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SAN FRANCISCO -- To merge and then upgrade, or to upgrade and then merge? That was a key question Nationwide Insurance had to answer when moving to Oracle's PeopleSoft 9.2 financial applications from the 9.0 version.
Before undertaking the project, Nationwide weighed what to do with its two main instances of PeopleSoft 9.0. At one point, the Columbus, Ohio-based insurance provider was running 12 instances of PeopleSoft, but it had consolidated them down to two environments: general ledger and financials. Still, the company ran into issues passing data back and forth between those two instances.
In the end, the company decided to first merge the instances and then upgrade so it would only have to upgrade one time.
"Really, we had three phases of this," said Ron Leeds, Nationwide's director of application development, during a session at the Oracle OpenWorld 2014 conference here. "One was to get to a core configuration because we didn't have consistency across both environments. Once we did that, we wanted to merge the two environments together."
That wasn't all of it, however. Nationwide undertook several other upgrades at the same time: PeopleTools from version 8.49 to 8.52, Oracle Database 10g on Solaris to 11g on Red Hat Enterprise Linux with help from Oracle's GoldenGate data integration software, and a conversion from SAP's Crystal Reports software to Oracle BI Publisher. It also implemented Oracle's Secure Enterprise Search, Workflow and PeopleSoft WorkCenter technologies. All of that took a little over a year to complete -- from April 2013 to Memorial Day weekend of this year.
The justification for the upgrade itself was fairly straightforward. Nationwide hadn't done a PeopleSoft upgrade in nearly five years, and the Oracle support window for 9.0 was closing. The insurer put out a request for proposals to potential implementation partners in late 2012, evaluated a half-dozen companies and chose Elire, a Minneapolis-based PeopleSoft consultancy, in the first quarter of 2013.
The implementation process at Nationwide
Michael Merrill, partner and project manager at Elire, said the initial core configuration step was designed to give Nationwide's two PeopleSoft instances a similar look before merging them. For example, there were differences in the systems' ChartFields, which store charts of accounts and provide the basic structure for organizing transactional and budget data. The project team also had to reconcile differences in ChartField combination edits.
The next step was merging the two environments. Merrill agreed with Leeds, saying that sending data from the PeopleSoft accounts payable module to the general ledger application in separate instances "was a headache all its own."
"Simply merging the two would remove 33% of the disconnects due to the two instances," he added.
In addition to configuring the instances, the merge process required dealing with code differences between them and then doing the physical merge of the data itself. Ultimately, the project team moved three years of data from the GL instance into PeopleSoft Financials.
The third and final step was the actual upgrade to the PeopleSoft 9.2 apps. A major part of the planning for the switchover was a 10-week fit-gap analysis, during which the project team examined 800 existing customizations in its PeopleSoft 9.0 deployment as well as all of the new features in 9.2. The goal: Determine which customizations could be dropped and what 9.2 features to adopt.
The team set up a tiered approval process that included a group empowered to make decisions. It decided to implement about 85 of PeopleSoft 9.2's new features but was also able to eliminate more than 300 of the 800 customizations. Merrill said that many were created to improve usability and had been around for a long time. As the PeopleSoft software evolved, he added, it gained usability features that now made those customizations unnecessary.
Nationwide went through a number of tests before actually pulling the trigger. They included an initial trial run to create the development environment, a move-to-production test pass and a mock move. "You don't want to go into a limited go-live window and have people doing tasks for the very first time," Merrill said.
Best practices for PeopleSoft 9.2 upgrades
Leeds suggested a few best practices when upgrading to PeopleSoft 9.2. The first is to critically examine all the customizations in the existing PeopleSoft deployment and demand that end users provide a business case for keeping any of them.
Good communication is also a must. While there will always be some communication misses, Leeds said the project team at Nationwide sent out a lot of notes about the process and leveraged admins to test the new system frequently and provide feedback. Team members also did specialized training for executives and key users, and they talked with Oracle representatives every month during the implementation to inform them of technical struggles the company was encountering and ask how to resolve the problems.
Finally, Leeds said, user involvement in the project was "imperative."
"With a big organization, it can be hard to get to the right people to make the right decisions," he said. "So we empowered the team as much as possible."