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Peralta Reports on Problems with PeopleSoft Operating Program

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday January 26, 2007

The Peralta Community College District’s conversion to running district operations through an information management system purchased from the former PeopleSoft company was hastily managed at the beginning, is two years behind its initial projected completion, and is costing the district millions of dollars in unanticipated consultant fees, according to a report given last week by the district’s information technology office to Peralta trustees. 

Told by Peralta Chief Information Officer Gary Perkins at last week’s trustee meeting that the district’s technology department may need to increase its staff from 22 to 35 in the near future—including six additional staff members specifically earmarked for the PeopleSoft work—trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen said that “we have to remember that we are primarily an educational institution; we’re not in the business of technology. Should we stop [the conversion] now and say, this is enough?” 

Yuen estimated that the conversion cost “started at $5 million in 2004 and eventually went up to $11.5 million, and now we’re talking about a total cost of $16 million, plus proposed increases in staffing of a million dollars a year. I’m just trying to get over the sticker shock,” 

But Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris told trustees that there was no choice but to complete the conversion as planned.  

“I think we’ve already jumped off the cliff on this one,” Harris said during a prolonged debate over the future direction of the district’s IT department. “That decision was made a number of years ago, and turning back is no longer an option. If the board thinks we have another choice, I’ll leave it to your wisdom. But though we’ve made some mistakes, I believe we have to move forward.” 

Trustee Linda Handy, chair of the trustee board’s IT Committee, agreed, even though she has been a longtime board critic of the way the PeopleSoft conversion has been going. “Handy said. “Much of the problem happened under the present trustee board during the last two years,” Handy said. “I kept coming back to the board and saying there was a problem, but it was ignored. This train has left the station, Controlling the stops we are going to make along the way and controlling the costs are the only options we now have.” 

And trustee Bill Riley said that the district was understaffed in its information technology department and “this is just a cost we are going to have to pay in order to continue in the field of high tech.” 

According to Perkins and Harris, the district now has six to seven weeks to decide whether to hire additional district staff to implement the conversion process and operate the new system, pay an outside company to provide consultant services for a district-operated system, or remove the system from the district entirely, paying hosting fees for hardware and software maintained offsite by an outside company. Harris said that district administration was researching the options, and would provide the board with detailed financial information on each option within a few weeks. 

Because the PeopleSoft conversion process is still ongoing, some of the money for the proposed possible new staff dedicated to putting the system in place can come out of existing Measure E bond money. But according to district officials, any portion of the actual cost of running the new computerized management system, once it is fully in place, must come out of Peralta’s regular operating budget, 

The PeopleSoft conversion initially began with high hopes. 

In the spring of 2005, the Peralta public affairs office reported optimistically on the conversion, stating in a press release that “the Peralta Colleges are abuzz with the energy generated by the District’s conversion from the old (and often revered) legacy system to the new PeopleSoft software, known as PROMT for Peralta Real-Time Online Management Technologies.” 

In June of that year, the Daily Planet reported that the conversion was on schedule, noting that “the finance, human resources, and payroll portions of that conversion are scheduled to ‘go live on July 5,’ according to Peralta Chief Information Officer Andy DiGirolamo. The PeopleSoft system is scheduled for full implementation by October of 2006.” 

DiGirolamo has since left his position with the district and Perkins, his replacement, now says that “July, 2008 is the target” for completion. 

In September of 2005, the Planet reported problems with the conversion in a story headlined “PeopleSoft Payroll Glitch Alarms Peralta Trustees,” noting that “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.” 

And in his report to the board last week, Perkins said that the PeopleSoft problems began in its initial selection and implementation phases, noting in a bullet-list of issues that there was “fast implementation with no design specifications,” and that the software was designed with a “lack of review of Peralta policies.”  

During the initial phase of adapting the PeopleSoft software package to the Peralta system, Perkins said that district staff was directed to go to the PeopleSoft “solution center” operating out of Pleasanton in order to voice concerns about how the system would be implemented. “Many people were frustrated with that process,” he said. “They were told that ‘this is the vanilla program you chose to buy,’ and they didn’t pay attention to how Peralta did business. Six months later, they were implementing the first part of the system on-line, in real-time, with no parallel testing to see how and if it would work. It was a very fast implementation.” In the meantime, Perkins said that PeopleSoft brought “a lot of consultants on board who didn’t know what they were doing. They were operating without a plan.”  

Perkins said that the situation got even worse following the initial implementation, and the purchase of PeopleSoft by the Oracle company. He said that left Peralta “without any support” from Oracle. 

Handy said that Peralta had specifically turned down Oracle for the contract, and that when she told Harris by telephone about the purchase of PeopleSoft by Oracle, he answered “Oh my God!” 

Perkins now says that his office will be spending this year “stabilizing the Human Resources and Finance portions of the PeopleSoft system,” as well as bringing the Student Administration online. With the Student Administration system scheduled to handle student registration online, Perkins called it “our bread and butter. It’s our dollars coming it. It cannot fail.”