On Monday, February 21st, the Information Resources (IR) department, in conjunction with the Oracle Corporation’s PeopleSoft applications, rolled out the new Galaxy system. This system is intended to be a centralized portal which allows students, faculty, and staff to access all of the systems they use on a day-to-day basis—Zmail, Exchange, eLearning, Orion, Gemini, Staff Tools, MyParking, etc. However, the implementation of this system has been anything but ideal. The system has been plagued with problems, and the attempts to fix them have been seriously hampered by poor communication.
This isn’t to say that these problems have arisen because people have been slacking on the job; they haven’t. In fact, many people have been working overtime, some sleeping in their offices, working to try to fix the problems. However, it can’t be denied that most of the problems with the system are still unsolved five weeks after launch.
As an employee at the Help Desk, I’ve been well-informed about the problems with the system and the varied efforts to solve them.
The biggest problem that the new Galaxy has faced is its connection to Orion. Theoretically, Galaxy is supposed to have several links to the main parts of Orion (Student/Applicant Center, Financials, Academic Records, etc.) that allow you to do what you need to do in Orion and then reconnect to the main portal page. However, for the majority of students, clicking these links prompted students to reenter their log in information—which it shouldn’t have to do—and then told them that their user name and/or password were invalid, even if they weren’t. While this issue seems to have been mostly resolved, there are still isolated reports of students continuing to encounter this problem. However, it is unclear whether this is a lingering problem in the system or if it is with users’ browsers caching the old site.
In addition to that, the system has had trouble recognizing any users who have dual roles, such as student workers, making it so that they could access almost nothing through the Galaxy portal. After more than a week of being unable to find a systematic solution for this, they opted to go through and manually correct the roles for each student worker individually.
While the new Galaxy system was being rolled out, the Information Security (InfoSec) department was simultaneously making a transition in its account management program, switching from a program called JAMS to a program called Oracle Identity Management (OIM), also made by the Oracle Corporation. This primarily affects the internal employees of the InfoSec and IR departments, but does affect students in an indirect way.
While both JAMS and OIM work generally the same way, the transition between the two has caused quite a few problems, most of which took over a week to fix and some of which still aren’t fixed as of the writing of this article in mid-March.
One of the problems was with the ability to create new accounts. Specifically, new accounts weren’t and still aren’t being created properly, meaning that new applicants to UTD aren’t able to activate their accounts, obtain their NetIDs, and check their admission status online. Their information exists in the system and the actual admission process is unaffected, but they are unable to use their account.
Another problem with OIM is one of security. In the old JAMS program, if a user needed to reset their password, the Help Desk could look up and use their security questions to verify the user’s identity. With the new OIM program, however, the Help Desk can no longer see your security questions, so it would be very possible for someone who is not you to call in pretending to be you and get your password reset. For obvious reasons, I won’t elaborate on exactly how, but this is a very real problem.
Even though it’s been five weeks since the rollout, a systematic solution for these problems has still not been found. A few of them can be solved by manually correcting the issue for each student individually, but the sheer number of users makes this impractical.
While there are many reasons for these myriad problems, the one that truly stands out is a lack of communication. The implementation of Galaxy and OIM involved a collaborative effort between the several subdepartments of IR, InfoSec, and outside PeopleSoft techs.
When it comes to solving the problems that have arisen, communications have been less than stellar between these groups. Most have involved either denials or noncommittal and ambiguous statements. In one particular case, a department, intentionally or not, outright lied about having fixed the account creation problem, saying that it was solved when, in fact, it had not been.
While the amount of effort that has been put in both to implement these systems and solve the problems that have cropped up is laudable, it has been bogged down considerably by poor software and poorer communication. The University needs to completely reevaluate their approach, first and foremost by improving communications between the many people that are sacrificing their time and energy to try to solve this very important problem.