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Education Software

Stanford Learns a Software Lesson 314

Nick Irelan writes "In 1994 Stanford set aside $60 million to aquire the latest financial and management software from PeopleSoft and Oracle. However, the upgrade that was planned years ago is still not complete. Stanford has even begun outsourcing! 'Those who can't do teach :)'."
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Stanford Learns a Software Lesson

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  • or not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:33PM (#9408409)
    'Those who can't do teach'

    As if the computer science professors at stanford are the ones that set up the financial and human-resources systems.
    • Re:or not (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward


      "As if the computer science professors at stanford are the ones that set up the financial and human-resources systems."

      It would be prudent to consult several lawyers, accountants, and computer scientists before making such an IT committment, and it's quite an insult that they wouldn't have thought to go in-house for such consultation. This is *Stanford*. They shouldn't have any problem finding competent people in their organization.

      It's really embarrassing that they got into this situation and they sho
      • I don't know... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TamMan2000 ( 578899 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:47PM (#9408483) Journal
        I don't know any PhDs, let alone proffesors, who specialize in the pro's and con's of individual applications. Most of them are far more focused on the science behind all of this stuff. They tend to leave the details of implimentation to the folks in industry...

        and yes, I do work for a university.
      • Re:or not (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Samari711 ( 521187 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:55PM (#9408518)
        In theory that's the way it should be. In practice (at lest where I am) university IT departments isolate themselves from the CS departments. There certainly is a lot of communication between the two but the priorities of the two groups are markedly different. generally if you asked for a plan from both groups the academics would give you a design that was implemented as much to standard as possible using the best of what's out there while the IT department would be a lot more focused on the bottom line and would most likely cut a few corners.
        There's also a quite a bit of ego clashing because some of the CS profs feel that they could do a better job if they were in charge, and a few of them could be right about that.
        • Re:or not (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Apreche ( 239272 )
          Problem is this. First off at my school there are two IT departments. The academic IT department where you get an IT degree and the IT department that makes the network go. There is also the CS academic department where I am getting my degree.

          The IT department that makes the network go regards the CS and IT departments just like every other acadmic department. They treat them no differently. They in fact dislike them because:

          a) they aren't as smart as they are
          b) they give the biggest fight against stupid
        • In practice (at lest where I am) university IT departments isolate themselves from the CS departments.

          In this case, it seems the IT department was isolated from just about everyone. None of more common "best practices" appear to have been followed - e.g. users weren't on board with the changes before go-live, a "big bang" approach was taken on bringing in a new accounting system. Their gap analysis must have revealed that these packages needed more extensive customisation than usual, yet they went ahead
        • "There's also a quite a bit of ego clashing because some of the CS profs feel that they could do a better job if they were in charge..."

          ...and the IT department could probably do a much better job if they had more money to work with. In my experience it's not that people *want* to cut corners it has more to do with project realities. You don't always get to do what you'd like.
    • Re:or not (Score:5, Funny)

      by tachin ( 590622 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:41PM (#9408458)
      Talk about wooden knives at the blacksmith's house...
    • Re:or not (Score:5, Informative)

      by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:56PM (#9408524)
      There was a story here on Slashdot a while ago about resistence to an "open source" solution to the educational intraweb at Princeton.

      Said professor made the argument that a bunch of "kids" writing experimental software weren't qualified to write such software and that it should be left to the experts. Bear in mind that one of these "kids" is Brian Frickin' Kernighan who is a professor at Princton.

      I did some digging on said professor who holds himself out to be an expert on web design. His online tutorial a)is some of the worst web design I've ever seen and b)was a pretty shitty tutorial.

      A little further digging showed he's been in PeopleSoft's pocket since before day one.

      There's a lot of politics in these things, and a lot of money flying around and buying opinion. As often as not the last thing those in power want is their own Computer Science people involved. That would queer the whole money flying around deal. Nevermind that it all, ultimately, has to be taken out of the hides of students and other customers.

      KFG
      • Re:or not (Score:4, Funny)

        by Facekhan ( 445017 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:02PM (#9408543)
        Yeah I took a required course that was about half web design last semester and she spent half the course teaching us frames and tables when she should have been teaching us css since half of us were already familiar with html and the other half knew nothing and could just as easily have learned css as html. And this was a part time professor who is supposedly a web project manager for a big comapany.

        I am so glad I am taking time away from school at least this way I will not spend 3 years learning how things are really done after I graduate.
      • Re:or not (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tony-A ( 29931 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:18PM (#9408621)
        There's a lot of politics in these things, and a lot of money flying around and buying opinion. As often as not the last thing those in power want is their own Computer Science people involved. That would queer the whole money flying around deal.

        That's actually one of the strongest arguments for Open Source.
        Even if the software were more expensive for poorer quality and even if the support were inferior, you'd still come out ahead. Seems like Munich went for the more expensive Linux option.

        "In fact, the high-profile business battle between the vendors complicates matters. Each company's software is known to interfere with the other's, to the detriment of customers like Stanford."
        Makes KDE and Gnome sound friendly to each other.

        "For Handley, a big problem is that the software is designed to be used by public companies, not decentralized educational institutions. He notes that every ERP package he's worked with--Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP--has a single ship-to address in the purchasing module. That's great for a company like IBM, which is organized around a central receiving unit"
        WHAT! IBM has one loading dock? He's been had.
        • That's what I thought too. That sentence definately needs to be rewritten by the author. It could be that each office is set up with it's own peoplesoft instance, and they manage their shipping individually, but i really really doubt it.
      • Re:or not (Score:3, Informative)

        by belmolis ( 702863 )

        The guy at Princeton who wrote that silly attack on open source was a computer services management guy named Howard Strauss. He is not a professor.

