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EDExpress Software Problems

PublicationDate: 7/18/96
Summary: EDExpress Software Problems
Author: PSS - Program Systems Service


Dear Colleague:

There has been much concern expressed about the EDExpress
software problems we are experiencing this year. Since assuming
the responsibility for the Program Systems Division in February of
this year, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Student Financial
Assistance Elizabeth Hicks has directed the PSS staff and our
contractors to identify and fix these problems. We have already
provided schools with versions of the 1996-97 software resolving
most of the issues that we have identified. In August, we will
release version 2.4, which fixes the balance of the problems that have
been noted. Therefore, I am confident that we will have adequately
addressed the problems that have caused so many difficulties at our
institutions. I should also note that the systems problems are not
Direct Loan problems, per se. We have found problems in other
EDExpress applications and our fixes address all of these.

There are no excuses for these software “glitches”, and we will not
attempt to offer any. However, there is a history which may help to
put this current situation in perspective. For 1996-97, we committed
ourselves to make a number of major structural changes in
EDExpress, not the least of which was the conversion from a DOS
environment to Windows. This change was made in response to
requests by schools to provide a faster, bigger, more user-friendly
system. In addition to moving from DOS to Windows, we also
made many other changes to the software. In most years, we
determine our systems requirements no later than June. Last year,
we continued to accept requirements and modify the system design
as late as October. In retrospect, we should have stopped that
process much earlier; however, in our desire to be as responsive as
possible to our institutional customers, we continued to accept
changes far into the development process. Compounding this
situation was the fact that we experienced delays in awarding the
new contract, slowing the process even more.

As a result of moving to Windows, incorporating very late new
requirements in the 1996-97 software, and the lateness of the
contract award date, our entire development and testing timeframe
became very tight. While EDExpress can often be compared to any
software product produced in the commercial sector, there is one
major difference. We are tied to a drop-dead time frame. We have
to release software to schools early enough in the financial aid cycle
to allow them to make students awards in the early Spring each year.
A commercial software firm has the option of delaying release until
the software product is completely ready and undergoes a thorough
and comprehensive Beta test. We do not have that prerogative.

From a school’s perspective, these problems were exacerbated by the
fact that all continuing schools had to undertake a multiple-step
conversion process to get ready to operate 1996-97 in the Windows
environment. In anticipation of that, our contractor established a
“Conversion Swat Team” specifically to provide technical assistance
to schools as they go through the conversion process. Our technical
assistance is multi-faceted, depending on the situation at each school.
We provide technical assistance by telephone as well as on-site at the
school. In addition, for those schools having particularly difficult
problems, we have had them send their data base to our contractor
who converted the files themselves and sent the converted data bases
back to the schools to install.

In every instance when we have learned about a school having
problems because of software glitches, my staff have either
personally contacted the school to find out the nature of the problem
or directed senior contractor staff to contact the school. We work
with the institution to identify and resolve the problem and assist
them in implementing a “work-around”, which provides a temporary
means of operating the system, or provide other technical assistance
to resolve the problem.

There are associated factors that have resulted in some of the
software problems schools are having this year. For example, some
schools have “right-sizing” problems--they are not using a system
appropriate for the work that they need to do. The school mentioned
at a recent Congressional hearing is one of those. This school is
attempting to process 90,000 records through a PC-based system
that is not an appropriate platform to handle that much volume. The
result is a very slow operation that aborts part way through. The
problem here is not the software but the way it is being used. We
provide technical assistance to these schools to maximize the
efficiency of their system through implementation of proper
hardware and software solutions and system configurations.

Other schools blame the software when the lack of in-house technical
capability is the real problem. A few other schools have not
developed the procedures and processes necessary to manage their
technical operations and suffer failures as a result.

These institutional problems also concern the Deputy Assistant
Secretary and she has directed us to do a better job of ensuring that
schools have all the information and advice necessary before they
begin operating so that they can be assured of success.

We are all committed to undertake a detailed review of exactly
what transpired this year so that we do not repeat the same mistakes.
The first step in that process has already been taken when we closed
the 1997-98 requirements stage in June. This means that we will not
consider any further changes to the software than those which were
identified and accepted by that time. We are also identifying
specific areas where improved training for schools will improve their
overall operations. While this is just our initial effort, we will
continue to examine virtually every aspect of this problem and make
the changes necessary to ensure that our systems implementation
efforts meet the highest standards in the future.

Thank you for your patience and cooperation as we work through
this difficult time.

Sincerely,


Jeanne Saunders, Director
Application and Pell Processing
Systems Division

Diane Voigt, Chair
Direct Loan Task Force

Last Modified: 08/16/1999