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Report gives nod to controversial Lawson project

Madison, Wis. — Implementation of a controversial web-based software system to manage human resources throughout the University of Wisconsin System should proceed, a report on an in-depth assessment of the project recommends.

The UW-Madison Lawson Assessment Project report suggests that the UW System continue to work with St. Paul, Minn.-based Lawson Software to implement the Appointments, Payroll and Benefits System (ABPS) project, which was put on hold earlier this year after being found to be enmeshed in project management problems and which was found to have numerous gaps in functionality for the Madison campus, despite five years of planning and implementation work and $25 million in expenditures.

(See previous WTN story on the situation: UW working to salvage multi-million HR software project.)

In any case, tens of millions would have to be spent to fully implement the software throughout the UW System, with total costs, including previous expenditures, of up to $60 million.
The assessment report is expected to be presented to UW chancellors later this month, along with a report on Oracle's PeopleSoft, which was an unsuccessful bidder for the ABPS project when it was launched five years ago. University officials called for a review of the PeopleSoft option when the Lawson assessment was ordered, figuring that if the UW System could not continue with Lawson, they would be already know if the PeopleSoft approach was viable, noted Don Mash, executive senior vice president for the UW System who has overseen the project's steering committee.

The Lawson assessment cost the UW System approximately $750,000, which was significantly less than the $1.3 million budgeted for it, the report states, noting that "the variances were the result of completing the work much more quickly than planned and spending less on expenses and consulting than budgeted."
The project was initiated to replace the UW System's 30-year-old mainframe payroll structure, which will be obsolete within a few years. The project would offer consolidation of payroll as well as appointments and other program management functions into a single system throughout UW System campuses.

The assessment estimates that it would cost an additional $4.9 million to $6.3 million to build solutions for 27 gaps identified in the Lawson Software as it relates to UW-Madison's needs, with $837,000 to $1 million of those costs being for a Lawson environment upgrade.

Those estimates do not include expenditures for implementing the remaining tasks to go live with the Lawson solution, the report states. Those remaining tasks include completion of functionality not yet available, unit testing, system testing, parallel testing, training, procedures development, communications, go-live preparation and others. The report states that costs estimates for those activities still need to be determined.

In any case, tens of millions would have to be spent to fully implement the software throughout the UW System, with total costs, including previous expenditures, of up to $60 million.

The ABPS project was approaching implementation this spring when the cost and gap concerns arose among UW-Madison IT officials.

"Madison really had to have those gaps solved, otherwise it would really create hardships" to implement the original Lawson solution, said UW project management consultant Diane Haubner.

Haubner noted that the PeopleSoft option was revisited in case solutions to those Lawson gaps were not found. "But we did find solutions," she added, pointing out that multiple solutions were found for the many gaps.

UW-Madison identified 27 areas where the original Lawson system would fail to fulfill processes, most of which UW-Madison's legacy system is now providing.

The loss of that functionality "would make using Lawson much more cumbersome and time-consuming," the report states. "We propose that all recommended solutions be included in the new ABPS project plan since these recommendations address the known UW-Madison business gaps, can provide benefits to other campuses, and still allow the University System to achieve a successful Lawson go-live," it continues.

The situation has been somewhat politically charged in that insiders who remain uncomfortable proceeding with Lawson Software have declined to express their concerns publicly.

Haubner, on the other hand, is confident the Lawson Software will work for the UW System, and she would like to see the chancellors approve that route. "I hope that would happen," she said.

The gap issues were primarily a UW Madison issue, while some of the other campuses were ready to implement when the project was put on hold.

Haubner said the intent now is to go live with the Lawson Software throughout the UW System at the same time, abandoning the current main frame all at once, which is standard procedure in the industry.

She is now working on an implementation project plan that should be ready later this fall.

"We're pretty much starting over from the beginning again," said Annie Stunden, CIO and director of UW-Madison's Division of Information Technology. "Identifying the gaps and solutions to them does not mean we are ready to go live."

The assessment team included people from UW-Madison and its human resources area, and from Lawson Software. That team determined the existence of the 27 gaps, and considered four categories to fill the gaps: 1) reconfiguring the Lawson software, 2) developing a workaround, 3) customizing a solution and 4) changing a business process.

The costs of completing implementation of the Lawson software throughout the UW System were estimated to be a worst-case scenario high of $60 million, but one system IT official cautioned that it would be very unlikely the $60 million figure would need to be expended.

Click here for the Univesity System's ABPS implementation website.

Click here for a PDF of the complete Lawson Assessment Project report.

David Niles is senior contributing editor for WTN. He can be reached at


Richard Carlson responded 9 years ago: #1

Why do I keep reading that the mainframe is or will soon be obsolete? This isn't your father's behemoth machine; it's hardly distinguishable from any other large IBM server except that it runs MVS. It could run until the end of the century if the University desired it. The two weaknesses of the mainframe are: (1) Staff support has dwindled because it was already supposed to be gone, but that could be reversed for less cost than it will take to replace it. (2) The mainframe does not make a very good web server, hence the need for middleware to get its data to the desktop. Of course, client-server has the same weakness. Half of the server farm exists to connect some application to some other application, and thence to a database, and none of it has the robustness of a mainframe that just keeps running like the Energizer bunny.

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