    • IME those who cannot do wear suits and become managers.
      Those who cannot manage become consultants and wear even more expensive suits.

    • Re:or not (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vsprintf ( 579676 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @07:02PM (#9409147)

      As if the computer science professors at stanford are the ones that set up the financial and human-resources systems.

      True. According to the article:

      . . . says Stanford CIO Chris Handley, a former psychology instructor who joined Stanford from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1999.
      I had a math professor in college who claimed that psychology majors picked that field because they believed they'd be able to cure themselves.

      Chris Handley, from the article: "Just buying the software does not solve the problem. You have to change the institution, and that's something Stanford struggled with."

      This is the real problem with stuff like PeopleSoft and SAP. The user is expected to change their business rules to adapt to the software rather than the other way around. It's arrogant and bass-ackwards. Software is supposed to malleable and adjustable. That's why it's called software. Otherwise, it would be hardware or firmware.

    • Re:or not (Score:3, Insightful)

      by maximilln ( 654768 )
      'Those who can't do teach'

      When I was young and cocky I prattled off that line. I have regretted it for the last 8 years. It's insulting, demeaning, and while it may be true in some cases, it's not true in nearly all cases and is on the same order as prejudice and racism.
  • by capt.Hij ( 318203 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:35PM (#9408423) Homepage Journal

    Three Stanford professors serve on Oracle's board of directors, and CEO Larry Ellison has pledged $10 million to the university as director of the Ellison Medical Foundation. Across San Francisco Bay behind a range of hills is PeopleSoft, which has been fighting Oracle's hostile takeover attempt for the last year.

    Seems like there is a bit of a conflict of interest on all sides here. Big surprise that this is an expensive bust...

    • by REBloomfield ( 550182 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:38PM (#9408446)
      Here in the UK we're required to register our pecuniary interests at the start of each financial year. Our auditors would flay us alive if this sort of thing happened here...... And as an .edu admin, I can respond and say that it *is* the teaching faculty who make the upgrade decisions. They want the latest buzzwords, we do what we're told.....
  • Okay.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:35PM (#9408429)
    "Those who can't do, teach"

    Last I checked, faculty was not generally responsible for doing IT software upgrades.

    • Re:Okay.... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by REBloomfield ( 550182 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:41PM (#9408459)
      No, but it generally is faculty who want the latest buzzwords, and since three prof's sit on Oracle's board of directors, you can bet it was them giving the admins the orders....
      • No, but it generally is faculty who want the latest buzzwords, and since three prof's sit on Oracle's board of directors, you can bet it was them giving the admins the orders....

        The people who buy 60 million dollar finance systems are not "admins". They are VPs or CIOs or COOs. They far outweigh professors in power in their areas of expertise. They would be flayed alive if they blamed purchasing problems on buzzword-happy professors.

    • Dachannien says:

      Last I checked, faculty was not generally responsible for doing IT software upgrades.

      You must have missed this in the article: Stanford CIO Chris Handley, a former psychology instructor who joined Stanford from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1999.

      Granted, he's not an instructor now but he surely is responsible for fixing the mess and has been for five years: [stanford.edu]

      Handley joined Stanford in November 1999 as executive director of administrative systems. Previously, he directed the national Peopl

  • "Sometimes I look back and wonder if this wave of ERP software ... wasn't a collective hallucination," says Stanford CIO Chris Handley

    That would have been Berkeley then, no? Home of LSD and UNIX IIRC.
  • by The Only Druid ( 587299 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:36PM (#9408432)
    Nothing disgusts me more in normal conversation than this sort of bullshit parading as wit (its similar to 'kill all the lawyers' being invoked as the wisdom of Shakespeare, with everyone forgetting that the line is a description of the first step in installing a tyrant).

    Those who can do, do. Those who teach are doing! You think you learned everything you know on your own? Go tell your parents, your teachers, your professors, your bosses, your friends, etc.

    Pardon the vulgarity, but grow some fucking common sense.
    • Thank you for expressing my exact feelings about that phrase. I couldn't help but cringe when I read it at the end of the submission.
    • afuckingmen!

      Like another Shakespeare line "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" Which comes from a play which upholds pretty much every negative stereotype people have held towards Jews (The Merchant of Venice). Out of context quotes are so passé.
      • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:17PM (#9408615) Homepage Journal
        Merchant is, as a whole, rather problematic. You're right: it's a terribly antisemitic play. Except for that one speech, by far the best speech in the entire play. The speech is one glimpse explaining, more cogently than Richard III or Iago ever do, their motivations for acting like monsters for the previous four acts.

        And immediately after it, Shylock is exiled (probably to his death), and his daughter goes off to participate in a one-act romantic comedy of mistaken identities which has nothing to do with the rest of the play.

        So that quote is, in fact, quite in context, but the context is, uh, out of context.

        I once saw a rendition with Hal Holbrook as a very troubled and sympathetic Shylock, and Holbrook's daughter as Jessica. They solved the problematic fifth act by having her be horrified at what's just gone on, as the audience's point-of-view character. It's not what Shakespeare intended, but it worked brilliantly.
    • What Dick the Butcher thought he was was getting was mob rule or anarchy, not a tyrant. I don't think Shakespeare particularly thought it was wise. He presents Cade as a fool and a dupe, but neither do I think he was aiming at "the first step in installing a tyrant".

