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Univ. of Wisconsin's 30-Year-Old Payroll System Needs a $40 Million Fix

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the too-big-to-not-fail dept.

Bug 418

jaroslav writes "The University of Wisconsin is attempting to update a payroll system they have had in place since 1975, but spent $28.4 million in a 2004 attempt with no results, and now is experiencing new overruns in cost and time after 'not hav[ing] the full picture of how complex this project would be.' The current estimate of the redesign is $12 million and years of further work on top of the money already spent."

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418 comments

FRIST!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28382617)

frist

Re:FRIST!!!! (1)

knightghost (861069) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383757)

They are trying to implement a dead product (Peoplesoft) for literally 6x to high a cost. Must be trying to make a completely custom system which is going to continue to cost many millions of dollars to support every year. What a colossal waste.

Peppy (1)

Slartibartfass (1131161) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382621)

Peppy: Do a 30-Year-Old Payroll! spend $40 Million twice

Re:Peppy (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28382761)

Kinda like some other recent fiscal rationalization I've observed:

$700+ billion for "bailouts" of important so-and-so's is OK because we spent more than that in Iraq.
Spending $800+ billion on "stimulus" is OK because we spent more than that in Iraq.
$1 Trillion in new health coverage for 43 million uninsured is not a problem because we spent that much in Iraq.

Make No Mistake! (tm)

Re:Peppy (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383625)

$1 Trillion in new health coverage for 43 million uninsured is not a problem because we spent that much in Iraq.

That $1 trillion is over 10 years. Making it about a quarter as much as we spent on the military during peace time under a Democrat. Which is weird since it seems easier to kill than to heal.

Managers often have profound ignorance. (3, Insightful)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383129)

We see a lot of stories about this kind of thing on Slashdot. Often it is a politician showing that he or she is completely ignorant of technical issues, but wants his or her foolish opinions to be respected.

Maybe it wouldn't be sensible to attend a university that has such technically backward management.

The world will be a better place when all the managers retire who were raised without computers.

I dont understand. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28382631)

How can an upgrade cost $40m?

Shutup slave! Git back ta whorek payin' yer Texas! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28382967)

You have no interest in the matter that grants you any right to ask questions to a selection of qualified individuals that are fixing an antiquated system of accounting debits and credits. Just look the other direction, and continue paying for this over-haul. You don't own anything over here and we gave you permition to use our certifications and credibility for future employment. If you don't like it, hand in your card and leave quickly the way you came. Pay your taxes so we can avoid things like this happening in other corporations that happen to use the word "University" in their legal name. Shutup or you'll get the hose!

-Alex Jones

Re:I dont understand. (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383395)

Depends on the scope of the project. In this case, it sounds like poor project planning resulted in inadequate investigation or documentation of requirements. So the initial fix which was probably a huge effort for a very large employer to have tailored to their needs, deployed, validated, and then integrated without hiccups. I don't know if $28.4 million was unreasonable to the situation, but don't underestimate the cost of deploying a highly secure, stable, expandable, and usable system without interruption. Not to mention the cost of training payroll employees and IT on the new system. This isn't just a simple upgrade. This is a complete overhaul that is probably expected to last for decades.

That's a nice budget you got there (3, Funny)

xdor (1218206) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382645)

I would totally sign up to do this job.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

DeweyQ (1247570) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382711)

That's what I was thinking. Four good coders could "do-over" a payroll system in five years no matter how complex it was... at the rates the University is apparently willing to pay and the timeline they have settled for, that is $10 million each for five years of work. Not bad.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (4, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382783)

Four good coders could "do-over" a payroll system in five years no matter how complex it was

Sure, if you have good specifications.

Re-engineering a 30 year old system that's been accreting features for 30 years, though, isn't an easy task.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (5, Funny)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382821)

Re-engineering a 30 year old system that's been accreting features for 30 years, though, isn't an easy task.

for $10M per dude, it doesn't have to be. I'll bugfix this thing with badgers gnawing on both my arms for that kind of pay.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

hezekiah957 (1219288) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383111)

I call the right arm. Maybe I'll get a mouse to go with the deal. (I'm a 3rd-year CS major at UW-Madison)

No problem. Just find some smart badgers. (4, Funny)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383191)

"I'll bugfix this thing with badgers gnawing on both my arms for that kind of pay."

That's nothing! I'll get the badgers to do the coding.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

kilodelta (843627) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383931)

May not be an easy job per se but what is a payroll system but a massive calculator. But it I do know payroll has to integrate with the general ledger system and that's a big fly in the ointment.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (4, Insightful)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383207)

This is true. What they need to do is simplify their payroll policy. Then they could use a much cheaper system--possibly even COTS + a consultant.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (4, Informative)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383247)

Even with specs, the hard part of a payroll system is known all of the tax rules and regulations to start with, then toss in the byzantine local rules such as the pay grades and union seniority rules. Then when this is done, be prepared to change it again each year as the rules change.

