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OSU's new software system causes problems for students, faculty

Okey Students Services

OSU new student self services part of the new Banner System.

Evan Jordan, a fourth-year doctoral student in experimental psychology, was on a waiting list at Oklahoma State University since August to get health insurance.

She finally got an insurance card Oct. 24.  

Failures in the newly implemented software system, known as Banner, left some people without pay for two weeks at the start of the semester and about 150 more without health care coverage.

It mostly affected graduate student employees, and those without health insurance were still able go to a doctor if they back filed an order to be reimbursed later. However, Jordan said the solution was as inconvenient as not being covered at all.

“If I had back filed, I’m not going to see my money for maybe 12 weeks,” Jordan said. “But as a poor college student who doesn’t have any money, I can’t afford to wait that long.”

Darlene Hightower, OSU IT chief information officer, said in an email to the O’Colly that departments will continue to identify and correct issues.

“Sometimes corrections are needed after applications are placed into production,” Hightower said. “Interfaces between Banner and third-party applications will be ongoing as the need arises.”

The school’s insurance, United Health Care, is Jordan’s only health care insurance provider. When Jordan found out she wasn’t covered, she had to cancel her regular appointments she made before school started.  

“Dermatology can wait,” she said. “My concern is, if I am seriously injured, I can go to the (emergency room) and get my money back at a later time, but how long? Paying out of pocket when you’re not sure when there’s a coverage date in sight is a terrifying thing to do.”

Jordan said the psychology department was not aware she wasn’t covered at the beginning of the semester. When she called the Graduate College, she said they knew about the problem and put her name on a list. Jordan said she was not warned of any issue before she found out.

Graduate assistants are eligible for health insurance based on the number of hours enrolled and hours worked.

Holli Boneé, OSU human resources director of benefits, said a software program was created for the department and implemented in July and the health care insurance error was a result of switching to Banner.

“A programmer had to completely rebuild that file,” Boneé said. “And it was late to begin with because of the complexity, so we thought it was working, but as we were moving along, we had other grad students who called and said, ‘Hey I don’t have health insurance.'”

Boneé said there was no way of knowing the system didn’t affect students who were eligible for insurance unless the students called the department. Human resources worked with the IT department and the Graduate College to compile a list of students who might not be covered, she said.

Boneé also said the department communicated with students about the health insurance error through the Graduate College by email throughout the semester.

Students who the error affected were retroactively enrolled in the program from Aug. 1.

The Board of Regents approved the Banner system in 2014, and the implementation process began in 2015. The program costs $21.26 million, to apply the software and hardware purchases for three years. Beginning in 2017, the annual maintenance cost will be $1.1 million. 

The Banner System has been applied to all the schools in the region, including Connors State, Oklahoma Panhandle State University and Langston University. Banner supports more than 52,000 users across nine campuses. 

The OSU/A&M System was the last institution in the nation to stop using the SCT Plus system. Hightower said the technology in the old system was limiting, and the vendor support had ended. OSU had also contracted with a third party company, which wrote software for aid requirements, and those system updates were no longer available. 

Texas A&M University switched to the Banner system in 2008. Ramash Kannappan, director of enterprise information systems, said it costs the Texas A&M System about $400,000 a year for maintenance. He did not know the initial cost.  

“Maintenance cost is pretty typical when you’re buying a package like this from a vendor,” Kannappan said.

Texas A&M has several branch campuses across Texas, including West Texas A&M University, Texas A&M San Antonio and Texas A&M Health Science Center. Each campus has its own Banner system with its own execution process, Kannappan said. But there were no major problems after it was installed, he said.

“With any system there are bound to be issues but nothing we were not able to resolve,” he said. “A lot of the issues were training type of issues because it was such a major change for all the users in the system — for the employees, faculty and staff, and the students who use it for their own self service. It was a major change.”

Hightower said during winter break functional and technical departments will be working together to prioritize, test and implement new releases for all applications including human resources and payroll, finance, financial aid, accounts receivable, admissions, and student registration.

Classes will reconvene Jan. 17, allowing an extra week to ensure there is ample time to post grades from the fall semester and process transcript requests. The Registrar's Office requested an extra week in 2015 as a precaution. Students will not be affected and will be able to view grades once posted.

There will also be updates to other software that may have been compromised during the switch to Banner.

Banner comes with a single sign-in for the web portal, but the mobile phone registration will be released during spring. Degree Works, an online degree tracking system, and a Student Educational Planner have no release date yet. 

OSU IT declined to be interviewed in person or over the phone and responded through email.