and students should receive their information at the end of August, said Nancy Sinsabaugh, interim director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid.
Students will also be able to accept their financial aid awards electronically rather than waiting for them to be mailed in. This is one of the benefits the new PeopleSoft system will bring.
The University also plans to enhance the Onestop service to include instantaneous grade postings and live chat groups, along with electronic applications for University admissions and housing.
The “performance swat team” has been working on the weekends for the past several weeks in preparation for the transition to the new system.

Juliette Crane covers technology and she welcomes comments at [email protected].