Payroll systems tend to have a lot of people on staff maintaining them. Which is why a lot of corporations just outsource it all if they can.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383493)

the hard part of a payroll system is known all of the tax rules and regulations to start with

The word you were looking for there is "knowing", not "known".

HTH. HAND.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (5, Insightful)

crispin_bollocks (1144567) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383569)

Yup, that's why Paychex, ADP and many others are worth every penny. Anyone with more than 10 or 20 employees is incurring a lot of overhead doing their own payroll.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383611)

For the price they are incurring developing their own system, they could probably just outsource their payroll to a 3rd party with an already existing system.

Feature accretion (4, Funny)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383343)

"Re-engineering a 30 year old system that's been accreting features for 30 years, though, isn't an easy task."

I love it when you talk dirty like that! Gimme some more, and say it in a hoarse whisper!

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

FooRat (182725) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383409)

You don't have to fully "re-engineer" it. It's a payroll system. You just implement a new one, check how much everyone's getting paid, and put that information in. Unless it has everyone on the planet it's not going to be that expensive.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (5, Insightful)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383843)

This is why projects like this end up costing $40 million after failing with $28 million.

The fact is, you don't know shit about the problem, but you assume you have it all worked out, so you throw out a number and just say go. Then, when you start to realize with it will take to comply with city, local, state, and federal tax laws, as well as privacy laws, laws like S/O, not to mention INTERNAL company payroll needs. It's not too bad if it is a small organization operating in one little area, but as soon as you start crossing boarders of any kind, shit gets fucked up. Laws and regulations you've never even heard of almost certainly apply.

And you have to program it to comply with -all- of it. One little mistake could cost the organization millions.

There is a reason large organizations have teams of accountants/programmers, tax lawyers, accountant/lawyers to deal with this shit. It's not easy.

See my sig, I can't say it better than that.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (4, Insightful)

b0r1s (170449) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382923)

4 coders ignores the fun parts defining requirements, assigning tasks, testing, QA, regression testing, all the fun things that the first group neglected that caused it to be unfinished.

Sometimes youngsters look at a task and go "That's easy, I could totally do that in 2-3 months". Then there are people who have done it who stand back and laugh at them for being naive.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (2, Informative)

DeweyQ (1247570) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383197)

With agile methods and a multi-disciplinary team ("good coders" is an unfortunate catchall phrase I used to mean people who can gather requirements, write user stories, validate, iterate, manage a burndown list, etc.), five years would be absolutely more than enough time to do all of the steps you mention and more... like change management and getting iterations into stakeholder hands early... and on and on. I am neither a youngster nor naive about the software development life cycle (both waterfall which is what it sounds like you're used to, and agile).

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

fatalwall (873645) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383223)

the problem is if its going to cost that much and take that long for fix the system they have... why not buy a system thats already production ready.. only issue there would be importing all your data from one system to another. I know data imports can be hard but its a lot easier then trying to fix a system that really should be retired. I know there is also training that has to be done but the time line would be so much shorter and be the same or less money

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383313)

I wonder if one or any of these is "extensible":

http://www.sql-ledger.org/cgi-bin/nav.pl?page=features.html&title=Features [sql-ledger.org]

http://chasesagum.com/open-source-payroll-time-management [chasesagum.com]

http://news.zdnet.co.uk/software/0,1000000121,39175137,00.htm [zdnet.co.uk]

Even in:

http://www.compiere.com/industries/ [compiere.com]

I don't see "Education/Universities/Distributed Academic Education Systems"

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

crispin_bollocks (1144567) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383767)

Common wisdom about MRP systems used to be that yes, you could certainly roll your own - it would take you three years, and you would then own a system three years out of date, and designed for where your company was three years ago. Yeah, you could totally code that in 2-3 months. After a year or two is spent on specification, stakeholder buy-in, budgeting, project planning and all that stuff the suits do. And no, you can't fork the project because you got your feelings hurt!!

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383891)

I'm not a youngster, Been coding "In House development" for over a decade in a large company, and I can assure you, 5 years, 4 coders is overkill for a re-write.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383117)

At a certain point you throw out the word "redesign" and substitute "design from scratch". I imagine there are decent off-the-shelf starting points compared to 30 years ago.

Of course, as in any payroll system, it needs to be highly customized so a big chunk of costs will go to the consultant and professional services.

