Workers suffer as payroll problems plague PeopleSoft rollout

High-profile payroll problems have plagued a US$25 million PeopleSoft ERP implementation in the Palm Beach County School District in Florida after just five months of operation.

Since the Oracle Corp. software went live in July, there have been numerous instances of employees being underpaid or not paid at all, said Mike Guay, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based consultant hired in early September to help fix the problems.

In many cases, the payroll errors have caused significant hardship to workers, added Sharon Barmory-Munley, president of the local office of the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, a union representing more than 4,000 school district employees.

In September, payroll problems prompted some 300 bus drivers to picket the school board. Other employees have complained to the U.S. Department of Labor, said Barmory-Munley. “It’s horrible,” she said. “Some people can’t pay their bills, mortgage payments are late, and they’ve ruined their credit. This is disastrous.”

Some workers haven’t received overtime pay since July because of problems with the software, she added.

“Of course we’d like to see it fixed,” Barmory-Munley said. “In the future, if the district does a project like this, the personnel better do a lot of research as to how the system was applied and what the outcome was at other public entities.”

Problems waning
The district began installing the PeopleSoft software in April 2005, replacing a mix of internally built payroll, human resources and benefits systems that were more than 10 years old, according to Guay.

In a statement, school district officials declined to discuss the reasons for the payroll problems but defended the PeopleSoft rollout.

In an e-mail response to questions from Computerworld, Joseph Moore, the school district’s chief operating officer, said that software glitches affecting the payroll system have mostly been fixed. He noted that most of the problems occurred between July and September, with the number declining significantly since then.

Moore did say the scheduled October completion of the project has been delayed until the first quarter of 2007, but he predicted that it will remain within its $25 million budget.

Guay said that the glitches never affected more than 10 percent of district employees at any time. “There are 23,000 employees, and the problems affected only 2,300 checks” in September, he said. However, he did acknowledge that “the problems were pretty severe. The people that could afford it the least were hurt the [most].”

A status report of the PeopleSoft project on the district’s Web site said that 10 percent of employees were affected by payroll problems in September, 5 percent in November and 4 percent so far in December.

He added that the payroll problems overshadowed improvements in the district’s human resources and financial operations that were made possible by the PeopleSoft software.

Guay declined to disclose specific reasons for the payroll problems, but he did acknowledge that there were technical issues.

He also noted that the district’s needs are “incredibly complex” because some individuals are paid as teachers, consultants and coaches, and the payroll system also has to reflect complex arrangements that are required under union contracts.

In his statement, Moore said “there are some areas where we still need additional [external] support to be completely self-sufficient.” He said he expects the system to be completely fixed by next March.

Moore noted that the problems with the PeopleSoft implementation will lead to new procedures for the next major software purchase. “We would test some of the application areas more thoroughly and plan more time for training and knowledge transfer prior to the go-live,” he said.

Officials from the Palm Beach County school board did not respond to request for comment on the problems.

Kevin Curry, vice president for Oracle’s public sector unit, said that the company has “committed additional resources to remedy the situation.”

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