Campus takes action to solve problems in financial system upgrade

With the school year already under way, Berkeley administrators are moving quickly to iron out the problems caused by the summer upgrade of the campus’s central purchasing system.

New software, upgrading the Berkeley Financial System to version 9 (BFSv9), meant significant changes in the way employees all over campus buy and pay for everything from pencils to lab equipment to the food served in the dining halls.

For BFS users — mainly some 2,000 staff members who directly work with it to keep their programs and the campus running — the upgrade both changed the purchasing process itself, and changed the computer screens, tabs, labels and terminology that must be navigated to complete a purchase and initiate payment to the vendor.

Problems cropped up on both fronts, as soon as the upgrade went live on July 6, resulting in a spike in trouble tickets landing on the BFS help desk. In addition, payments to some vendors were delayed.

In response, John Ellis, associate vice chancellor, finance and controller, was asked to take over as project director of the BFS upgrade.

“My immediate focus is to resolve issues associated with problematic transactions … and adjust the system to better support the needs of the entire campus,” Ellis said in a CalMessage sent campuswide on Aug. 23. “I anticipate that changes will happen quickly.”

Ellis increased the resources being devoted to the upgrade and enhanced systems for collecting feedback so that remaining problems could be identified and fixed.

In the first week of his tenure, multiple technical problems and bugs were fixed, and more were identified with help from staff. Ellis says he’s also working to solve problems associated with changes in the purchasing, or buy-to-pay, process as well as continuing to update and correct vendor contact information.

Training and communication are two areas targeted for improvement, he says. An immediate result is that email updates are now being sent out weekly to keep staff up on BFS changes, enhancements and how-tos. (To receive them, click the “BFS Users Listserve” on the Berkeley Administrative Initiatives website.

The campus continues to conduct business in spite of the current system problems, Ellis emphasizes. Between July 6 and Aug. 23, more than 15,000 purchase orders were created through the system, and more than 72,000 voucher payments were made to vendors or were scheduled.

The upgrade came about for two reasons. One was to keep up with technological changes developed by the system’s software provider, PeopleSoft (Oracle).

The other was to allow the system to readily add new applications, including a campuswide electronic procurement system and other efficiencies being generated through Operational Excellence, the ongoing program to streamline campus operations and reduce costs. The upgrade will also allow Berkeley to phase out its expensive mainframe computer system, generating long-term cost savings for the campus.

The upgrade went live on July 6, shortly after the start of Berkeley’s new fiscal year on July 1.

People have asked if the upgrade couldn’t have been phased in, or taken place later, when the campus was better prepared, Ellis says. But, unlike other transactional systems, a single procurement and financial system implemented at the beginning of a fiscal year was needed to support the recording and reporting of campuswide financial and purchasing activity. Missing the start of the fiscal year would have delayed things including additional applications like electronic procurement for a full year, and increased costs for both campus users and central offices.

Trainings over the first five weeks reached about one-third to one-half of BFSv9’s users. Trainings are being developed and scheduled through the fall. These trainings will focus primarily on different sub-processes of the new system.

The BFS website will also be changed to consolidate BFS-related information in one place, with the goal of providing easier access to information for BFS users.

Staff who use the system are invited to report any ongoing problems — with transactions, or with larger system processes — to bfsbairs@berkeley.edu.

For more information about BFSv9, see the BAI website.