Re:That's a nice budget you got there (1)

DeweyQ (1247570) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383297)

Having said all I did about the outrageous waste of money, a COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) solution, even heavily modified is probably the way to go (and from other comments it sounds like this latest $12 million will go to a Peoplesoft implementation). Still some pretty sweet coin for Accenture, the consulting company that's doing the COTS implementation.

O.K. So... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28382729)

The University of Wisconsin is attempting to update a payroll system they have had in place since 1975

Why?

As a UW Student... (5, Funny)

cheezitman2001 (1397905) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382741)

I just want to say how glad I am my tuition's going to a good cause.

Re:As a UW Student... (1)

ubergeek09 (1412177) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383209)

as a uw student, or at least I will be this fall it does kinda sicken me, but....I'm not paying my own tuition. I can thank student aid for that. lol

Bad Title (3, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382745)

Who am I kidding, right?

Their payroll system doesn't need a 40-million-dollar fix. That's just what they've ended up spending on it (hypothetically, once the $12 MM hot cash injection fixes all the problems).

The University should just scrap the system and go with a commercial payroll vendor. Bigger organizations have done the same, and there's no shame in it.

$40 MM is insane. That's over four years of tuition for 4500 students at UW-Madison.

No use throwing good money after bad.

Re:Bad Title (2, Informative)

Crazy Man on Fire (153457) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382771)

The University should just scrap the system and go with a commercial payroll vendor. Bigger organizations have done the same, and there's no shame in it.

That's exactly what they're doing. They are trying to switch to PeopleSoft.

Re:Bad Title (4, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383001)

PeopleSoft is not a commercial payroll vendor.

It is an ERP system, the payroll module needs to be heavily customized for any large implementation.

If they need an ERP, fine... but then it's not just a payroll system costing $12 MM additional, is it?

Serves me right for NRTFA, but *some* accuracy could *maybe* be hoped for?

Re:Bad Title (4, Interesting)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383873)

You still need the ERP. It's not like you get together a box with all of the goofy union contracts and agreements, court-ordered judgements, and byzantine business rules, fedex it to ADP, and magically get your paychecks to come out the other end.

Re:Bad Title (4, Insightful)

mmaniaci (1200061) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383037)

Theres an infinite amount of shame that you accrue once you go to PeopleSoft. I don't know of anything better, but PeopleSoft is a steaming pile of shit, much like any other enterprise tool that tries to do it all. Its all just fodder that managers eat up like hotcakes because of the promise of higher productivity, and won't change until the next generation of IT professionals comes in and kicks the old clods off their thrones. Now that we have a generation of IT professionals that were born and grew up in a world with computers, I have plenty of optimism that enterprise bloatware like PeopleSoft (Microsoft *, Novell, FootPrints, Cadence, etc) will slowly but surely be replaced by modular programs that actually do a task, and do it well.

Re:Bad Title (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383761)

won't change until the next generation of IT professionals comes in and kicks the old clods off their thrones.

My, aren't we quite the bigot. This is going to come as quite a surprise to you, but, there's a lot of people in the world. Some of those "old clods" are actually intelligent, knowledgeable and experienced in their fields, including IT. Hell, some of them even post on Slashdot, I imagine.

And, at least one of them thinks that, in addition to being a bigot, you're also an asshole.

Re:Bad Title (4, Informative)

emmons (94632) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382817)

As I understand it, they've totally scrapped the old system and are starting over from scratch using PeopleSoft - which they should have done from the beginning rather than trying to roll their own solution.

So yeah the title is misleading; it's a $12 million system. And that includes deployment across 24 campuses statewide, training costs, etc.

Re:Bad Title (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383339)

no, people soft should NEVER be used. I've been at two universities which implemented it. both times were an unmitigated disaster and people including myself did not receive my paycheck for over a month. Peoplesoft and their engineers suck in every sense of the word and should NEVER be used.

Re:Bad Title (4, Informative)

Bodhidharma (22913) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383579)

The $12m is just for the planning. They originally though $8 million would be enough but it wasn't. The UW payroll system (really HR system) has to take care of around 60,00 employees at several campuses plus county extension branches. There are all sorts of job descriptions with different contracts, vacation, sick leave, seniority, retirement plans, insurance, etc. The previous failure was an embarassment and some reporter figured they could stir up some trouble by making a big deal out of this. It's better that they get all the processes sorted out before they start writing custom code.

Re:Bad Title (1)

ckaminski (82854) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382997)

Solved problem. http://www.adp.com.

Payroll isn't something companies should be specializing in managing. ADP/Paychex are kings in this arena for a reason.

