Was the System Upgrade

By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2006-01-06 Print this article Print

Rushed?"> Playing the watchdog for pension or insurance issues is outside the SECs purview, according to an SEC spokesman. Infrastructure Upgrades
TIAA-CREF is betting its future on Open Plan Solutions, or TOPS as its known internally, and other system upgrades to modernize legacy applications and add more services for pensioners.
To accomplish its goals TIAA-CREF implemented a number of IT programs in 2005, including TOPS, a commercial platform that integrates the companys legacy annuity, mutual fund and other service offerings into a single system. The company also consolidated its data network, implemented a single data security firewall, put in a new trading and settlement system, new desktop systems for customer service agents and upgraded its financial systems. At the same time, TIAA-CREF developed the infrastructure to support TOPS and reorganized IT across the company, according to its 2005 Annual Report. "We were replacing older software and systems that run our payments processing and online functions," said TIAA-CREF spokesman Glen Weiner, at the companys New York headquarters. TIAA-CREF customers say IT issues have not been resolved. Click here to read more. "The sheer complexity of upgrading our service infrastructure, including the roll out of our new platform, led to the recent customer service problems. Two former TIAA-CREF employees who requested anonymity detailed some of the issues with TOPS as they relate to pensioner problems. "TIAA-CREF has been involved for the last two or three years in a major upgrade to their record keeping system called TOPS," said one former IT manager. "Its all the systems that say what products a participant owns. They bought the system from SunGard [Data Systems Inc.], so theyre trying to convert legacy systems developed in-house to a new platform. Theyve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on it and its turned out to be a fiasco internally." Another former IT manager concurs. "The bottom line is this project, and the company, is a mess," said the former employee. "The code we put into production [we should not] have put into QA, and yet its been put into production. "Thats the way its been running. It was thrown into production [and any issues] have been manually dealt with. Peoples bonuses are tied to how many schools they convert to TOPS and people cant keep up [with manual workarounds]." In 2005, three organizations converted to TOPS: TIAA-CREF itself, Purdue University and the University of Richmond. By the end of this year, TIAA-CREF hopes to have all 15,000 of its institutional clients converted, according to Weiner. TOPS is at heart a master record keeping system that also enables the company to add additional options on top, like partner funds from other companies, and a life cycle or age-based, regularly rebalanced mutual fund. But the platforms success depends on the number of schools that upgrade to it. "The first school to convert was Purdue—that first weekend we converted was just one school," said the former IT manager. "At that point there were a multitude of problems, but we were able to deal with manual workarounds. Then in 05, with a very aggressive turnaround timetable for schools," issues compounded and TIAA-CREF couldnt keep up. A big part of the issues: data conversion and a lack of functionality. "Not that the new system was defective," said the manager. "It wasnt designed to do what we expected, or what participants had come to expect. But no one really owned up to that. Thats part of the problem." One TIAA-CREF participant, Nick Chase isnt taking any chances. After having a funds disbursement issue solved last month—his November check never made it into his checking account—an IRA funds transfer issue popped up right after, and Chase is now moving what money he can to a Fidelity Investment account. The author of The Contrarians View newsletter, Chase wrote about his issues with TIAA-CREF in a recent issue. "Anything that involves peoples money—those systems are supposed to be very, very carefully tested before theyre switched over," said Chase, a retired systems manager based in Worcester, Mass. "This smacks of testing pressure. My feeling is they were in too much of a hurry and didnt test accurately. If something like this happens, theyre going to lose business. Theyre already losing my business." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.


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