      'Course, Cade was sounding pretty tyrannical, what with the "felony to drink small beer" bit. But mostly Cade was just playing to the crowd, and apparently lawyers have been pissing off the multitude for a good long time.

      Cade's Rebellion, if
    • Given Shakespeare's rampant lawyer bashing in his plays, I'm highly doubtful he completely changed his tune for this one quote.

      The quote was given in the play as a description of the ideal community if one were king. Part of that ideal is to kill all the lawyers.

      It was hardly a flattering remark about lawyers being some type of defenders of justice. It was just the opposite: lawyers cause the injustice, and getting rid of them would return justice.
  • by jeffy124 ( 453342 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:37PM (#9408441) Homepage Journal
    how dare you suggest that Don Knuth cant "do"
  • by johnthorensen ( 539527 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:38PM (#9408443)
    Another PeopleSoft SNAFU is at the University of Missouri. They have been working on their project for > 5 years and are STILL using their old COBOL-based mainframe system. Millions of dollars down the drain because the pointy-headed academic administrators can't lead their way out of a wet paper bag.

    -JT
    • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:24PM (#9408650) Homepage

      Millions of dollars down the drain because the pointy-headed academic administrators can't lead their way out of a wet paper bag.


      More like foolish top management believed Peoplesoft was the way to go rather than develop their own system in-house. The peoplesoft problem doesn't exist in just acadamia, it's everywhere. Acadamia is just more transparent about it since they can't hide everything under a thick rug like Big Business can. The whole idea that you can make a single system payroll/accounting/registration/etc system for ALL BUSINESSES and just add custom features is a foolish one.

      The tranisitions for academic institutions has been even more problematic, to the point where several of the large institutions were considering suing the pants off Peoplesoft a number of years ago due to the whole system not working. They decided not to sue simply because they feared Peoplsoft would collapse under the weight of a lawsuit, and they'd be more screwed than before.
    • New PeopleSoft installs aren't trivial matters especially when it still has to interface to several home grown systems. Depending on the requirements, it can take years to replace an old mainframe based system with PeopleSoft, SAP, or any other ERP product. That's why consultants for those products make big bucks (they better...working your ass off and living in hotels for years at a time doesn't sound like fun to me).

      BTW, quite a bit of PeopleSoft is written in COBOL, so the mainframers will be happy a

  • by DeepDarkSky ( 111382 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:39PM (#9408448)
    about being able to do partial rollouts of various systems, keeping loose coupling between them and planning a migration path that doesn't require changes to everything all at the same time. The problem with the "business software" and the required customization, however, highlights the problem with packaged, closed-source software. Open Source software does not require you to be at the latest and greatest version. However, software vendors are often only willing to support the newest versions and discontinue support for older versions.

    There will be a great market for companies who specializes in supporting older versions of software that the original software vendor no longer supports.
    • Hey, IBM just won an award for their middleware system. The article talks about websphere MQ, but I'm going to assume it's YAMN for MQ Series. Odd that this never made an /. story.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3797191.st m

      BTW, you can roll your own to a large degree, (jabber, email, nntp etc) but it makes absolute sense to have some form of MOM in your organisation if you have more than a couple of systems.

  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:40PM (#9408455) Homepage Journal
    If that's applicable to the Stanford situation then the Oracle development staff should be teaching at Stanford shouldn't they?

    I mean, after all, it's not like John McCarthy [stanford.edu] wrote the Oracle financials package.

  • by BrianGa ( 536442 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:42PM (#9408462)
    'Those who can't do teach'

    And those who can't teach, teach gym.
    While those who can't teach gym, teach college.
  • by Anonymous Writer ( 746272 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:44PM (#9408471)
    Surely the same institution that came up with a distributed computing software project such as Folding@Home [stanford.edu] can handle a menial financial and record-keeping software project. If they made their own, using the GPL, then other universities could adopt it as well, and contribute to its development.
    • by KillerCow ( 213458 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:51PM (#9408497)
      Surely the same institution that came up with a distributed computing software project such as Folding@Home can handle a menial financial and record-keeping software project. If they made their own, using the GPL, then other universities could adopt it as well, and contribute to its development.

      Admin would probably refuse to use it. At the University of Waterloo [uwaterloo.ca], they used to have an absolutely unusable dumb-terminal based system for posting co-op jobs. The students (who are renound at the undergrad level) wrote the school a new system and presented it to admininstration... at least twice... that is, wrote two different replacements. Admin didn't take either of them. They ended up taking a system from people-soft that was late and terrible to use. Administration has no respect for the work product created by their own students.
      • The students (who are renound at the undergrad level) wrote the school a new system and presented it to admininstration... at least twice... that is, wrote two different replacements. Admin didn't take either of them.

        "In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king."
        But not if Administration is blind.
        Administration is comparing course assignments with what the students are actually capable of doing. What the students are capable of doing when they organize themselves to do it. The one essential ingredie
    • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:59PM (#9408535) Homepage
      I proposed this idea to Clarkson University -- that it should become the first university to commit to 100% open source in five years. The president (Tony Collins) gave me the warm fuzzies and then dropped the idea like a hot potato.
      -russ
      • That's too bad. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by twitter ( 104583 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @06:13PM (#9408914) Homepage Journal
        I proposed this idea to Clarkson University -- that it should become the first university to commit to 100% open source in five years.

        They must have thought it would cost too much. Anyone who objects on those grounds should be shown this $150,000,000 vendor nightmare.

