Admins weigh software upgrade

Administrators are determining how best to upgrade a computer system central to Yale’s administrative tasks, after similar efforts were stalled by the recession.

Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King said in a Tuesday email that administrators are currently “investigating the best approach” to upgrading Yale’s aging Oracle computer system — a set of applications that handle finance, budgeting, payroll and other administrative tasks. She said keeping Yale up to date will ensure the software continues to operate “efficiently and effectively,” and that she expects administrators will reach a decision about the upgrade before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

“This is a relatively big and important decision, and we want to be sure we evaluate our options thoroughly,” King said.

The Office of Finance and Business Operations is working with administrators from different academic departments and schools to determine whether to upgrade the system by adopting an updated version of Oracle or by switching some of the University’s computer systems to a new software provider.

Oracle and other University-wide systems are maintained and evaluated on a regular basis, King said, but are rarely changed entirely. She added that the Oracle Corporation told its customers they would need to complete an upgrade within the next few years, explaining that vendors are able to provide better support and maintenance when computer systems are up to date.

Before the recession hit in 2008, King said administrators considered including an upgrade of Oracle in their plans for YaleNext — a campaign intended to compress updates to the University’s computer systems that would have taken six to 10 years into a four-year process. The Yale Corporation approved roughly $20 million for YaleNext in fall 2008, but the project was put on hold after administrators realized they were facing a $350 million budget deficit in 2009.

Though the YaleNext banner no longer exists, King said in November that the University has continued to implement some of the program’s initiatives at a slower pace than originally planned. Provost Peter Salovey also noted in the fall that many of the Yale’s current computer systems are “aging” or “obsolete.”

Jane Livingston, director of Information Technology governance, policy and strategy, said in a November email that Yale ITS begins a number of projects each year to update University-wide systems. King said the projected costs of an upgrade to Oracle have not yet been determined. Work on upgrading Oracle will begin soon after administrators decide how to proceed with the improvements, she said.

Ronn Kolbash, assistant vice president and director of the Yale Shared Services Center, said many “customizations” have been made over time to the University’s Oracle system. Though Kolbash said these additions were initially created to address Yale-specific needs, he said they can increase the complexity of different processes. Removing customizations and using the software as designed “out of the box” can “enhance workflow” and help streamline how the Oracle software operates, he said.

Livingston said Yale began implementing Oracle around 1997 in preparation for Y2K.

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