Feature story for ICT News, University of Sydney
Feature story for ICT News online monthly newsletter (University of Sydney) Building a high-end support system for PeopleSoft
May 2007, 1127 words

When senior managers decided to upgrade PeopleSoft, they asked ICT to help. Oracle, the vendor, was no longer supporting the existing, client-based version of the financial software package. The new version, furthermore, would be fully web-enabled.

University staff located throughout New South Wales perform accounting tasks. As a token of scale, 2005 operating payments comprised $319 million in total outgoings of $900 million (see 2005 Annual Report).

To support these staff, managers also decided to purchase a novel training and support system: the User Productivity Kit (UPK), which is the PeopleSoft-specific implementation of OnDemand, a software package from US-based Global Knowledge.

Buying UPK was judged a good idea since PeopleSoft 8.9, the new version, would have a different user interface from its predecessor. Instead of drop-downs for navigation, for example, it would use web links. According to Karen Davies, the ICT project manager, no major functional changes were made to the way staff use the system. But Krishan Prasad, the financial systems training manager, emphasises that its look-and-feel and navigation differ radically from those of version 7.5.

UPK offers several information-delivery modes. It has full-screen simulations (called 'See It' in the application), interactive simulations ('Try It'), assessment ('Know It'), and step-by-step instructions (in a pop-up window, 'Do It' pans over the relevant screen, displaying text to describe the fields and other screen elements in focus).

The PeopleSoft upgrade began toward the end of 2005 with consultant Hexware's gap analysis. It showed that about 40 customisations in PeopleSoft 7.5 needed migrating to 8.9. "Some pretty complex, some pretty easy," says Peter Halls of ICT Enterprise Systems Support and Development.

ICT worked closely with the project team, Financial Operations and Systems, and process owners such as Shared Services, who oversee purchasing and accounts payable, so as to meet the June 2006 deadline.

Five application developers were assigned to the project. Late in 2005, following a tender process, three experts from Cubic Consulting arrived to develop training materials and conduct online training.

Supported by about eight personnel, Cubic analysed every aspect of the application and incorporated University workflows and technical processes into the training materials. The company's consultants also trained Krishan's team in how to use UPK to develop training materials.

"Lean Lee, Krishan Prasad, some of the Financial Services key support people were doing all the critiquing to make sure the training materials developed were accurate," says Karen.

They are structured in a tree-type architecture, so if staff doing accounts payable want to create a voucher, and they need help, they can run one of the 'create voucher' modules. "It may take five minutes or so," says Karen.

Paper-based training manuals are also developed in and printed from UPK, Karen notes, adding however: "It's highlighted again that training materials are continually being updated." Online manuals will not become out of date, Karen suggests.

The upgrade also allowed Finance to look at who used the system. PeopleSoft 7.5 had 900 users. "But for 8.9," says Krishan, "I guess that was the time when we looked at our user base and looked at whether these people should actually have the access, because over time it wasn't maintained properly." PeopleSoft 8.9 has 400 users.

Although he still hosts face-to-face training for staff with financial jobs, Krishan thinks that a product like UPK, which provides details of tasks on demand, is necessary. "I guess the difficulty there is that some of the users are admin users, who get to do one invoice every three months, or six months, or a year. They do minimum journal entries, one or two every two or three months. In those cases, they get the training, but by the time they get to use PeopleSoft, it's gone."

Even if staff members forget how to perform a task, Krishan says that with UPK they can get the information they need, when they need it.

"I found it very, very useful when PeopleSoft 8.9 first came online because I'd been using the other version with the University for some time," says Averil Gillham, the accountant at the Dubbo Clinical School. "And even though I'd used the version they've launched (8.9) with a previous employer, when you don't use it for a couple of years, you forget."

Averil finds that UPK aids self-sufficiency and learning, saving calls to the Helpdesk. Karen adds: "That's probably one of the benefits that we get from surveys: they could quickly do a refresher so they don't have to ring the support team."

Fiona Allen is the administrative officer for the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources in the northern NSW town of Narrabri. Like Averil, she works alone in the office, and there's no one nearby to help when she gets stuck. "We need to be as self-sufficient as possible," Fiona says.

UPK's Try It mode had what Fiona needed. "I needed to write down each step so I could go back and locate the tax invoice and then go through the printing stage. So, the Try It function was good for that because I try to write every step down." She adds that she found the Do It mode the best part of UPK.

The upshot of her experience was Fiona's being "absolutely astounded" by UPK. "I've worked in a lot of other places and I found that your help system was far superior. It was one of the best I've ever seen."

Vesna Bujas, assistant accountant at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Cumberland Campus, says: "It was a good transitioning tool for me. When I used it, it answered all my questions. For any further questions in future, I'll go back and refer to it."

If a staff member is really struggling, Krishan or one of his team may visit him or her onsite. UPK also tracks performance by logging how often each user accesses a module. "So when we look at the results, we can say 'oh, this person has gone in five times to this particular screen'," says Krishan. "Then we can give them a call and ask, 'was there a particular difficulty?' It gives us a better understanding."

With additional staff, Krishan thinks he could improve the process even more. "I would like to have a dedicated person. At the moment it's monitored by trainers. And the monitoring process could happen once a week. I would like to have it daily, if not more frequently."

The eProcurement system, which was purchased at the same time as the PeopleSoft upgrade, will also be supported by UPK.

OnDemand is sold in the Asia-Pacific by Enterprise Performance Systems International, headquartered in the Sydney CBD. Cubic Consulting is also located in the CBD.