Snafu U

The University of Minnesota's new computer system goes $22 million over budget--and the glitches still aren't fixed

The fact is that these enterprise-wide software updates are massive undertakings; although institutions try to plan for costs and time, unforeseen delays and changes often inflate the bottom line. "There is significant customization involved," says Judy Hodges, program director at the Massachusetts-based technology research firm IDC. "It's hard to actually itemize what has to get done. They're almost always over budget, and late."

PeopleSoft says it is working in close collaboration with its clients, stepping up software testing and increasing staff to help address universities' concerns. Some of the problems, notes Laura King, PeopleSoft's director of marketing for its education and government division, arose early in implementation, when the student administration software, the company's newest product, was in its first, or "beta," version. Concerns about Y2K compliance, it seems, gave universities little choice but to install a new, relatively unproven program. "Generally you don't have such a wide adoption with such a young product," King says, adding that there have been subsequent improvements and updates to
the software.

Van Voorhis says it seems that most of the program's kinks have been pounded out at this point. "PeopleSoft could have done a few things better. We could have done things better, too," she says, pointing out that PeopleSoft's product didn't anticipate some of the U's needs, such as coordinating its multiple campuses. "If we waited until the PeopleSoft system was more stable, we would have been in better shape. But it had to be before Y2K."

Now that the U has selected and installed PeopleSoft, it must rely on the company to continue service and fix problems moving forward, Kvavik says. That's why seven Big 10 schools wrote a joint letter to PeopleSoft in January, detailing their frustrations with the system and asking to work more closely together to alleviate them. Cleveland State has even considered the possibility of a lawsuit against PeopleSoft but has not moved forward with a claim. Kvavik says the U isn't planning to sue PeopleSoft. "What's the point?" he asks. "We need them to succeed. If they don't succeed, we're dead in the water."

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