PeopleTools 8.50: A User's Perspective

The University of Cambridge has recently upgraded our Campus Solutions system to PeopleTools 8.50 and wanted to share some of our experiences from a user's perspective.  We are currently in the middle of a Campus Solutions rollout programme, with go-live dates throughout the next few months.  We opted for an out-of-the-box upgrade and kept all the optional features turned off, including the new menu structure.  More recently, we have started to introduce some of the optional features, most notably scrollable grids.


Training and Communication

Training and Communication were key issues during our upgrade.  We have a diverse user population of highly-experienced users and those who are going through their first introduction to Campus Solutions.  One of the first things we did was to produce and circulate a short guide summarising the changes users would see.  The guide contained a brief explanation of each new feature the upgrade introduced together with a screenshot to help people visualise what they could expect.  We distributed the guide several weeks in advance of the go-live date to allow people to familiarise themselves with the changes.

As we upgraded to a release of PeopleTools 8.50 that changed the behaviour of PS Query, we also produced a training supplement that described the changes to the Outer-Join behaviour.


Functional Testing
Generally speaking, the upgrade did not cause a large number of functional issues and we tracked the majority to a number of common causes.  I have highlighted some of these common themes below:


a) Old Style Oracle Outer Joins in PS Query.  The issue has been mentioned in a few other blogs and has arisen because PS Query was changed to use ANSI standard inner joins for security records.  As the Oracle database will not support a mixture of ANSI and non-ANSI syntax, this means that the old-style Oracle outer-join syntax (+) cannot be used in queries that have security records incorporated.  Oracle has now fixed this issue in PeopleTools 8.50.09 by reverting to the previous PeopleTools 8.49 behaviour.  Prior to this fix from Oracle, others have resolved the issue by either manually rewriting queries or by creating views which contain the outer joined records.  Our technical team wrote a process to indentify the affected queries and update the underlying query definition tables to convert the old-style outer joins into the standard PS Query Outer Join syntax.


b) Batch Processes (Application Engine, SQR, Cobol, Crystal etc).  This is also a topic other institutions have mentioned and each one seems to be having slightly different issues.  Our problem was that the upgrade process blanked out the Category field for any processes we had written ourselves, meaning that none would even start.  A simple update script to add back the missing values fixed this particular problem.


c) Screen Layout issues.  These mainly affected pages we had created, but we found a number of pages needed to be changed to restore the original layout.  This occurred prior to the implementing scrollable grids which can also require layout changes.


d) Oracle Timestamp.  In 8.50 all your Date, Time and DateTime fields will be built in Oracle as a Timestamp field.  This caused a number of issues in both online screens and reports depending on the type of date/time calculations being performed.


Comments on New Features
As we had hoped, the vast majority of the basic features introduced in PeopleTools 8.50 have not caused any issues for the user community.  Also, as we introduce the optional features, we have been able to address some long-standing user requests; however, each user community contains a mixture of skills, experiences and opinions, and two features in particular have received some interesting feedback.


a) Type Ahead Searching.  Speaking with Oracle they are disappointed with the usage of this feature and it seems to have split our user community in half.  More experienced users felt this slowed down data entry, particularly as they generally know the codes already and simply want to enter the information as quickly as possible without any distractions.  For this group of users, the personalisation option to disable Type-Ahead Searching has proved very popular.  Less experienced users can find this feature useful but have become annoyed with the fact that Type-Ahead fails on Term field lookups, of which there are a number in Campus Solutions.  The issue arises because Term codes get padded with leading zeros, so if you have Term codes 1201, 1202, 1203 etc. and try to enter the first two characters 12 into the Term field the user will receive the message "No match data" because the Type-Ahead is actually looking for 0012 (two leading zeros added) and not 12.  This causes real confusion because users think they have started to enter an incorrect code.  We have raised a call with Oracle and hopefully a fix will be coming soon.


b) Modal Search Windows.  Although not an area we expected to cause issues, this feature also split opinion because the list of values displayed is now about half of the previous full screen lookup.  This has meant people are generally required to scroll through the list to find the desired value under 8.50, where previously the value would appear towards the end of the full page list.  Whilst Type-Ahead should eventually help with this issue, the problems above mean it has not proved as useful as initially hoped for.



Overall, we are happy with the upgrade to PeopleTools 8.50 and feel that we are now on a platform that offers us a lot more flexibility.  We scheduled a weekend to upgrade the production system but found we were able to complete it in much less time.  Place a heavy focus on communication, expose users to the new system early on, and review and update your training materials.  Perhaps the most important factor is a comprehensive testing regime because whilst there may be some common issues—and hopefully common resolutions—the showstoppers will generally be in your custom pages, reports, and processes.


PeopleTools 8.51

The Release Value Proposition for PeopleTools 8.51 was released back in April 2010 and introduces a range of new features including a functional regression testing tool.

1 Comment
1 Like

Thanks for the comments

July 21, 2010 09:46 AM by Richard Trudel

Really appreciate the effort of producing this succinct document.  Very helpful to all of us who are faced with this in the near future



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