PeopleSoft system doesn't make grade in Indiana

Financials module having difficult integration

Technical glitches in a $US52 million installation of PeopleSoft 's applications at Indiana University have left thousands of students without access to promised financial aid and have forced officials at the school's eight campuses to implement a series of stopgap measures.

University officials this week said staffers are scrambling to do manual workarounds as a result of the system problems, which became an issue when classes began late last month. The university estimated that about 3000 of the 60,000 eligible students arriving at its flagship campus in Bloomington and other locations were denied financial aid by the new system, even though the money had been pledged to them. The majority of the affected students attend Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The Indiana schools have been working since 1998 to replace administrative systems that in some cases are more than 20 years old with versions of the PeopleSoft Enterprise product line tailored for universities. The loan-processing problems arose following the installation of the financial aid module in PeopleSoft's Campus Solutions 8 package of applications.

"As is often the case with a systems implementation of this size and scope, the first time some modules have been used (has) not been without complications," Norma Holland, an associate vice president at Indiana University, said via email.

Holland said the glitches weren't caused by "the system proper" but apparently surfaced "at those places where fine-tuning was needed to align the university's business processes to the system specifications and functionality." She added that the start of classes limited the amount of time that was available for comprehensive testing of the financial aid software as well as end-user training.

To compensate for the unexpected shortfall of financial aid funds being disbursed to students, the university has had to dip into its reserve accounts and issue no interest, short term loans to help cover tuition and other expenses, said spokeswoman Sue Williams. School officials have also taken other steps, such as asking landlords not to charge students interest on late rent payments and letting students draw money from the bursar's office account to pay for textbooks.

The exact origins of the financial aid processing problems are still being investigated. But Williams said it appears that most of the problems were caused by interface issues between the PeopleSoft application and the loan systems at lending institutions such as the Student Loan Marketing Association, better known as Sallie Mae.

The university previously deployed PeopleSoft's human resources software and is using that without any apparent difficulties. But Williams said the financial aid module is as big and complex as all the other modules that the university has installed combined.

It's also more "sensitive" to exceptions than the university's older financial aid system was, she added. For instance, if there was a discrepancy between the amount of aid that a lending institution's system said should be issued to a student and what the university itself had earmarked, the financial aid software simply blocked the transaction.

In addition, although the system is centralised, it has to take into account variables throughout the eight campuses, including the differences between part-time and full-time students and whether a campus does business with more than one lender.

Despite the difficulties, university employees have been able to manually clear up about 300 accounts per day, and they hope to have them all corrected within three weeks, according to Williams.

PeopleSoft remained upbeat about the university's implementation of its software.

"Indiana University is a happy customer, and they're saying it's an internal issue and not a problem with the software," said PeopleSoft spokesman Steve Swasey. "It's a complex rollout, and we're working very closely with them. We have our consulting group in there and will continue to support them in every phase of the implementation."

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