Peoplesoft Payroll Glitch Alarms Peralta Trustees By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday September 27, 2005

With conversion to the new PeopleSoft management software causing problems in an overworked Peralta Community College payroll office, Peralta trustees have called for an update on the PeopleSoft conversion at tonight’s (Tuesday) trustee meeting. 

Meanwhile, district and union officials were divided over whether the PeopleSoft software was working properly, or if this was the prelude to massive problems. The report by Peralta Chief Information Officer Andy DiGirolamo came at the request of Peralta Trustees Nicky Gonzalez Nguyen and Cy Gulassa. 

The payroll system has already suffered its first “glitch,” although district officials are blaming that on human error rather than a software problem. 

In its end-of-August payroll, some Peralta workers were paid twice and some were not paid at all. In addition, a district union official said that some portion of the payroll deduction component did not work, with money deducted from some workers’ salaries but not transferred to the accounts needed to be paid. 

“The inadequacies of the PeopleSoft software are enormous,” said Peralta Federation of Teachers President Michael Mills. “If you wrote them on a scroll and dropped it down, it would roll out across the floor. The district’s expectations have not been met.” 

But Peralta Director of Communications Jeff Heyman contradicted that assertion, stating that the recent payroll problems were “human error rather than system error,” adding that “the good news is that the PeopleSoft system works.” 

And speaking to trustee members at the last trustee meeting, Peralta Chief Information Officer Andy DiGirolamo said that the conversion problems “are to be expected. This is a very complex conversion, highly complicated. We’re learning this new software at breakneck speed. These problems are teething pains.” 

But Peralta Trustee Linda Handy, who chairs the board’s Information Technology committee, said she believes the problems are going to get worse. “I have been raising these issues about problems in the district’s IT department for a year and a half, but nobody wanted to hear about it until they didn’t get paid,” Handy said. “Then everybody wants to know what’s going on. They’re going to find out that it’s deeper than this.”  

Handy has been a persistent board critic of Peralta’s IT department. Last June, at her request, trustees approved a $30,000 independent study and assessment of the community college district’s information technology operations by Hewlett-Packard. The conclusions of that study were supposed to go directly to the board to help the board determine whether the IT department was following “best policies and practices.” 

Both DiGirolamo and Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris opposed the study, saying that the timing interfered with the PeopleSoft conversion. 

But Handy said this week that HP officials had declined to enter into the contract after they learned that trustees had included a provision that HP would not be able to later bid on any items that were touched on by the study. She said the study is presently on hold. 

Peralta is currently in the midst of a district-wide conversion to an information management system purchased from PeopleSoft. Last December, after the Peralta contract was signed and while the district was in the middle of that conversion, PeopleSoft was purchased by Oracle corporation, with the Peralta contract rolling over to Oracle with the purchase. The finance, human resources, and payroll portions of that conversion were scheduled for implementation this summer, with the entire software scheduled for full implementation by October 2006. 

Communications Director Heyman said that the payroll problem occurred when a worker in the district’s payroll department failed to manually transfer seven separate payroll files into the system. 

“The humorous part—although I guess it wasn’t so humorous,” Heyman said, “was that the employee category left out was management.” 

Instead of transferring the management employee file, Heyman said the payroll employee transferred two sets of classified employee files, one for August and one for the July payroll that had previously been paid. The result was that while management employees got no payment for the August period, classified employees were paid twice. Heyman said the problem only affected employees with direct deposit, not employees who were issued checks. “The problems we are having is what you would expect out of such a huge changeover,” he said. “Overall, it’s going smooth.” 

But Peralta Federation of Teachers’ Mills, who does not represent the payroll workers, said that the changeover is putting a tremendous strain on the district’s payroll department. “Normally I’d be the first person raising complaints about payroll,” Mills said, “but the process of catching up to the new system has been arduous and lengthy, not to mention the extra training they’ve had to go through in addition to completing their regular daily tasks. They’re being asked to perform herculean tasks. The number of people in payroll was adequate to do the work under the old system software, but it doesn’t appear to be enough to carry out the functions under this conversion.” 

Peralta CIO DiGirolamo agreed with that assessment in his presentation to trustees earlier this month, stating that “we have limited staff for implementation. Some staff positions haven’t been filled.” 

The initial question about the PeopleSoft conversion at the last trustee meeting came not over the payroll problems, but over questions raised by trustee Handy about a $90,000 change order request for a PeopleSoft version upgrade. 

DiGirolamo told her that the $90,000 cost was not for the upgrade itself, which he said was provided free of charge to the district under the PeopleSoft contract, but was for the cost of consulting services from PeopleSoft to implement the upgrade. DiGirolamo also said that the $90,000 change order was not an added cost. He said that the upgrade costs had always been anticipated, and had actually been deducted from the original contract amount in an agreement between the district and PeopleSoft and was listed as a credit in the budget. DiGirolamo said that the request for the change order was merely adding the money back in again.