California payroll system clown show


A California payroll system upgrade has been cancelled after numerous almost comical errors were found. This is the second or third time California has attempted to upgrade the payroll system, which is an apparent nightmare of dozens of incompatible systems held together with duct tape and spaghetti code, some of which date back to the 1960’s.

This attempt only cost California $50 million, which they will attempt to recoup from SAP, the vendor.

Alarmingly, errors in this first  test of the system were found by state employees not SAP and were so egregious that it appears no testing could have been done. Among the clown show errors, child support garnishments went to the wrong people, some employees had their checks shorted while others got paid too much, and the system failed to pay health care premiums so employees lost their coverage.

I develop database systems. About the first thing I learned was Thou Must Get Payroll Perfect. Employees tend to get really cranky if they’re underpaid or have their policies cancelled. Imagine that.

It is a source of genuine wonderment to me that a payroll system could be so difficult to upgrade or that testing was apparently non-existent on such a big, visible project.