Oracle software glitch mars semester's start for university, students

Problems with the PeopleSoft system should be fixed next week, according to a Washington State University official

The first week of class at Washington State University has been a tumultuous one for students and parents who depend on financial aid, due to a software glitch in a recently installed Oracle PeopleSoft system.

Hundreds of students and parents, angry and frustrated over delayed financial aid disbursements, have been assailing school administrators this week in search of answers, according to published reports this week.

The problems stem from communication issues between the software's student financials and financial aid modules, said Casey Hanson, director of new media and communications for WSU Information Services, in an interview Thursday.

Technicians are still working on the problem, Hanson said. The issues can also be attributed to the learning curve students and parents are facing while learning to use the system and its new processes, Hanson added.

Other factors played a role as well, such as the onrush of activity that accompanies the beginning of a semester, and "severe" budget cuts suffered of late by the school, according to Hanson. The latter has meant fewer staffers are available to help students and parents work with the system. "We're doing more with less," Hanson said. "It's kind of a perfect storm with all these items."

The system, which cost roughly US$15 million, is called Zzusis. The student financials module was the last phase of the project and went live recently. It and other parts of Zzusis replace a series of legacy student-information software systems at the school, which has more than 26,000 students and is located in Pullman.

While the system was tested before the final go-live, "probably more would have been better," Hanson said.

There haven't been any issues with system hardware or stability, according to Hanson. "It's very stable as far as being up and operational."

Oracle, which issued a press release in 2010 concerning its deal with WSU, served as the project's systems integrator, according to Hanson. Oracle spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger declined comment.

WSU is making progress with Zzusis' issues, and more than half of the financial aid due students has been disbursed, Hanson said. The problems could be resolved by next week, she added. "That's our expectation and our hope."

The school's issues "probably have little to do with budget," said Michael Krigsman, CEO of IT consulting firm Asuret and an expert on software project problems. "These project characteristics suggest an organization that was ill-prepared to handle the scope and depth of this project. In simple terms, it sounds like the university got in over its head."

Overall, WSU's problems don't appear as severe as the ones allegedly afflicting a PeopleSoft system being implemented at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Alleged problems with that project led the school to sue Oracle, prompting an ugly, public dispute.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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