U of M tackles bugs in $50 million accounting systemby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
After five years of planning the University of Minnesota recently updated its finance and accounting system at a cost of $50 million dollars. But not everyone is happy with the change. Some of the 5,000 users of the new system say it's too complicated and doesn't work properly. U of M officials say they are working to fix the problems.
Minneapolis, Minn. — You wouldn't expect a guy like Joe Konstan to have problems with a new computer system, no matter how complex.
Konstan is a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Minnesota. He studies how computers and people interact. But even Konstan is a bit befuddled when he tries to interact with the U's new Enterprise Financial System, or EFS.
On the old system Konstan could find information, such as how much grant money he has for research, with a few mouse clicks.
But with the Enterprise Financial System, he has to type in long account numbers and hunt through online menus.
The main problem seems to be that the system is really complex. But there have been other problems, Konstan says.
"There have been a number of bumps along the road," Konstan said. "Including certain types of data that weren't correct, where we told don't trust the balances in the system until everything gets cleaned up."
Here's why those concerns matter. The EFS handles all of the University's business. Whether it's a payment to an employee, or a payment to a vendor, everything passes through the Enterprise Financial System.
You can practically hear the gnashing of teeth in the minutes from a September faculty meeting where a group of employees worried aloud that the new system might crash, and cause big problems at the U.
Tom Klein, in the department of applied economics on the University's St. Paul campus, uses the accounting system to gather financial reports.
"I do believe there are some things that aren't working," Klein said. "There are some things that just don't work."
Klein has heard complaints about the switch to the new system, but he's not exactly looking back with fondness on the old system. It was a shaky patchwork of software fixes and old mainframe computers. And while the switch to a more centralized system feels painful, it's necessary, he says.
"The price we pay is we've got to go through this learning curve and conversion to get to better long term ground to stand on."
Financial leaders at the U of M say they understand the concern of employees who work with the new financial system, and said they're doing their best to fix the problems and make it easier to use.
Richard Pfutzenreuter, chief financial officer for the University of Minnesota, acknowledges he thought the rollout of the Enterprise Financial System was going to be easier.
"I'm probably too much of a perfectionist and would really like it to work perfectly out of the box," Pfutzenreuter said. "The fact is these are huge changes in the way accounts are set up and nothing works perfect out of the box."
Early on there were problems with getting money through the system, Pfutzenreuter said. For example a glitch meant one professor who was owed money for work done during summer break wasn't paid on time. The computerized system didn't recognize that he was on the job.
Those types of issues have been handled as they pop up, Pfutzenreuter said. The system has already improved, he said, and at this point there are no widespread systematic failures.
"We'll get through this, it'll work. It's just going to take us a little longer than any of us would like."
The last time the University of Minnesota switched accounting systems in 1991, it took two years to iron out the bugs, according to Pfutzenreuter. But he said this new system will be, in fact he stressed it must be, working smoothly by the end of the year.
- Morning Edition, 10/27/2008, 7:20 a.m.