Re:Bad Title (1)

carlzum (832868) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383889)

Yep, this was a $40 million leadership failure. They're trying to blame the IT bogeyman, but according to the article a lack of planning and poor leadership was the problem. The fact that it was a software project is irrelevant, they would have been just as inept if they tried to build a bridge or organize a large event.

The project, a public relations embarrassment for the university, was doomed by poor project leadership and planning, bureaucratic infighting and technical complexity... Giroux said earlier planning budget estimates and timelines had to be changed because "we did not have the full picture of how complex this project would be." He noted a state audit in 2007 of troubled information technology projects identified inadequate planning as the source of most problems.

Oh, ffs (4, Insightful)

ledow (319597) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382777)

I'm sorry, but what a heap of crap.

It's a payroll system. Yeah, it's a biggee, and yeah, it's got a lot of old information in it most probably. It's written in an old language (Oh no! The end of the world! Soon we might not be able to understand our systems! Hold on... we just had three attempts and replacing it with something new and FAILED because we didn't know half the stuff it was running). But you're not telling me that MILLIONS of dollars and YEARS of work by supposedly professional IT companies isn't enough to get ANYTHING working well enough to say "We don't need to worry about that part any more". You can get an OS written for that sort of money, or kit out an entire borough of schools with an integrated network.

What's *more* disgusting is that by the looks of it, the IT people at the University are probably barely getting a look in - it's being project-managed by external companies. Come on, stop faffing about; seriously, this is just stupid. Get your *existing* IT team, hire a bunch of programmers directly (hey, you're a University... I wonder where you can get a crapload of cheap, intellectual labour nearby, trained in the art of programming properly and designing the systems from the start, supervised and educated by people who have spent years using their technical, professional and theoretical expertise in the subject?) and just write the damn thing from the ground up. It wouldn't cost anywhere near as much money/time as you have wasted on a single company out of those that tried to sell you crap. Oh, and you can make it do what YOU want any time and you'll have the programmer's hanging around for the next few years with an incentive to keep the system running properly ("What grade did I give you for that paper on your design of the new payroll system? I've revised it, it just crashed.").

If it's THAT damn big, you want to start breaking the thing up into pieces, anyway. Anything that you can't find out all that it does in that many YEARS, you really want to be breaking into smaller and smaller parts and replicating them one at a time. Don't pretend that you're the only place on Earth that has that amount of employees, that amount of computer data, and require mordernisation.

Get rid of the project managing companies, get rid of the "slice-off-50%-for-myself" companies, get rid of the stupid contracts that REWARD failure, and give the project to people who will give you a system that will not only last for ever but be documented and updated and revised and bug-fixed and converted for ever and a day.

Re:Oh, ffs (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28382963)

There are numerous controls and nuances (with-holdings, taxes at the national/state/local levels, 401k, etc) needed for a payroll system to work properly. I guess the real question here is, why did they attempt to develop one in house as opposed to going external. For that kind of money, I'm sure they could have just gotten ADP to do their payroll for a few years, or even got a licensing agreement with Peoplesoft.

Re:Oh, ffs (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28382989)

Being a graduate of Madcity, I can tell you that they produce some of the best programmers in the world.

"Guess what, ladies and gentlemen? This year's Comp Sci project is writing a payroll system..."

They could teach a 4 year Comp Sci program around it. Planning, implementation, support, and future growth.

Screw paying for it - utilize your existing resources!!!

Then again, with our current dumbf*ck Govenor... At least he's not going to make license plates like Illinois past governors...

Re:Oh, ffs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383005)

I agree completely - Does a payroll system honestly cost 28 million dollars? NO! I've been in the software business for a while now and even enterprise level software doesn't cost this much to maintain or code for that matter! And what's the problem with legacy systems anyway? IBM seems to be doing just fine, and they are riddled with outdated systems.

Your right - these people are supposed to be working for an institution of higher education....really people. Come on.

Re:Oh, ffs (4, Funny)

aztektum (170569) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383043)

srlsy! Also, it was made in the 70's! How complex can a program on a handful of punch cards be?!

Re:Oh, ffs (4, Informative)

j-turkey (187775) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383055)

Without really understanding the details of their payroll system and the task involved, I don't necessarily agree with your assessment. Most university IT groups don't have stellar project managers, which is the one thing that a project of this scale (and criticality) needs. Further, it's likely that nobody has have the expertise in either the outgoing payroll system or the one that's going to replace it (either in a shrinkwrap or roll-your-own configuration). I'm not sure whether or not hiring a high-paid, highly experienced and qualified project manager as an FTE is warranted. Further, what does an IT department do with a really good PM with tons of experience and a huge list of successful projects when this project ends in 18-24 months? The smart money is to eliminate the position, which is what a smart manager will see when they interview the university. Instead, they would likely work on a contract basis and (as you say) slice off 50% for themselves.

