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June 9, 2016

PeopleSoft complaints dominate CSSD forum

The University’s implementation of PeopleSoft came in for lengthy criticism at the May 26 IT directors’ forum on technology planning at Pitt.

Overseen by Dan Menicucci and Jay Graham, enterprise architects in Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD), the event at the William Pitt Union was designed to gather staff and faculty opinions on tech improvements desired at the University.

“What are things that CSSD could be doing better?” Menicucci asked to open the session. “What could be making your life easier? Where would technology make the University reach its full potential?”

“Or [is there] something that we’re not doing that you need day to day?” Graham said.

One faculty member responded: “A lot of promises were made that were never fulfilled because we didn’t buy the whole PeopleSoft.” Many of the software program’s modules were not purchased, he added, and others were never fully implemented and continue to be used in a jury-rigged manner. “It seems kind of archaic” to be using it this way, he said.

While PeopleSoft enables his students to register themselves for classes, he noted, the program’s presentation is hard for students to read, since it uses mono-space type, as if it were written on a typewriter, where each character has the same width. “It’s 2016 —their eyes bug out,” he said of his students.

Even juniors and seniors have difficulty registering or getting on a class’s waiting list, he added, because “the rules are Byzantine. It seems like we could do better on the self-service side for students.”

“Getting PeopleSoft to live up to its original goal” certainly should be on the CSSD task list, Menicucci said. He noted that a PeopleSoft mobile app now is available for Pitt’s mobile-focused millennial students.

But another Pitt employee in attendance said students were having trouble getting the app to function properly.

Part of the difficulty with PeopleSoft today, noted a staff member, is that too many Pitt departments wished to retain “processes of the past” despite improvements to PeopleSoft’s processes through the years.

The old processes were retrofitted into the new system, which makes for inefficient operations today, he said. And too many conversations about implementing PeopleSoft have taken place in individual departments or units, without wider consultations. “There wasn’t a long-term view of how to set up the system.

“It ought to be worth a strong conversation … to see about doing a reimplementation of the system,” he said.

There are 33 application centers at the University, including the regionals, each of which is allowed to add software into Pitt’s overall system, he added. If a reimplementation were to happen, there would be “less chance we’re going to have all these little modules … and pieces” as standalone parts and patches.

One Registrar’s office staff member acknowledged that his colleagues “fully recognize what everyone is saying” about the difficulties students have in registering using PeopleSoft.

As a solution, he suggested that having “one central technical group” handling the entire University’s tech needs “is unrealistic.” How is CSSD supposed to learn what each academic unit requires? He suggested a new group, parallel to CSSD, be instituted to focus solely on the technology needs of the academic units.

“A lot of the academic pieces necessarily shouldn’t fall on you,” another forum attendee told Menicucci and Graham. If there were a new CSSD-type office for the schools alone, each school would need a liaison to work with this hypothetical new tech team, he suggested. “Are the schools willing to do that?” he asked.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a choice, he continued. Maybe each school should be told, “‘You’re going to do this to make the data work better’ … We never get that much pressure applied to us at the school level. Having that hammer to be able to drop on us is a good thing, to help us move in the right direction.”


Many of the forum’s other suggestions were aimed at broader issues involving tech use:

  • Offer self-service access to firewall rules. “That’s definitely high on the list,” said Graham.
  • Shift the management of permissions for software use, currently decided on an individual basis, to be determined based on job descriptions. Thus, users at certain job levels automatically would have access to designated software.
  •  Coordinate scheduling software across disparate offices, so that scheduling does not have to be done on multiple platforms for single occasions.
  •  Have a presentation-building program that allows departments to keep confidential data, such as donor information, safer while allowing the program to communicate with other departments.
  •  Make certain the implementation of new systems takes into account the needs of unique departments at the University. “What we are doing is so specialized,” said an Institutional Advancement staffer, that when she hears about new systems coming in, “it makes me a nervous wreck.”
  •  Create a better clearinghouse for information on what IT services are available for users.
  •  Create a way to communicate throughout the University when alumni request that one department change their contact information or not contact them at all.
  •  Allow off-campus buildings access to the same software tools that are available on campus. “The University is pulling away and getting far, far ahead of us” in such capabilities, said a Pitt employee working at such a site. “It’s time for a larger initiative to get us, who are at a competitive disadvantage, so to speak, on board.”
  •  Make better use of the increasing number of computer systems that integrate data from central sources. “Is there any way of going back to the sources of this data to re-evaluate what data is being gathered?” asked one forum attendee; perhaps one office needs to gather more data, another less data, and others a different type of data than was previously requested.
  •  Increase research data storage. “I know it’s being worked on but it’s something we’ve been suffering for a long time,” said a participant.
  •  Improve the archiving of research data.
  •  Elicit a broader swath of opinion on what tech services the University should invest in and implement.

The forum was part of CSSD’s technology planning process, conducted over the past year with groups of students, faculty and staff.

—Marty Levine 

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