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Volume 68, Issue 52, Wednesday, November 6, 2002


Regents displeased with PeopleSoft system

By Nikie Johnson
The Daily Cougar

A heated discussion about the UH System's use of the PeopleSoft computer software system erupted during an otherwise average Board of Regents meeting Tuesday morning.

The board's committees convened to set the agenda for the Nov. 21 full meeting, but an informative presentation on PeopleSoft sparked some regents to become upset over the amount of money being spent on the system and the perceived lack of benefit on the part of those using it.

"If there's no empirical data of efficiency, let's stop the bleeding," Regent Bo Smith said.

PeopleSoft was approved by the board in 1998, and was first introduced to the UH-Clear Lake campus. It came to the main campus in Fall 2001. Its purpose is to integrate financial, human resources and student information systems to make it easier for students to access records and for the University to better manage financial matters.

Now, one year after its implementation at UH, Vice Chancellor for Information Technology Charles Shomper told the regents UH has "begun to realize the benefits" of the system.

However, his report on how much the system is spending on implementing the software, and how much is left before it will be fully functional, raised eyebrows among the regents.

Since 1998, Shomper said, UHS has spent $28.77 million on PeopleSoft, which leaves $7.72 million in the budget. However, he said he now expects UHS will have to spend at least twice that much before the process is done.

His reassurance that "we will not exceed the monthly cash flow coming in for this project" didn't stop many of the regents from expressing worry.

"Who's going to be responsible for cost containment?" Regent Raul Gonzalez asked.

Shomper said that an executing advisory committee, made up of a half-dozen top UHS officials, is in charge of making the "tough decisions" that come with spending money on PeopleSoft, and the decision ultimately lies with UH President and UHS Chancellor Arthur K. Smith.

Shomper also said that, although UHS has spent two-thirds of its PeopleSoft budget already, it's only completed one-sixth of the project. By that, he meant that only one-sixth of the student population in the system is benefiting from what has been implemented, he said.

Regent Michael Cemo asked whether the system is spending so much money on PeopleSoft that it will be stuck with a huge investment that doesn't prove its worth.

Shomper, along with Arthur K. Smith and Board of Regents Chairman Gene McDavid, defended the investment, saying that integrating the system is something that has to be done, and that the benefits will be great even if they can't be seen now.

Not everyone was convinced. Regent Suzette Caldwell said she thinks it is bad business to keep pouring money into the software.

"Promises were made in 1998 that results would show in two to three years," she said, adding that she hasn't seen anything positive.

"With all due respect, we're laughing about spending tens of millions of dollars on something (that isn't producing results)," she said.

Bo Smith asked Shomper to bring to his next presentation to the board some specific, human examples of the software benefiting people. The other regents agreed, and Shomper said he would do so.

Among the items set for the agenda for the Nov. 21 meeting were two proposed new majors: a master's degree in space architecture and a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering.

The regents will also vote on whether the new Center for Students with Disabilities should be named after Justin Dart Jr., a UH alumnus who was known as a champion for the rights of the disabled, and who helped get the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990.

The regents will also vote on renovating three entrances to campus, where Scott Street intersects with Elgin Street, Holman Street and Wheeler Avenue. The proposal would add granite walls with the UH logo and landscaping, at a cost of $160,000 each.

A motion will go before the board to hire Dodge & Cox Investment Managers and Seneca Capital Management to help invest the system endowment in an effort to diversify and strengthen the system's investments.

The board also heard presentations from Robert Wimpleberg, dean of the College of Education, about how the school is helping to supply Texas with teachers; Arthur Vailas, vice chancellor for research and intellectual property management, about the increase in research funding in 2002; and Director of Internal Auditing Don Guyton, about the system's internal audit.

The meeting ended after the regents went into executive session to consult with attorneys and discuss personnel matters.

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