        The nuclear power plant I used to work for had spent $5,000,000 building custom software for itself with Powersoft tools. It worked beautifully. The administration types thought that it cost too much and fired their programmers with the bone headed attitude, "we are an electric company not a software company." Now they are putting in a fifteen million dollar commercial package. I'm not there anymore, but I'm sure it's going to be a dissaster. You have to wonder if they are going to fire their engineers and clerks because they are not an engineering firm or a filing company.

        Just think of how much money everyone would have saved had they switched over to free software in the mid or late 90s.

    • The above poster has obviously never ventured into the accounting department at a university and is merely saying the word "GPL" to karma whore. "Non-trivial" doesn't even begin to describe the complexity of what goes on, to the point that even humans can't get it straight. Just the other day, I had to simultaneously corral no less than 5 university employees to figure out exactly what was going on with my pay situation.
      • "Non-trivial" doesn't even begin to describe the complexity of what goes on, to the point that even humans can't get it straight. Just the other day, I had to simultaneously corral no less than 5 university employees to figure out exactly what was going on with my pay situation.

        It is easy to add complexity. It is extremely difficult to reduce unnecessary complexity. Open Source is not a magic bullet, it's not that simple, but something is not working right when it takes all 5, simultaneously, rather than
    • If they made their own, using the GPL, then other universities could adopt it as well, and contribute to its development.

      Unfortunately, universities aren't software companies that work on application development. Professors don't have time to develop things like this since they are researching new technology, attending conferences, writing papers, and occasionally teaching. Grad students have their own research to worry about and don't have time to invest in application development. Undergrads are too

  • Seems like a great opportunity for open source software - the resources of the university, developers at large and oracle could work together. One of the problems noted in the article is that the oracle software was customized so heavily, future upgrades to the main project can't be applied to Stanford's version. Open Source it and some of these might be solved faster. I'm sure oracle makes a nice pile of dough on the consulting / integration.
  • by nathansu ( 777156 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:51PM (#9408495)
    Those who can't do teach...

    I've read some ignorant things on /., but none as ignorant as this. Teaching is one of the most admirable things a person can do as it gives back to the community in every way, shape, and form. Those who 'do' learn from those who teach.

    As a student I actually think that it is much more true that "those who cannot teach 'do'" rather than vica verca. Get some common sense before saying somthing extremely STUPID like that.
    • by pooh666 ( 624584 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:00PM (#9408536)
      Funny, I always learned from the book because the professors didn't really give a damn and certainly didn't have time to explain something to more than a very few people. So yes, I admire the books.. They have always been my greatest teachers..
      • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:48PM (#9408804) Homepage Journal
        The thing that students forget, or never knew, or refuse to realize, is that learning is a two way street, and as you advance in education the responsibility for learning fall more on the student and less on the teacher. It becomes merely whining to blame the teacher.

        In Elementary school you spend the day with a teacher and might get 5-10 minutes of personlized attention from each teacher. By the time you get to highschool, you might get a few minutes of personalized attention from each teacher per week. You can make that more by being a more active student.

        In college the students who just want to be told what to do get no personal time with the teacher. They also do not tend to get anything out of the class because the come in with the attitude that the professor do not care and do not want to explain. While this may be true in a limited sense, it is not a helpful philosophy.

        In fact you did exactly what you should have done. Go to the books and get other points of view. If you were not connecting with the professor, then he or she did exactly what they should have done, which is to send to get other points of view. Unlike your teachers, professors are not trained to work the issue from every angle until the student understands. Now that the student is in college, they are expected to have the skills to find the answers themselves. A professor merely points out a useful direction.

      • A couple of other have pointed out that many University Faculty write textbooks. True.

        I will also point out that somebody must choose the respect-worthy text for a course. Somebody also creates assignments and exams that will push students to learn the material.

        After hanging around the front of lecture halls for a few years, I think creating assignments is the hardest part of the job. Lecturing is easy: put stuff together in a reasonably logical order, throw in some interesting examples, and try to f

    • I'm not talking about the professorial level, but i've encountered many teachers who were downright incompetant (such as a 6th grade teacher who didn't know 8th grade math well enough to teach it to me, so i taught myself that year in math). We're not talking calculus or even high school level math. Teaching is admirable but many of my public school teachers were fairly useless (economics professor who taught so slowly i could read the book and teach myself in class faster than he taught. i've also had a
    • Did you get the phrase "vica verca" from one of those professors you so admire?

      If you're going to use Latin phrases in your posts, you might want to get them right before you call anyone else stupid.

      -jcr
  • by MammaMia ( 764083 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:51PM (#9408496)
    In my own experience with PeopleSoft at a major university, let's just say it can be rather frustrating. Yes there's lots of useful functionality BUT, the forced upgrades are more trouble than they seem to be worth. And some processes that ran perfectly on the old systems are glitchy as all hell now. And there's not much we can modify - just have to wait for the next so-called "upgrade". </negativity>
    • What can't you modify? They give you the source for most of it so you can modify it to fit your environment and business requirements.

      Some of the upgrades are necessary. Govts tend to get cranky if you're not withholding the proper amount of taxes. However, in my experience, it was always good to wait to apply the tax upgrades as long as possible because they would often include some bugs. I'd rather let the early adopters pull their hair out and wait for the resulting patches from PS.

  • by bob65 ( 590395 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:55PM (#9408517)
    I think a more accurate phrase would be,

    Those who can't teach, do.

    Many of those who teach can in fact do, and what the heck do you think teaching is? Is it not doing?

    However many that can do, can't seem to teach. Which is why they pretend that those who can't do, teach.