Rolling their own payroll system is also a possible disaster for them. It's very likely that they're having a hard time communicating requirements to professional payroll implementation/transition consultants who do this sort of thing all the time with a shrinkwrap ERP (like Oracle, SAP, etc). What makes you think that the university will be able to better communicate requirements to developers?

I guess that this is all armchair quarterbacking from both of us, since I have no idea of the circumstances beyond the details that the article provides (which are light, at best). It appears that this was mishandled on multiple levels though - likely both the fault of the university management and the consultants. Usually for projects to fail on this level, it has to go both ways - consultants mismanage a project, the university mismanages the consultants, and probably isn't able to clearly communicate requirements.

Re:Oh, ffs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383081)

Oh My Good God.

You're not seriously suggesting that the university write it themselves. The university guys sit in an ivory tower and study algorithms and when it comes down to it, couldn't project manage their way out of a wet paper bag.

Dont get me wrong, the lecturers are brilliant brilliant people, but in my experience (we're writing software for the local university at the moment) the lecturers are exactly that -- lecturers, then you infer putting the *students* in to do the grunt work?! I know from experience that it takes 1-2 years for a good software junior just to come up to speed AFTER COMPLETING a degree, because they need time to make all those silly mistakes that their senior co-workers can help them learn and grow from, these silly mistakes have a $ cost, but that's part of hiring people and growing programmers, but from the sounds of TFA, this particular project cant soak up many silly mistake problems from 2nd year students, chosen for cheap gruntwork.

Yes you need *good* programmers to make *good* software. But then you need good project managers to steer the ship to the destination, and you will not find that in-house.

Re:Oh, ffs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383115)

Your opinion implies you think know what you are talking about, but you do not. Fucking stupid slashdot assholes have worthless opinions about anything.

Re:Oh, ffs (1)

FooRat (182725) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383253)

the IT people at the University are probably barely getting a look in - it's being project-managed by external companies. Come on, stop faffing about; seriously, this is just stupid.

Never attribute to incompetence what can be explained by corruption. This is not "stupid", it's corruption working exactly as it's intended to. What's perhaps stupid is those ultimately footing the bill being too naive to realise it, and not holding the corrupt to account.

Re:Oh, ffs (1)

dbcad7 (771464) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383407)

There are companies.. such as PayChex, with multiple branches in many cities.. and there are other companies just like them .. and they all handle multiple businesses at each branch that have all different types of pay and tax schemes,, and I guarantee not one of these places uses software that cost even as much as a half a million, let alone 40 million .. in fact, why not just use one of these companies ?

Outsource it along with the rest of HR (1)

xzvf (924443) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383623)

Seriously, there are companies that do HR and can probably take over in a month. I don't understand why government organizations are the only ones that still have pensions and refuse to outsource tasks they don't do well. Payroll is simple and the deductions possible are well established any professional HR outsourcing company can handle it, plus be able to cleanly pass it to another company when their contract is up.

Prospectus (1, Interesting)

xdor (1218206) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382865)

Phase 1

Extraction of business rules from legacy (probably COBAL) system.
Farm it out to other universities or India.
(Cost: maybe $1 million) Basic requirements and documentation finalized

Phase 2

Take the rules and implement the entire system into a PostgreSQL database Java middle-tier to Java AND web-based interface. Revise documentation.
(Cost: another million)

Phase 3

User acceptance and testing. and go live.
(Cost: 1-2 million)

Profit Finally, hold the remaining funds as a "maintenance fee" and use the interest to cover ongoing support

Re:Prospectus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383085)

Well, that's a totally convincing business case right there. Where do I sign?

(or should I go with the people that can actually spell COBOL correctly?)

Re:Prospectus (2, Insightful)

wilder_card (774631) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383127)

If it is a typical complex, highly-customized business system, it will have:

  1. years and years of poorly- or un-documented code patches, fixes, etc.
  2. lots of legacy code which is no longer used but never removed
  3. Dozens of external systems which extract information from it, probably each in a different way
  4. large amounts of critical information not written down but scattered among different user groups

So, I'd say your Phase 1 above is a vast under-estimation. And the idea that you can farm it out to an external organization, especially one without close personal contact with users, is pure fantasy.

At the end of your process you'll have a system that does maybe 20% of what the users actually need, and 50% of which is stuff no one needs any longer.

Re:Distillation (1)

xdor (1218206) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383397)

Based on what you're saying I'm stepping in it just like all the contractors and companies in the last 30 years.

That's really enlightening, actually.

