Wollongong Uni notches up early ROI on $2m upgrade

Wollongong University expects a full return on investment within six years on its recent $2 million enterprise resource planning upgrade.

The project, to streamline the institution's management of payments, research grant administration, procurement and assets, has already saved $120,000.

The 1500 employee institution manages $30 million in research grants and some 36,000 payment requests each year from suppliers.

Chris Grange, director of finance and personnel, said the business needs of staff were becoming increasingly complex, forcing the university to enhance the capabilities of its core financial systems through an incremental ERP upgrade.

Since 1995 the university has been running JD Edwards' Financials software to manage the finances of all departments, but it needed to respond to the changing needs of some 300 core users; otherwise everyday financial processes would continue to be a cumbersome experience for staff.

Academics, for example, found using a data warehouse to manage their research grant administration frustrating because of data synchronisation problems. Academics involved in research grant administration needed a comprehensive view of budget forecasting, expenditure targets and actual spend. However, an existing data warehouse did not provide a complete view of financial data and the quality of the data available was poor, according to Grange.

So the university set up a project team to develop a more flexible user interface in its financial management system, and integrate different software systems to cover all areas of financial management.

In July last year, the first of the university's JD Edwards OneWorld Financials workflow applications was installed to provide an online payment system. It manages all staff payments, and for the first time allowed the initiation of payments to suppliers online. The tool could also integrate from HR systems data on salary forecast and spend. The workflow tool also integrates with document management software by Createform to automatically e-mail at month's end a financial statement showing credit and expenditure. Another reporting facility was added on top of the payment system that alerts research managers and finance staff of overdrawn accounts.

Secondly, the university is implementing a OneWorld-based system for purchasing, which automates the purchase order process through e-mail, fax or printing.

Other workflow add-ons include an online accounts receivable system and an online asset management system for all asset disposal, record and registration-keeping and related accounting.

All the institution's OneWorld financial software runs on an IBM Risc 6000 server over a TCP/IP network.

Since the upgrade, the university has achieved 90 per cent of its objective to overhaul its financial management systems, according to Grange.

Grange attributes $80,000 of first-year cost savings from the OneWorld payment system to staff productivity gains, which saw processing time cut by 10 days.

Also, the advent of paperless transactions and e-mail and electronic transfer created marked improvements in internal service levels, Grange said.

The university has achieved $40,000 in savings in general management accounting.

The main lesson learnt from the project, Grange said, was that people can make the process unnecessarily exhausting by focusing too heavily on the go-live date instead of pinpointing the business issues they need to solve through a large-scale deployment like ERP. "The implementation isn't over until you've solved your business problems, and successful IT projects depend on how well people know their business," he said.

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