  • by Facekhan ( 445017 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @04:58PM (#9408532)
    The DC public school system has had a similar project going on for most of the last decade that does not work yet. Also a large database, management, and payroll system. They are actually being advised to give up on it since they are now out of money and the citywide system will do a better job. But they don't even have the money to join the citywide system now. A lot of it stems from unnacountable and incompetent administration for large .edu and government projects that change specs often and insist on a lot of customization which then has to be redone every time they change the specs. They are also only interested in the latest buzzword instead of what works. The companies are all too happy to take advantage of the situation. In the DC case and in some other school districts they purchase systems well in excess of their current and future needs because they refuse to hire competent people for project planning and administration. In most cases the needs fulfilled by these systems could be done with very little customization and be planned and implemented in less than 2 years. Consultants can cost a lot but its a lot less than the cost of buying something that never works. One more reason why colleges are always so behind the times.
    • I've actually been very surprised that there's been so much fuss about lead levels in water (which if you look at the statics are actually close to old EPA standards), but little has been said about the tens of millions of dollar literally thrown down the drain on this DCPS PeopleSoft project.

      Anyone who's had any substantial interaction with DCPS (I went to DCPS through college) knows that the system's administration is miles beyond incompetent (the system can't retain a superintendent for more than a year
    • You assert: A lot of it stems from unnacountable and incompetent administration for large .edu and government projects that change specs often and insist on a lot of customization which then has to be redone every time they change the specs. ... In most cases the needs fulfilled by these systems could be done with very little customization and be planned and implemented in less than 2 years. Consultants can cost a lot but its a lot less than the cost of buying something that never works

      Blame the user, eh?

  • Humoring the author here, what about the professors that do both? Plenty of my professors teach during the day/at night and work at JPL or other research firms in the LA area. Not sure where your ignorance is coming from, but it's quite unfounded about the teaching community, in general.
  • Or.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrPerfekt ( 414248 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:08PM (#9408565) Homepage Journal
    Those that can't make the news, submit the news!
  • So that's why Stanford costs so much. Not better quality, just higher costs due to poor budgeting and incompetence. Nobody should spend $60 million over 10 years on something they could probably do in house for $500k in just one.

    For their price they could have had 600 programmers for a year, or 60 for 10 years. Seeing that it's still not done, I doubt they had even a single good programmer on average working on their project for the majority of its lifetime. Maybe someone who could do what'd take a normal
  • How many fully paid student scholorships could have that money have bought?
  • Aren't PeopleSoft already being sued by Cleveland State University for $510 million over claimed breach of contract and fraud. The university is claiming that software developed by PeopleSoft was missing specified features, and as a result has caused disruption to the admissions process...
  • Frankly, there's absolutely nothing unusual about this. The general level of management competence is such that, they rarely have any idea of exactly what their existing systems do or what the systems they are buying will do. I don't see why an educational establishment would be any different.

  • by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:18PM (#9408620) Homepage
    A failed or struggling ERP implementation is no an IT issue. Implementing new financial and business software is very difficult, especially in organizations that require multiple methodologies to manage money. Success requires that nearly every employee change some facet of their job... and when you look at a university that is a staggering number of people.

    Fast moving private corporations struggle with ERP implementations - some even go out of business and blame it on the software... when in reality the problem was millions of threads holding gulliver down.
  • by baomike ( 143457 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:19PM (#9408625)
    The admin people (accounting, personnel, admin data
    processing) never talk to the academics. It is just not done.
    After a number is major systems at the U of O (over 27 years) I can tell you,it doesn't happen.
    The academics may not even be aware a system is changing until their secretary can't log on( or more likely is gone for training).
  • by Chief Crazy Chicken ( 36416 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:19PM (#9408628)
    The biggest problem today in business with respect to software is that people in business don't understand that the reason you have software in a business at all is to make the processes of that business more effective.

    Instead, there is a notion that "well, our competitors have it", or "we have to have it or we'll go out of business".

    If you're just playing catch-up with your competitors, you aren't. There's certainly no innovation going on in your company, and beyond that you have no competetive advantage. That would be "stuff that makes you DIFFERENT".

    So -- there's a fundamental perception problem. Since transitioning from a relatively advanced-thinking commercial development shop to an insurance company almost 10 years ago, I've been seeing this problem.

    Given all of this context, the quote toward the beginning of the article by the Stanford CIO shows that Stanford also doesn't get it:

    "Just buying the software does not solve the problem. You have to change the institution, and that's something Stanford struggled with."

    No. You write (or buy/obtain if it's commodotizeable, like word processing or web servers) software that works to make the processes that you have more effective. Sometimes you need to make adjustments to have them work together. One case where you'd need to change is if you had a team of 50 people that did nothing all day long but go and pull index cards out of the card catalog in response to user requests -- putting in a database would require them to change this task. But overall, the process would be much more effective. Looking for a book (in this case) would remain functionally the same sort of thing.

    The problem with software of this nature, or any "black-box-off-the-shelf" core business software is that it always comes with its own agenda regarding what the core processes of the business should be. To implement, the business has to change the way it does business in order to map into this new set of processes. AND often pay millions of dollars for the privilege. So, the business has just lost some of its competetive advantage (distinctiveness), AND has to pay a BUNCH per month. Plus they all come with maintenance fees now. On top of the original ridiculous price tag.

    Why don't these businesses just write their own, you may be asking? Sadly, the answer is rather simple. In order to find out what you need the software to do, you need to get the users together and find out from them what they do.

