New Tech Head to manage $6.3 million PeopleSoft relaunch in January
October 15, 2020
By David Rowe, Copy Editor/Staff Writer
The Peralta Board of Trustees approved the hiring of a new chief technology officer (CTO) at its October 13, 2020 meeting. Carla Walter, Peralta’s recently appointed interim chancellor, informed the board a nationwide search will be launched immediately and estimates the new CTO will start in January.
According to the job description, the CTO will “provide leadership for technology-related initiatives and services” and “ensure that implementation of technology will occur in an integrated manner.” The approved salary for the position is $161,402, not including benefits and a one-time $3,600 stipend.
The first task awaiting the new CTO is managing the relaunch of Peralta’s aging PeopleSoft program. Oracle purchased PeopleSoft in 2004, shortly before the Peralta district initially implemented the system. At its meeting on September 29, the board was informed by Antoine Mehouelley, Peralta’s Director of IT, that the “go live” date for the first phase of the $6.3 million PeopleSoft upgrade will be January 25, 2021, which is also the first day of classes for the Spring 2021 semester.
Trustee Linda Handy has been a strong advocate for filling the vacant CIO (Chief Information Officer) and CTO positions.
“It’s laughable that you would approach a $7 million contract with no one in charge,” she stated at the September 29 board meeting. “It requires a CIO, not a director position.”
While the district is moving forward on hiring a CTO, there are no plans at this time to fill the CIO position, according to Walter. Minh Lam, Peralta’s most recent Associate Vice Chancellor of Technology, left in March of this year.
Mehouelley said the January 25 date was determined following discussions with “all the business units” and to ensure that all three PeopleSoft “pillars” (student portal, HR, and finance) will go live at the same time. Mehouelley also confirmed all the pillars, or modules, will be “mobile ready.”
Enabling students to enroll in classes and pay fees on their mobile devices has long been a goal for the district, given the widespread use of smartphones and tablets among its students. Mobile access was one of the unfulfilled promises of ONEPeralta in 2018, the most recent PeopleSoft upgrade.
Other enhancements include migration to the Oracle database and cloud infrastructure, increased security and disaster recovery, training, and installation of the most current versions of all software modules.
Mehouelley told the trustees the academic calendar was considered in the timing of the relaunch, but was unable to answer Handy’s question about the January start date for classes. “I don’t have that with me,” he replied. Some quick online research during the meeting confirmed the first day of classes was, in fact, January 25.
In a follow-up interview with The Citizen, Handy was asked about the risks of launching a major computer upgrade on the first day of a new semester.
“Oh my God, are you crazy?” Handy responded.
“You do not do a migration at the beginning of a semester.”
Handy believes more of the work should be done in December when classes are out, even if it requires the Oracle team to work over the holidays.
Mehouelley said that option was considered, but the Peralta payroll department plans to work through December and “cannot shut down the system at that time, because there are a lot of things they’re going to do.”
The plan, Mehouelley explained to the board, is to conduct testing and validation during December and early January in preparation for the January 25 relaunch.
When asked if students and faculty participation will be required for the testing and how this can be accomplished over the holiday break, district spokesperson Mark Johnson said “we’re looking into options for obtaining that participation over the testing phase in December and into January.”
The Citizen reached out to Richard Thoele, President of the Peralta Colleges chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which represents workers in the payroll department, but he had no comment.
In a separate announcement to the Peralta District Technology Committee (DTC) on October 2, Mehouelley revealed the Peralta network will be down for three days prior to the January 25 relaunch as part of the migration process. Since this outage falls largely over a weekend, he hopes disruption will be minimized. Students will not be able to add or drop classes on those days, however, and instructors will not be able to post assignments or class information.
When asked for his reaction to the proposed PeopleSoft relaunch date, Professor Chris Weidenbach, chair of the Laney College English Department, said he found the timing “odd” and suggested avoiding “the very ‘tip of the spear’ of the new semester” if possible. In a 2016 article for The Citizen (then the Laney Tower) entitled “We Can’t Work When Nothing Works” Weidenbach wrote that ongoing PeopleSoft issues were “especially frustrating during the pressurized first weeks of classes – a critical time for getting off to a good start and setting the tone for the semester.”
Weidenbach shared some specific suggestions for improvement in the PeopleSoft system at an online Peralta Technology Town Hall meeting on October 15.
The abrupt July departure of former Chancellor Regina Stanback Stroud and Delisle Warden, interim general counsel & chief of staff, contributed to the lack of leadership on the project. Stroud pushed the board to approve the Oracle contract in two contentious late May sessions and Warden was positioned as the point person to make sure Oracle lives up to the agreement. When asked who replaced Warden on the project, Johnson responded that Walter and Mehouelley “are working in cooperation to make sure Oracle adheres to the contract” and they “have the support of the district’s legal counsel on all contracts.”
Handy remains skeptical and cautions that a company like Oracle “is looking at your competency level. If we don’t have a CIO, everything has a markup on it. We don’t have anyone watching out for us.” She compared the situation to a candy store where the owner is out to lunch. Fellow Trustee Nicky González Yuen also questioned who would replace Warden on the project at the September 29 board meeting.
A real-world example of the perils associated with launching a new computer system at the beginning of a semester can be found just 70 miles east of the Peralta district at San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton. That school, which serves 17,000 students, rolled out its own $14 million PeopleSoft installation just before the Fall 2019 semester with disastrous results.
The Collegian, Delta College’s student newspaper, published multiple stories on MyDelta, the name coined for the PeopleSoft student portal, with headlines such as “MyDelta continues chaotic trend with lack of info” and “MyDelta issues continue to plague student records, financial aid.”
According to Tara Cuslidge-Staiano, associate professor of mass communication at Delta College, problems with the MyDelta system persist more than a year later.
“Our class schedule is hard to navigate and financial aid is delayed. People are working hard to fix them, but there are still issues,” Cuslidge-Staiano explained in a text message to The Citizen.
Alex Breitler, director of marketing, communications, and outreach for Delta College, described the PeopleSoft rollout as “especially challenging” and estimates “80% of these issues (with student enrollment, financial aid, and other areas) have been resolved” and the college is “working hard to make progress on remaining issues.”
Vivienne Aguilar, former editor of The Collegian, believes issues with the computer system directly contributed to a drop in enrollment at the college.
One key difference is Delta College installed PeopleSoft for the first time in 2019 (replacing three legacy systems) while Peralta is upgrading an existing PeopleSoft program. When Peralta signed its first contract with PeopleSoft in 2005 under Chancellor Elihu Harris, it experienced significant cost overruns and a two year delay as reported in 2007 by The Berkeley Daily Planet.
Trustee Handy recalls that Peralta was forced to run its legacy COBOL-based system in parallel with PeopleSoft for several years and compares PeopleSoft to “a lemon car . . . you keep putting money into [it] because you don’t want to go back and start over.” She estimates the district has invested a total of $50 million in PeopleSoft over its 15 year lifespan but agrees with the district’s decision not to consider other ERP vendors.
Oracle has only committed to supporting PeopleSoft through 2030. This may require the district to consider other options when the current contract comes up for renewal in 2025.
When asked if the Peralta district would consider shifting the launch date for its PeopleSoft upgrade, Johnson said that “the January 25 launch date is still the target” but that “District leadership will update the board if dates shift.” It is possible, he said, that the project may “deliver earlier than anticipated.”
The next progress report on the PeopleSoft migration project will be delivered at the Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, October 27.