So taking the time to interview the business to obtain an understanding of what they actually need would be more valuable than attempting to divine that from the binary tea leaves

I suppose this kind of due diligence is taught in most colleges, just not at the University of Wisconsin?

Re:Prospectus (1)

kingkoopa (1400245) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383145)

Phase 1

Extraction of business rules from legacy (probably COBAL) system.

COBAL, exactly what I was thinking. It reminds me of an article that was on ./ about a year ago talking about how California couldn't find anyone to maintain/upgrade their payroll system becuase they couldn't find any COBAL programmers.

Re:Prospectus (1)

ctmurray (1475885) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383685)

This whole thread is a deja-vu moment for my wife, a COBOL programmer. She went through being ripped off by Arthur Anderson (Accenture now) for the HR system at her company. They had to also go through more than one COTS + consultancy to finally end up on Peoplesoft. So these are her comments:

1. Find out what other Big Ten universities have implemented, pick the best and use that one.

2. Run away from Accenture. If they rip off everyone they work with, who do they use for references for the next job?

She is looking for a job, where are all the job postings for COBOL programmers? Seriously, there do not see to be any jobs. I think the consultants have feed the clients a line about there not being any programmers for the legacy system (to scare them into the new solutions). So everyone thinks these people don't exist, so no one posts for the jobs. She is only 50, plenty of years to work fixing these systems.

Re:Prospectus (2, Insightful)

Alethes (533985) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383331)

I'd simply mod you up if I could, but I can't so, I'll comment instead.

Speaking from extensive experience in data integration and migration from legacy (no, I really mean ancient) systems, this really is just a simplified version of what really happens in successful projects of this scope. Having also seen the nightmare scenario that UW is going through, I can guarantee that the failure lies in a lack of project management. With a budget that large, it didn't even require good project management. All they needed to do is actually have documented specs. Something as simple as here's a list of everything our current system does that we need to keep, these are the additional features we want to add, and here's the process we have to use to ensure data integrity. A Post-It Note even?

What is so special about this university? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28382867)

What is U of Wisconsin doing that they are unable to use a system developed for other universities with some minor tweaks? Is this a case of too many "cooks" wanting to add their own modules for odd requirements? Is some treehugger demanding a carbon footprint fine system to penalize staff that drive SUVs and have too big of a house? I cannot even begin to imagine the amount of excessive overhead they are paying for all involved in this project. Doesn't this school have a computer science department? I am sure they could get some grad students to help do this all in house.

Re:What is so special about this university? (5, Informative)

emmons (94632) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382993)

This is a statewide system that needs to be deployed on all 26 UW campuses, administration and UW-Extension (which has an office in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties). It handles all types of employees from student LTEs to professors to staff to administration, all of their benefits through the state retirement fund and the state employees healthcare plan (which itself is fairly complex). It has to deal with union and non-union employees and their different pay structures, special deals for certain faculty, etc. It's a complex system that is specific to the State of Wisconsin, so no, there is no off the shelf solution.

On top of all that, much of the cost is in deployment and training of all the people who have to use the thing.

Re:What is so special about this university? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383123)

And that's why organizations should avoid such complexities like the plague. States shouldn't be re-inventing any of that stuff, nor should their universities.

Re:What is so special about this university? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383809)

Bah, Double Bah, and a BAH HUMBUG. Larger companies, other schools, states, and even federal departments have far more complicated pay systems implemented for far less money.

Step 1. Find some pay systems that are modern and working well at any other school in the US with the same requirements or more (you want scalable). There are going to be quite a few.
Step 2. Figure out what modifications would be required to meet the needs of the current employees and system.
Step 3. Get employee and management buy-in for conversion to the new system.
Step 4. Make sure you have a workable plan. Appropriate milestones, tied to performance metrics, tied to contract payouts.

Note: Get a decent project manager capable of actually managing a project of this scope. You know, someone with experience, technical expertise, and who is competent. Pay them. It's silly to balk at a $200-250k/year paycheck for someone able to effectively manage a project of 10's of millions dollars.

Whoever ran your current effort either got taken for a ride or helped take you for a ride. Either way, they need to go ASAP and someone who can perform needs to be put in.

Special complex system that is specific to State of Wisconsin is BS. Schools all over the country have the same little quirks, they are simple subroutines to the standard processes. There is no special UW voodoo.

Re:What is so special about this university? (0)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383837)

Sounds about as complicated as my first-year Computer Info Systems semester project back in 2000. As a matter of fact, when I go home, I think I'll write one of these things for the hell of it, save it to my desktop, then delete it -- just as a speed challenge.