    First, this will take time. Generally, in a business, if you stand up and say "I have time to be able to do this extra thing" it translates as "because I don't do anything anyway", which is managerial for "I am an expense that produces nothing, fire me". So people don't like being put in that position. Second, it's human nature to not have a good idea what it is that you are doing. Go read about contextual design for discussion on this subject, and ideas on a method of getting around it. Suffice to say, people don't give good information when just asked -- they need to be watched. Which is time intensive (see 1 above). So, even if you get volunteers, unless you use the special tricks, you get bad information. Which leads to an incorrect product. See the last 20-30 years of "the software problem" for references here.

    Sounds like a bottomless pit. The way out seems to me to be to get the users educated as to why the software need exists in the first place, then once they're educated, get them motivated to work together to discover what the software needs to do.

    Easier said than done. Here're your shovels, get digging!
  • by yancey ( 136972 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:20PM (#9408631)
    The University of North Texas is about 60% through our own migration from mainframe to Oracle/PeopleSoft and I have to say that the transition is going quite well so far. We are already done with financials and inventory and many other parts of the system and are going live with registration this coming fall term. Projects are being completed mostly on-time and with relatively few problems. Now, our team did a tremendous amount of research before getting into this and knew much about the problems at other universities. It seems the problem is not the software, but the tendency of these organizations to continue doing business in their old ways. They try to force the new software to behave much the same way as the legacy systems they are trying to replace. From what I can tell, the problem is not with PeopleSoft or Oracle, but the universities themselves.
  • What's so hard? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:27PM (#9408661) Homepage Journal
    I've heard about many ERP nightmares, both with Peoplesoft and SAP. Even when they work, the projects are always incredibly expensive.

    What's so frickin' hard? I am a programmer, and I know how hard programming is, but (correct me if I'm wrong) the goal of ERP is to use a single integrated program to do tasks that have been written a million times before: accounting, payroll, inventory, etc.

    I can't help but believe that the problem isn't on the technical side but the business side: each organization has an idiosyncratic way of doing business and believes that it's cheaper to write custom software, or expensively adapt ERP software, to its specific goals, rather than doing things in a standardized way that can be assisted cheaply by standardized software.

    When you bring a program like Quickbooks into an office, you're expected to do things its way, because "its way" is a collection of well-understood accounting principles. The more you try to customize it, the more likely that it is you are simply doing the wrong thing.

    ERP is, to my understanding, a scaled up version of the same thing. The scaling will always make things difficult; large organizations are going to be more different from one another than small ones. It also presents performance and reliability issues.

    Still, I've heard of so many failures costing tens of millions of dollars with these programs that I start looking to blame something other than the software and software developers.
    • What's so frickin' hard? I am a programmer, and I know how hard programming is, but (correct me if I'm wrong) the goal of ERP is to use a single integrated program to do tasks that have been written a million times before: accounting, payroll, inventory, etc. ... The more you try to customize it, the more likely that it is you are simply doing the wrong thing.

      If you read the article, you see that they have a vendor cluster fuck going on. Versioning and custom software to fit the institution that break for

  • He [Handley] notes that every ERP package he's worked with--Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP--has a single ship-to address in the purchasing module. That's great for a company like IBM, which is organized around a central receiving unit, but ...

    No, it's not even great for a large public company. It's unbelievably stupid. These vendors are getting the big bucks for massive ERP products containing everything but the kitchen sink, but when it comes to shipping and receiving, they typically just tack on a ridiculo
  • Not just Stanford... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Celvin ( 601177 ) * on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:30PM (#9408678) Journal
    This seems to be a normal thing... Three large Norwegian universities (the universities of Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen) signed up for a brand new personell management and whatnot system from IBM 5 years ago. It's still not working and has caused a lot of trouble for the universities.They were actually at one point unable to pay their employees.

    Eventually they found out that IBM had stopped development and sold the product to another company, without telling any customers. I understand that they're mad.

    The whole project ended up in one large lawsuit where the universities sued Big Blue for NOK 50 million (approx. $7 million). IBM ansvered with a counter-suit for NOK 5 million in damages. The case ended with a NOK 20 million settlement.

    Ironicaly it seems they have gone for an Oracle-system after this...

    Link to an article [universitetsavisa.no] about the case, and one about the settlement [universitetsavisa.no] (both in Norwegian) for those who are interested.
  • Shocking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twitter ( 104583 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:31PM (#9408679) Homepage Journal
    "Sometimes I look back and wonder if this wave of ERP software ? wasn't a collective hallucination," says Stanford CIO Chris Handley, a former psychology instructor who joined Stanford from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1999. "Just buying the software does not solve the problem. You have to change the institution, and that's something Stanford struggled with."

    Change an institution to match software? Why not change the software to match the institution?

    the board of trustees since 1999 has been asked to approve $93.4 million in capital expenditures for applications and infrastructure . The trustees had approved $60 million in 1994 to overhaul Stanford's entire administrative information systems, a project they expected would take five years, even though controller Susan Calandra says some of the projects in the original plan were never started.

    For $60,000,000 they should have a custom system that works with anything. Hell, they should have as much for $5,000,000. Now they want 93,000,000 more?

    The delay has been caused in part by Oracle itself, which helped Stanford customize the software so heavily?changing Oracle Financials to accommodate the way Stanford redistributes overhead costs across its grants, for instance?that together they broke continuity with future versions of the software, rendering portions of what they put in place unusable.

    I can't imagine something so poorly modularized. What's going on here?

    The university must cope with what Handley calls "version upgrade gridlock"?installing Oracle v. 11.5.9 requires changing PeopleSoft v. 7.6, upgrading to PeopleSoft v. 8 requires changing Oracle v. 11.5.9, and so on.

    Oh, now I see they should have used free software from the get go and done it themselves.

