CSU looks to fix 'unmanageable' software system

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CSU looks to fix 'unmanageable' software system

Wednesday, November 17, 1999


Facing a fourth semester of financial aid chaos, Cleveland State University officials have finally admitted their $11 million computer software system is "unmanageable."

CSU hopes that PeopleSoft Inc., the firm that provided the system, will cooperate in correcting difficulties that have delayed financial aid to hundreds of students. But if the school has to go it alone or to hire a consultant, trustees said yesterday, they are ready to sue PeopleSoft.

"We hope it doesn't come to that," said William F. Patient, chairman of the CSU trustees, who until yesterday had not been publicly critical of PeopleSoft.

Nine weeks before the start of the next semester, CSU administrators came up with a "Just Fix It" plan in an attempt to end difficulties with the computer software.

"This is a very serious matter," Patient said. "We know this has been a longstanding problem. We simply have an unmanageable system."

Since CSU began using PeopleSoft products, students have complained that the university has been unable to process financial aid awards that routinely are forwarded to schools on behalf of students. Many of the students have been forced to borrow money from other sources to attend classes while CSU labored to sort out their aid packages.

The public relations nightmare was exacerbated when students said that financial aid counselors and staffers did not seem to care when presented with problems and sometimes did not appear for scheduled appointments with students.

But the final straw for trustees came with an annual audit done by Price-Waterhouse Coopers that illustrated deeper problems for CSU. The report showed the problem was hitting the university in the pocketbook.

The audit, reviewed at a trustee meeting yesterday, showed the school had not been collecting tuition or other accounts receiveable in a timely fashion, in part because of PeopleSoft shortcomings.

The audit said as of June 30, $1.6 million in student accounts had been uncollected for more than 180 days compared to $514,000 the year before. The audit said the PeopleSoft software did not generate reports to allow CSU workers to chart the age of uncollected accounts.

The report also said that because of late billings, the school had another $1.6 million in nontuition accounts receivable outstanding more than 120 days. One year ago, that total was $390,000.

Trustees met in private session for more than an hour on the PeopleSoft issue yesterday, but the latest move to solve the problem was put in place earlier this month by President Claire Van Ummersen. She appointed Joseph Nolan as special deputy to the president to oversee the "Just Fix It" task force.

Nolan has been at the school since mid-August and is the vice president for Human Resources Development and Labor Relations.

CSU has gone through three troubled major registration cycles since the PeopleSoft product was put in place. Nolan said yesterday that unless major changes were made, the school was looking at a fourth one when the new semester begins in January.

Patient said, "We will demand that PeopleSoft immediately comply with our request for aid and assistance on our timetable and for financial damages."

Members of the new CSU task force talked with PeopleSoft representatives Friday. Nolan termed the company's response as "not positive." He reported the company said it could not give CSU what it needs so that fixes can be in place by Jan. 1. The spring semester begins Jan. 18. The company's response fueled the trustees' closed-door meeting yesterday and caused Patient to talk of a lawsuit.

Patient said he and Van Ummersen intended to contact the PeopleSoft chief executive officer to renew CSU's request for help. Liz Dietz, vice president of the PeopleSoft learning solutions division, said in a statement yesterday that "we are working cooperatively with the university to assist in their implementation." Dietz participated in Friday's conversation with CSU.

Jeanette Valentine, a spokeswoman for the Pleasanton, Calif.-based company, said PeopleSoft would not comment on the threat of a lawsuit.

Nolan said CSU stepped up training of staff members on the software system, hired another financial aid counselor and would add 11 people to its support staff and accounting department.

He said counselors would be assigned caseloads so that each would have responsibility for specific students. And, he said, "We are increasing our customer relations training."

CSU, which for months downplayed its troubles with the PeopleSoft products, also planned to improve communication with students, employees and the public. The school is contemplating hiring a public relations firm to help.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), November 17, 1999


"The school is contemplating hiring a public relations firm to help..."

Terrific. After the situation has gone FUBAR, hire a PR firm to spin it. All too typical, unfortunately.

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 17, 1999.

Not so concerned when it snafued the students, but impact was noticed when it affected the school's bottom line.

JQP will not care until he is suddenly without lights, water, sewer, food, a job, the 401K, and the paycheck to pay the mortgage.

-- PR will Just Fix It (man@lives.by.spin.alone), November 17, 1999.

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