Faculty Raises Concerns Over OASIS



A resolution up for consideration at Tuesday's Faculty Senate meeting has garnered wide support from UB faculty frustrated with the software used to manage research at UB.

The resolution, which deems the more than $20 million installation of the OASIS project by the SUNY Research Foundation "a disaster," asks the president and provost to communicate the software's shortcomings to the SUNY Research Foundation and either improve or abandon the software altogether.

OASIS, the Oracle Application Software Implementation Strategy that links SUNY's four research centers, is based on Oracle's database application software, which has been implemented in similar systems by Yale, Carnegie Mellon and other universities. The installation was intended to centralize grant management tasks, such as payroll and purchasing, in Albany for easier management and Web access for administrators.

Since its full implementation by SUNY in January 2001, difficulties with online transactions, obtaining account balances and other data crucial to research administrators have led to discussion of what solutions, if any, are possible for what many feel is a deeply flawed system.

"This is over 15 months now, and it appears it will not be fixed," said John T. Ho, a distinguished physics professor who heads the Research and Creative Activity Committee, which drafted the resolution. Although UB's Research and Grants and Contracts staff has worked "heroically" to overcome flaws in the software, SUNY's Research Foundation needs to work more proactively toward a solution, Ho said.

OASIS is not the only management system to receive low marks from research institutions: software provider PeopleSoft offers an alternative system used by many institutions and has encountered similar problems. Additionally, another Oracle system, CAPSA, caused "significant disruption" to the workings of the University of Cambridge, according to a report issued by the university.

An overhaul of the OASIS project at this stage would likely exceed the initial cost of $20 million, according to UB's Chief Information Officer Voldemar Innus.

"We don't have a solution we can suggest, but we don't think this is working," said Ho.

Most pressing among researchers' concerns is the ability to obtain the remaining balance in a research grant, according to Michael Detty, associate chemistry professor and member of the Research and Creative Activity Committee.

According to Detty, if a paid graduate research assistant leaves a study early for any reason, his or her salary cannot be reallocated by the study's principal investigator, who administers the dispersal of funds in a research project.

"If there's a mistake in someone's appointment or dismissal, that can tie up $40,000 a year in your grant money," said Detty. "The resolution to that can be very long, sometimes a matter of days or weeks."

When that happens, equipment suppliers and university purchasing departments will not provide necessary resources if a balance is incorrectly short, according to Detty.

In the last stages of a study, researchers must work to ensure they have spent as close as possible to the money allotted, thus making financial data crucial to researchers, according to Innus.

"It becomes very important to know what can be done in those last seven days," said Innus.

UB's Grants and Contracts department has worked on developing its own monthly report system to aid PIs unable to obtain accurate balances, said Kevin Seitz, senior associate vice president. Since the installation of the OASIS software, the department has hired an additional 13 or 14 staff members to work on temporary solutions for UB's researchers.

Bruce Specht, project administrator for UB's Center of Excellence for Document Analysis and Recognition project, summed up the problems he's had with OASIS concisely: "The computer does not add and subtract numbers correctly."

Specht says that all research data - not just financial figures - takes anywhere from four minutes to an hour to obtain, and that he must wait an average of 15 minutes to obtain figures that used to take less than a minute under the previous "legacy" system installed by SUNY. Specht said that while the staff in Grants and Contracts has worked with him on numerous problems, the software's limitations are at the heart of the problem.

"They're putting in 110 percent effort, and want to do what they can, but they can't," said Specht.