Don't blame glitches on the little people (Philadelphia computer snafus) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Don't blame glitches on the little people

In the B.C. era, as in Before Computers, people used to yell at each other when something went wrong in the office. Wander through almost any fully wired office in this P.C. era, as in Post-Computer, and you'll frequently find people screaming "don't do that to me" at their computer screens.

The computer, of course, isn't ever to blame. All it does is process billions of bits and bytes of information in whatever order, or disorder, its human programmers have commanded. Don't blame those computers, therefore, for screwing up either the school system's payroll or the gas company's billing system.

The computer can't even be blamed for taking something as simple as this column and messing it up. If you're force d to read unintelligible stuff, blame the brains behind the programming th at dictates things like pagination rules, not th e computer, which simply follows instructions dictated b

y human masters.

Those mistakes in the preceding paragraph were made on purpose, not by Compaq or Unisys, which provide the hardware and software used in the computer conversion now under way in the Daily News.

Mistakes, however, are accepted as a given when undergoing any multimillion-dollar computer conversion these days. There have been times in the last few months when the billions of bits and bytes that have to be electronically shipped to our printing plant to create the next day's paper almost didn't make it.

Knowing that would happen, our management ran the new computer system in parallel with the old one for months. And when the inevitable glitches appeared in the new system, the old backup computer systems had to be instantly available to correct the problems because our readers and advertisers don't pay us for excuses. They want a paper printed, on time, every day.

For some reason, neither the school system nor the gas company seem to have understood those basic rules of modern computer conversions. In essence, they both turned off their old systems and kicked in the new ones without proper testing, training and staff support.

And Murphy's Law (If something can go wrong, it will) kicked in with a vengeance. Staff isn't being paid at the schools and innacurate bills, by the tens of thousands, are pouring from PGW's computers. Suppliers are not being paid on a timely basis, and neither the school system nor the gas company can fully balance their books.

And none of this came cheap. Combining capital and operating costs, including current overtime to fix their messes, the total bill for the school and gas systems will exceed $100 million for systems which, initially, were estimated to cost about $50 million.

Meanwhile there are thousands of innocent victims - the employees of the schools and gas company - who must struggle through every day trying to make systems imposed upon them work. And some of them, especially in the schools, are being blamed for creating the problem.

Blaming their employees for a system that management designed and forced prematurely onto their staffs is simply adding insult to injury.

W. Russell G. Byers is senior editor of the Daily News. E-mail is and phone is 215-854-4789.

-- Homer Beanfang (, October 21, 1999


...related article...


The Oracle was right

Problems were foreseen if AMS system was selected

Schools were told _When it only cost $14M, experts said $26M system had 'critical deficiencies'

by Paul Davies Daily News Staff Writer

Despite recommendations to buy a less expensive computer system, the Philadelphia School District paid $26 million for a glitch-filled program that sends paychecks to deceased employees, internal documents show.

An independent consultant and top school administrators urged the district to go with a cheaper computer system from Oracle rather than the troubled system purchased from American Management Systems.

The district is having a host of problems with the AMS computer payroll and purchasing system, the Daily News disclosed this week. Deceased and retired employees have mistakenly received checks totaling more than $500,000.

Some current employees have not been paid or have been underpaid. More than 50 vendors have also not been paid, prompting a cutoff in supplies to the district.

School District consultant Judith Silva of Unisys listed eight reasons why the district should buy the Oracle system instead of the troubled AMS system.

A main reason was the Oracle system was $3 million cheaper than the AMS system, Silva said in a September 1997 letter to Robert Tana, the district's director of information systems and network services.

Silva, who no longer works for Unisys, could not be reached for comment. In addition to Silva, top administrators in the offices of the managing director, human resources and chief information favored the Oracle system over AMS, internal documents show.

Somewhere along the line the district's support for Oracle cooled. Given the district's financial troubles, it is unclear why or when the district decided to purchase the more expensive AMS system.

"That is the $26 million question," said a former district administrator familiar with the selection process who asked not to be identified.

A 200-page School District report marked "confidential" details the district's computer system selection process.

The report, prepared by Greg Benson, former chief information officer, favored Oracle. However, sources said Benson seemed to be the driving force behind the selection of AMS.

Benson now works for, a company that provides tutoring via the Internet. He did not return calls from the Daily News.

A copy of Benson's report was sent to Superintendent David Hornbeck. A School District spokeswoman deferred questions until a press conference Hornbeck has scheduled for today.

Sources said other key district administrators involved in the computer selection process included Clarence Armbrister and Marjorie Adler. Armbrister, who now works for Paine Webber, did not return a call for comment. Adler referred calls to the district's media relations office.

The report said Oracle and AMS were the only two firms that responded to the district's request for proposal for a new computer system.

Each company gave a two-day demonstration of the respective systems at the Roberto Clemente Middle School in June 1997.

District officials traveled to other cities where the computer systems have been installed. Both companies have systems in place at several government and corporate locations across the country.

The AMS system is used by the New York City School District, while Oracle's system is used by the Chicago School District.

"The AMS system is out of the 1970s, while the Oracle system was definitely in the 21st century," said a former Philadelphia School District administrator who asked not to be identified.

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-- Homer Beanfang (, October 21, 1999.

All you pollies in this group, send them your bright ideas and clever rejoinders (and while you're at it, help out Illinois also) - hey, fix it in 2 to 3 days? months? years?. Multiply this 10,000 fold next year. You are idiots.

-- (, October 21, 1999.

No longer available for comment ...

-- sorry to offend (any@tender.sensibilities), October 21, 1999.


What a mess.

Imagine this information being used by the public to delay payments on things, using the excuse they did'nt receive statements etc. wow-wee-wow- Have to stop thinking now!

-- D.B. (, October 21, 1999.

Homer, thanks for all these articles you've been posting on the subject.

They confirm that the domino effect is in motion. They fuel my motivation to keepon preparing.

-- Lurking (, October 21, 1999.

Homer is da man! He give dee real thing!

-- gimme facts (gimme snafus@gimme.FUBAR), October 21, 1999.

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