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By Vasugi V. Ganeshananthan and Michael L. Shenkman, Crimson Staff Writerss

For some Harvard users, it is hard to imagine how the new financial information system could possibly be worse.

But they have not talked to Cleveland State University (CSU) officials.

In 1996, when Harvard was launching Project ADAPT, CSU began a similar effort to replace its patchwork of aging information systems. While Harvard chose Oracle to provide the base software package, CSU selected Oracle's competitor, PeopleSoft.

Since the 1998-1999 academic year when CSU implemented its new systems, things have gone from bad to worse.

"We simply have an unmanageable system," William F. Patient, chair of the CSU trustees, told Cleveland's daily newspaper, The Plain Dealer, late last year.

The project's costs have ballooned from initial projections of $4.2 million to a current estimate of $15.8 million.

That includes $4.6 million earmarked in February to hire independent, non-PeopleSoft consultants to fix its problems. And in November, CSU appointed a special task force called "Just Fix It" to, well, just fix it. CSU has also retained lawyers and is considering suing PeopleSoft for damages.

Steve Swasey, PeopleSoft's director of corporate public relations, has told The Plain Dealer that his company was trying to "stand by its customer," but that CSU had unrealistic expectations of project costs and implementation time.

While CSU's officials may be the most vocal about problems with PeopleSoft, they are not the only administrators who have struggled with system installation nationwide.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, the package that PeopleSoft sold Ohio State University (OSU) in 1995 was to cost $53 million over three years. Instead, the project will take six years and cost $85 million.

In November, OSU and six other Big Ten Schools--the Universities of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan and Northwestern University--wrote a letter to PeopleSoft President Craig A. Conway, complaining users find the system too slow and calling its performance "simply unacceptable."

But Edward J. Ray, executive vice president of OSU, told the Dispatch that the intentions behind the letter are constructive.

"We are eager to work with you to solve many of these problems," the letter said.

"The point of this letter is not to complain but to say there really is value in our getting together," Ray said. "We told them we could kind of collaborate to see how we can get [PeopleSoft] faster to our needs."

Now, OSU officials still complain that their system remains too slow, but say they are otherwise pleased with it.

Ivy League schools have also seen their share of problems as they implement new computerized finance systems.

Yale University, which like Harvard uses software designed by Oracle, nevertheless seems to be ahead of its Cambridge rival.

The new systems designed under Project X, Yale's equivalent to Project ADAPT, went online July 1, 1999--the same day Harvard's did.

But Yale decided to implement its new financial and human resource information systems simultaneously, in what the industry calls a "Big Bang" approach. In contrast, Harvard has chosen to stagger implementation of the system and has so far only launched the financial segment of the program.

"We possibly should have tried to better understand what we were doing, but I think it's best that we jumped right into it," Indy Crowley, director of administrative systems at Yale's Information Technology Services, told the Yale Daily News.

Project X Director Steve Sunderland told the Yale Daily News that nothing is perfect.

"There have been bumps in the road," Sunderland said. "The first real problem was with the first monthly payroll. A number of checks went to the wrong locations."

Still, Crowley said the project has been a success.

"On a broad spectrum of implementation, we're much closer to magnificent than to total disaster," Crowley said.

He says that the system's first year has mostly focused on getting the program working. But he adds that users are optimistic about the system's potential and are eager to reap the long-term benefits of the installation.

"One of the aims of Project X was to cut out redundant steps, which previously created more room for error," Mary Varga, director of finance and administration of facilities, told the Yale Daily News.

She said she believes the system will offer departments like hers a "much better set of reporting tools and better information in the future."

But users say Yale should have worked harder on communication in the project's earliest stage.

"It was like you're in a physics class and have no idea what's going on, so you don't know what questions to ask," Joanne Bentley, business manager in Yale's chemistry department, told the Yale Daily News. "I definitely don't want to go through this again."

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