    • Re:Shocking (Score:3, Interesting)

      by StormReaver ( 59959 )
      Now they want 93,000,000 more?

      Here's the really aggravating part: for $93M, I can put together a team of 100 (programmers, artists, technical writers, etc) dedicated to nothing but getting a fully functional, 100% customized to Stanford's business flow requirements, ERP system written and debugged in under a year. Each person would walk away with enough money to be very well off for quite a long time.

      Whomever spent this much money with nothing to show should be dragged through the streets by rabid horse
  • by jonbrewer ( 11894 ) * on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:32PM (#9408682) Homepage
    ERP systems implementations fail due to people and organizations, not due to technology.

    Give a university administrator a system she doesn't know or like, and she's not going to put any effort in to making it work.

    Give an IT department a mandate that they don't feel they had an adequate role in bringing about, and they're going to blame the technology, no matter what the real problem is.

    Slap down a system made for a sane business in front of a university and tell that university to behave like a sane business in order to make the system work... well, it won't work.

    Having seen PeopleSoft and Oracle Financials implementations from several angles, I firmly believe that the technology is fine - nothing spectacular or earth-shattering - but fine. The problem lies entirely with the organization implementing.

    How to fix this? There's the ten million dollar question. A hint at the answer is this: look at Oracle Financials and PeopleSoft implementations in organizations with strict heirarchical (read militaristic) management. Success rates?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It's the consultants....

      Having worked with Oracle Financials at a big UK university the amount of money wasted on consultants / consultant project managers was astronomical.
      Some pulling in the order of 1500 GBP a day ( for months on end)! And managers wonder why projects run late....

  • we want to believe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:35PM (#9408702) Homepage Journal
    I think is just another case of wanting to believe. I was involved with purchasing an ERP system in the mid 90's, and it was one of the reasons I was happy to leave. The purchasing decision was based more on bells and whistles than what it could do for the company. I saw no in depth analysis of how each piece of software would pay for itself, what would be required to get it running after initial installation, and or how a group of people who did not use computer would use this. Simplicity should have been the issue, but all I heard was 'Look at the pretty buttons' and 'Windows is always cheaper' and 'Thin nets are the wave of the future.'

    One thing that was very clear to everyone who was thinking, even back then, was that an ERP would not pay for itself and therefore had to be bought on the basis on making life easier. Another thing that was clear was that you had to have a clear idea of how it would be used, and how much it would cost to use, otherwise it would never get used.

    I saw the same blindness when i was working for a company that sold custom websites. Mostly we took a cut of advertising, and I suppose paid salesmen commission based on what we all now know is mark to market. At that time the advertising market was dying, and all the tech people, and even some of the managers, knew that the deals would result in no money. However that truth was not useful for the salesmen who wanted large commissions or the upper management that wanted large sales. So deals were put together that cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars to honor, with customers that made not commitments whatsoever. Of course all this came crashing down.

    So, having worked in small business, corporate, and academia, I would say there is little difference in the ability to be blinded by greed and the smooth talking salesman.

  • by Ronald Dumsfeld ( 723277 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:39PM (#9408737)
    When you repeatedly hear stories of companies having problems installing ERP packages, why should it come as any surprise that an educational institution for which the package is not designed has problems with it?

    Personally, I think the person(s) responsible for specifying off-the-shelf software with some customisations should be shot.

    I've worked on ERP implementations, heck, I've worked on ERP software development. It's all about providing a sophisticated accounting system with cookie-cutter business modules around it. Everyone has customisations on it, how large those customisations are depend on how far away you are, or want to be, from the template the ERP provider offers. Education is well away from what those templates offer. Probably so far away that you cannot justify the cost of the migration and customisations. That leaves you wondering if someone recommended the migration because it would look good on their CV.
  • Stupid ! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by deniea ( 257313 )
    In my opinion, they should use more of their 'in-house capital'. I'm sure they have business and IT related corses there.

    By having graduate students have as a final project something like that, they can save lots of bucks on things like that.

    Why shouldn't they ? I know my university does. It also shows in a way that if you prepare students in those fields, you are confident of their capabilities, e.g. the level of 'education' your own university provides is good enough for they big companies you are train
  • by Travoltus ( 110240 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:48PM (#9408805) Journal
    All your Student Info Are Now Belong To India!

    Remember this when someone from abroad starts ruining your credit with SSN data stolen from outsourced student records.

    Pray that East India doesn't treat you the way Dow treated those East Indian citizens during that little chemical accident a few years back...
  • by costas ( 38724 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @05:50PM (#9408821) Homepage
    I've seen massive (multi-million USD) ERP projects succeed and I've seen equally massive ERP projects crash and burn. This is nothing new, and it has nothing to do with Stanford (yes, I am a Stanford grad): it has everything to do with how you approach the installation. Rules to live by when you re-platform ERP:
    1. Find out what your business/organization want to do; what is the benefit of the change and what you are aiming for.
    2. Find out what consequences your chosen platform has to your business: what things you can do better than before, what you can only do worse and what you can do that you could not do at all before.
    3. Communicate the above to every department and every level in your organization. Have them re-thing their business processes along the new platform so that they maximize their benefit. In the process, they will "debug" a lot of the assumptions that were put in to the ERP specs and things will pop out before actual deployment.
    4. Big-bang roll-outs are a recipe for failure: deploy the new systems in parallel for as long as you can, or if that's not possible, deploy in only some portions of the business. Absorb the cost of building temporary interfaces to your old platform as testing (which it is).
    5. Cross your fingers.
  • If you can administer and upgrade this type of software in Stanford's neighboorhood, chances are you can get better pay at any of the hundreds of local companies that might employ this type of person. I highly doubt Stanford's salaries are competitive with many local companies.
  • Minnesota (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mike Hicks ( 244 ) *
    A lot of places have had similar experiences. The University of Minnesota (which has one of the largest campuses in the country, though the overall statewide system isn't extraordinary) began switching over to a PeopleSoft system back around 1997. I'm not sure if it is complete yet, but I guess I haven't heard much about it for a few years (but then, I graduated a year and a half ago).
  • by call -151 ( 230520 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @07:06PM (#9409177) Homepage
    One thing to keep in mind is that productive research faculty tend to be very adept at avoiding committee assignments that have little potential upside and are primarily administrative, such as one overseeing adminstrative computing in a case like this one.