Payroll??? (1)

BillandTed (657725) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382969)

Can anyone say ADP? Outsource this and pocket 2 mil for new hardware - they'll call you a god and you can then update seriously outdated hardware needed to run such outdated software... Just a thought

Bubbles! (1)

really_irish_man (1559155) | more than 4 years ago | (#28382991)

FTA: Giroux said earlier planning budget estimates and timelines had to be changed because "we did not have the full picture of how complex this project would be." He noted a state audit in 2007 of troubled information technology projects identified inadequate planning as the source of most problems.

Seems like a classic case of the bubbles don't turn into code.

This is a B-league project, A-leaguers avoid it (4, Insightful)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383009)

The real problem here is that best of breed software developers have too many great opportunities that are more inline with their passions to work on this backwater payroll system. This leaves the unmotivated drones managed by Dilbertesque managers to run with this ball.

Outsourcing it (1)

canuck57 (662392) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383101)

Now according to Wiki [wikipedia.org] they employ 2,054 faculty members and probably outsource most other services like cleaning etc. That works out to $14,000 per year per faculty.

Any chance of outsourcing that?

Re:Outsourcing it (1)

BBTaeKwonDo (1540945) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383227)

I agree with your point of outsourcing, but your facts are wrong. FTFA: "The university has long wanted to replace the aging computer system that pays its 60,000 employees". It's the whole university system, not just the campus at Madison.

Corruption (1, Insightful)

FooRat (182725) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383225)

Sorry, but I have a pretty good idea what corruption looks like, and this stinks to high hell of corruption, the odds are about zero that it's anything else. Computers and how 'complex' they are great premises for corrupt bureaucrats to launch 'projects' that become huge money holes.

This is the most expense that I ever have heard... (1)

kvillaca (1276120) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383243)

Why they don't start to getting the specifications now, and in few years they should have one brand new system, running in new machines, and probably faster than the last one. In this case is the better choice, instead of try understand the old system and try make some sort of patches that is with this price some sort of crazy thing.

Re:This is the most expense that I ever have heard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383385)

Because the old system IS the specification.

The money goes quickly on these projects (5, Informative)

kbob88 (951258) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383293)

I've been involved in a few of these types of projects (unfortunately), and believe it or not, the money goes quickly. So does the time. It's not just coding -- that's actually a very small part of the money. It would take some time to burn through $40mm, but you'd be amazed how quickly these project eat up cash. I certainly was when I first got involved.

Here are some things to consider:

  • They always consider the costs of the internal people's time on these projects, even if they're not dedicated to the project. So if you have a 4 hour requirements meeting with 6 business folks from Payroll, well, that gets figured into the overall budget at 4 * 6 * hourly loaded cost of employees, plus your time.
  • Software and database licenses add up quickly for this type of project. You know they're not running on MySQL, right? It's probably Oracle all the way, and that's $$$. Some vendors charge by the seat -- how many users do you think a payroll system for 60,000 employees has? That's right, a lot. Plus hardware costs -- they're not running this on their old hardware.
  • A project of this size probably has a project manager, several project administrators, an internal business lead, and an internal technical lead, at a minimum, running the show.
  • How much do you think gathering requirements, mapping out existing processes, mapping requirements to functionality, developing specs to cover the gaps, creating the new processes,
    testing the new processes, and getting buy-in and approval on all that from all the stakeholders costs? You know there will always be 3 to 5 revision and feedback cycles for everything. That's an easy 6 to 18 months of work for a team of six to eight people probably.
  • They're going to have run it in test mode for several pay periods, while the old system is still running, and check the results. That will result in duplicate work for all the people entering in the data.
  • Converting the existing data costs money.
  • Training costs for the users -- there are probably several hundred users, at different sites. (Plus there's always "Change Management" costs)

(Ugh, thank God I'm out of that ERP systems business these days!)

Yes, a fair amount of the money is probably wasted. But these projects do cost big bucks. This isn't hacking up a new blogging tool from open source toolkits. I'm not saying it's right, or well managed (it almost certainly isn't), but to say "dude, I could hack up a payroll system in a couple of months, pay me the money!" just shows that while you may know how to sling code, you don't have a clue about delivering solutions to business problems.

Re:The money goes quickly on these projects (1)

Jodka (520060) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383667)

Ya. All that. Or they could have purchased an off-the-shelf system and adapted to that by conforming to modern business and accounting practices. And purchased custom data migration from India through a U.S. contractor cheaply.

 

Should we change the name? (2, Funny)

pig-power (1069288) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383361)

Maybe...
just maybe...
we can call it "The Looney-versity of Wisconsin".
Would be appropriate.

Re:Should we change the name? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383571)

Yes, it's appropriate that a lame no-content article is met with lame no-humor jabs.

