Reporter 413, 26 January 1998


New system to ease administrative burden on departments

The University is to introduce new computer software over the next four years, replacing the current finance, personnel/payroll and student systems. It will provide academics and administrators with access to integrated, up-to-date and consistent information and greatly ease administrative burdens.

Finance and personnel/payroll information will be made available to departments and central administration through a single integrated system designed to provide information at the touch of a button. Resource centre heads wanting to find out about staff contracts or budget holders needing a breakdown of their unit’s financial transactions will be able to do so with ease.

There will be just one set of records for the whole University, avoiding the current situation where duplicate records are often kept. “Everyone will work from the same database and have access to the same accurate, up-to-date information – vital for informed decision-making,” said Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Taylor, who is overseeing the project. “The investment is considerable but given the size of our institution and the efficiency it will bring it will be money well spent.”

The system will also make a long-term saving for the University in the face of the ‘Millennium bug’ – a computer problem which could see older systems collapsing with the turn of the century. Modifications to all the existing systems would cost up to £1m but with no guarantee that they would survive the century date change.

The finance and personnel/payroll systems are expected to cost between £2.3m and £2.8m over a period of four years. The projected cost for the student system – currently being chosen – is £1.25m.

The selection of the new finance and personnel/payroll systems has been made by departmental representatives and central administrators. Student systems are currently being investigated: five potential suppliers have been shortlisted and the final decision will be made in February.

The next stage in the finance and personnel/payroll project is to design and configure the software to meet Leeds’ needs. This will take place over the next three months and departmental representatives will be involved in both design and in testing software. From June onwards, pilot departments will be involved in checking the operational viability of the system.

Staff will be kept up to date at all stages through further articles in the Reporter, email circulation, lunchtime briefing sessions and the establishment of pages on the Leeds website.

Money has also been set aside for intensive staff training programmes tailored to meet individual needs. Departmental representatives will be involved in the introduction of both systems and in designing training programmes. A search is under way for a Project Director to be appointed for two years to provide guidance and keep the process on track.

Key finance functions will be up and running by August. Pilot departments will start using the purchasing system with a phased implementation over the next twelve months. The personnel/payroll system will be introduced from November 1998.

The system chosen to handle finance and personnel/payroll information is R/3, provided by Systems Applications and Products (SAP), the world’s fourth largest software company. SAP won the tendering process for its expertise in integrating human resources and finance systems and its commitment to the higher education market. The search for an integrated system began after consultants Coopers & Lybrand recommended that the University introduce new software in these three key areas.

Leeds is the third British university to adopt the system – the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and City University have also signed up to the system. SAP R/3 is used overseas by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Cape Town and the University of Toronto.

The project is supported by Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which has nominated the University of Leeds as one of four pilot sites nationally for evaluating procurement systems. The Council is contributing some £100,000 towards the cost of software and project management. The University has undertaken to assist HEFCE in disseminating the outcome of the pilot to the sector and to become a reference site for other UK universities.

The software is also compliant with the needs of European Monetary Union and could cope should companies invoice the University in Euros.

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