    I remember someone who was a reasonable faculty member who had been doing a good job as department chair, who agreed to become chair of a university committee that was overseeing a tranistion to PeopleSoft, in fact. I tried to talk him out of it and it did in fact become the huge morass with fingerpointing that I was worried it would become, but when deciding to do it he was sure this was a straightforward ticket to moving up the administrative food-chain to dean and so on. In my experience, research faculty tend to work much better in environments when the success is primarily determined by their own efforts, and being in a situtaion where you are depending upon an outside entity (particularly one from another (non-scientific) universe, like PeopleSoft or other huge corporate entity) is a recipe for disaster.

    The point is that a university is a community and in general, people end up in different roles, perhaps at different times in their careers. Some faculty are effective researchers throughout their careers and would be unlikely to ask or be asked to serve on what I would think of as a "committee from hell," whereas others who are not contributing research-wise are often the ones who feel obligated or are asked to shoulder more of the adminstrative burden. Remember that faculty generally have no particular preparation in adminstration, and it is pretty random as to whether or not anyone works out well.
  • Stanford software (Score:3, Interesting)

    by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer@alum.PARISmit.edu minus city> on Saturday June 12, 2004 @07:15PM (#9409230) Homepage

    I was on the Stanford faculty from 1983-1994. There was very little relationship between administrative computing and academic computing at the departmental level. (There was a centralized "academic computing" facility, run as I recall by the same people who ran the administrative stuff, that continued to be used for a while by the older-fashioned people in some non-science departments as others adopted PCs.) Administrative computing centered on an IBM dinosaur that ran a lot of locally developed software. Migration away from a system like that can be pretty rough, with data tied up in peculiar local formats, and a lot of the staff get very invested in it.

    Stanford was also rather prone to central decision-making. Around 1983 they decided that every faculty member should have an IBM PC and arranged a cheap deal. (As I recall we paid a modest amount and the machines eventually became ours.) Later, they made a sweetheart deal with Apple and only wanted to support Macs. They were very slow to support Unix systems, even though when I got there in 1983 there were about 150 Vaxen, two running VMS, the rest Unix, and soon after that Suns, Microvaxen, and HP Bobcats.

    Administrative computing was a different world, one from the past. Logging in to the admin system was kind of like "Voyage to the Lost World". I can imagine that the decision to go to outside suppliers reflects a lack of confidence in the ability of the internal administrative computing people to do the job.

  • You can read the BBC article here [bbc.co.uk]... the project was late nineties, early 00's... cost far more than it should have done... and didn't work when finally brought online. It was also financial software from Oracle.

    The compsci lot was never involved -- why would they be? It's not even remotely the same job.

    The article puts the losses at 9 million GBP but I've heard much higher figures quoted. Strangely enough it was covered in some detail in the Software Engineering lectures at Cambridge :-)

  • You what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Aldric ( 642394 )
    Ten years for a glorified accounting and payroll system? That's just insane!
  • Oracle's licence model was (and as far as I know still is) based on number of users, number or CPUs, speed of machine, etc.

    So putting oracle onto even a workgroup sized SUN box (E450, V880) can run several hundred thousand a year.

    Given the size of Stanford, the requirements for redundancy, many users requiring different database access, I would imagine that the licences alone between 1-5 million a year. That's 10-50 million over the last decade.

    There are support costs, need for table locking, performanc
  • by dwkunkel ( 546825 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @07:41PM (#9409344) Homepage
    These ERP implementations fail because each and every part of the existing process is not defined and documented. If the current processes are clearly documented, then they can be compared to the proposed ERP solution to see if it makes sense.

    Our company licenses Oracle's complete system. During the latest upgrade to 11i, I looked into the possiblity of using an Oracle module for tracking prototypes in our developement lab. I submitted a complete process definition along with flowcharts and process diagrams. After about a month of communicating with various Oracle departments, they finally admitted that they didn't have anything that would fit.

    A clearly defined process saved us from trying to convert our existing in-house system to something that wouldn't come close to meeting our requirements.
  • by More Trouble ( 211162 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @08:18PM (#9409550)
    Buying PeopleSoft is just the first step in a long and arduous path. Perhaps you've heard that only 25% of software is commercial? The other 75% is written to manage in-house processes, e.g., finance, HR, whatever the business is. This ratio is not substantively changed by purchasing PeopleSoft: as with most vendors, step one is "buy software," step two is "spend way more time and/or money making it work."

    Someone mentioned the PHB problem. No doubt. PHBs don't understand the "make it work" step. I bought something, I'm done, right?

    :w

  • by Paul Johnson ( 33553 ) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @09:24PM (#9409884) Homepage
    For a detailed post-mortem of a similar project with Oracle Financials in Cambridge University in the UK, see this report [cam.ac.uk].

    Paul.

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