Honestly, what's the point? If we had a separate article every time a big project didn't work out, we wouldn't have any space left for the obligatory anti-RIAA rant fest. Or are we s

Here's the real story (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383469)

There's nothing wrong with the current payroll system other than it's old and runs on old hardware. The guys who wrote it 30+ years ago did a pretty good job.

The problem is, those guys are long retired, and some are dead. The ones who are still living have some hard feelings. They got treated like crap and were told to give up their jobs to youngsters whose sole knowledge of COBOL was a CS professor saying how awful it was. Consequently, there hasn't been much in the way of maintenance or knowledge transfer; the young'uns simply weren't interested.

They brought an old guy in to deal with Y2K issues. They agreed to pay him well, but then got chintzy when it turned out that there really wasn't much that he needed to do. They eventually did pay him, but kicked him to the curb again afterwards.

Since none of the young'uns understand the system, and the old guy refuses to deal with them any more, they have no choice but to replace it entirely. The problem is, nobody really knows what went into the system except for the old guy, who has the irritating habit of wanting to be paid to have his knowledge tapped.

COBOL is not that horrible, except in the minds of the ignorant. If you could do BASIC or FORTRAN, you could do COBOL. The bulk of a COBOL program isn't code at all, but instead is structure and format definitions ("data division"). Don't expect to have recursion or local variables (those are all new-fangled extensions) or object-oriented semantics. Be grateful that the original self-modifying feature of COBOL got removed. Then just break it down. Each procedure is labeled, and unless the programmer was an idiot the variable names have some relationship to what they mean.

The only real PITA for COBOL is learning all the reserved words (there's a few hundred of them) and their semantics. Other than that, it's just drudgery.

Well here's your problem (2, Funny)

BigSlowTarget (325940) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383483)

Fire everyone, buy quickbooks is not an appropriate answer then?

Not to mention $40 million / 60k employees is $666 per employee - there's your problem. Its the payroll system of the Apocalypse (integer math only need apply).

Stanford's conversion (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383503)

Stanford had a very expensive conversion to PeopleSoft a few years ago. Stanford had a huge collection of in-house systems from the 1970s and 1980s, running on either DEC PDP-10 machines or IBM mainframes. They've finally phased out all the PDP-10 based stuff at Stanford proper, although SLAC is still running some PDP-10 code.

They tried Lawson first??? COBOL programmers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383507)

That's the funny part... They tried to implement Lawson first, where the core business processes are coded in... wait for it... COBOL!

Lawson's whole framework (unless things have changed in the last 5 years, it's been a while since I've worked with it) when running on windoze or UNIX basically emulates (poorly) a mainframe doing CICS transactions and then they have a couple layers on top of that to give it web interface. Even funnier is that running it on windoze requires an install of a basic *nix environment (similar to cygwin) so that the environment can run on top of that and then run it's COBOL/CICS-like environment (followed by another 2 layers to bring it to a browser).

I'm sure PeopleSoft will be so much better... :|

Moore's Law (0)

Jodka (520060) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383547)

Because the cost of computer systems decreases with time, the expense of the new system should be lower than that of the one which it replaces. The University of Wisconsin was capable of either implementing or purchasing a functional payroll system in 1975 running on hardware of that era. According to Moore's law, simply replacing the existing 1975-vintage hardware with an equally powerful system in 2009 hardware should cost 1/2^17 as much as the 1975 system, that is .0000076 as much.

The article does not state what was the purchase price of the 1975 system. Assume that it was less than 2^17 * 28.4 million, that is, $3,722,444,800,000.00. Then the exponentially decreasing expense of computer hardware is not decreasing fast enough to offset the increasing incompetence of the University of Wisconsin.

Re:Moore's Law (1)

Pollardito (781263) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383803)

It's not just a hardware issue, and programmer salary doesn't move in any direction exponentially. Also the original system likely didn't have to import 30 years of legacy payroll data that's formatted in a fashion that they probably don't completely understand, they probably just kept the printed records for that older data.

Efficiency (1, Interesting)

Jodka (520060) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383801)

The University of Wisconsin is a state-funded school, and as such is essentially a branch of government. When you are told that massive increases in government spending are necessary investments in the future of America, keep in mind that this is the kind of return which you will receive on that investment.

Idiots: outsource to Paychex, ADP, etc... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28383879)

SLA payroll services to professionals. You don't need a PhD to figure out the maths.

Go figure...

Oracle? (1)

randomnote1 (1273964) | more than 4 years ago | (#28383917)

What were they thinking? I have seen nothing but horrors with Oracle's front end applications. But seriously...how difficult is it to actually implement a decent payroll system?
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