ra2 studio - Fotolia

Birmingham City University embraces Oracle ERP software

Birmingham City University turns to Oracle ERP Cloud and HCM Cloud to revamp its IT strategy and employee-facing functions, but finds fast-paced implementation a challenge.

In the last few years, Birmingham City University spent in excess of £220 million for campus infrastructure, yet when it came to its IT infrastructure and core business processes, it continued to do business in antiquated ways -- and without the cloud.

The U.K.-based university, which has been in the process of moving its campus into the city center from another part of Birmingham, invested heavily in building cutting-edge facilities for its students. But when it came to employee-facing functions such as HR and finance, it still relied on a mix of systems from Cedar 5 and Northgate, including a broad layer of middleware that cut into the university's overall efficiency.

"Over the past five years ... we've had a very estate-driven capital investment program," said David Wilkin, CFO of Birmingham City University. "The net result of that has been that we are under-invested in IT. That's an issue now."

"We've got lots of legacy systems, lots of architecture that [hasn't] been updated or looked after," Wilkin said. "For example, our finance system is probably 25 years old and, as a result, it just can't deliver the level of performance, information and speed at decision-[making] that we need ... in the environment that we're operating in."

Birmingham City University previously used a combination of Cedar 5 and Northgate as its ERP system -- with Cedar 5 for finance, Northgate for HR and Northgate Cloud for payroll.

Oracle ERP software to boost HR and Finance

That's why purchasing Oracle ERP software became crucial in the institution's efforts to modernize its IT infrastructure.

"One of the key attracters of the Oracle Cloud solutions that we got for our ERP is that we will never get into this position again," Wilkin said.

One of the key attracters of the Oracle Cloud solutions that we got for our ERP is that we will never get into this position again.
David WilkinCFO, Birmingham City University

Oracle ERP Cloud will be updated by the vendor twice a year, and Birmingham City University will have to implement them. This almost "enforced discipline of updating" was one of the key reasons Wilkin chose Oracle ERP and HCM Cloud applications.

For Wilkin, this meant the university would have industry-standard best practices by default, as opposed to once every 10 to 15 years when it got around to the challenge of an upgrade.

The university has purchased Oracle ERP software that includes Oracle Financials Cloud, Oracle Procurement Cloud, Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service and Business Intelligence Cloud Service, in addition to Oracle HCM Cloud, Oracle Payroll and Oracle Cloud platform as a service.

With Oracle ERP and HCM Cloud, the university hopes to eliminate time-consuming, manual back-office processes and replace its core HR, finance, payroll, and project and grants system, thereby redesigning its core business processes.

The other reason the university -- which hosts about 28,000 students and a staff of over 3,000 -- opted for Oracle ERP software and HCM Cloud was to provide service that is modern, up to date and that reflects the "best practices from Oracle's global footprint."

"We are a university. Obviously, we're not designing and maintaining key finance, HR [and] payroll systems," Wilkin said. "I'm very happy to buy these as a service, as opposed to buy the software and own the software and have all the problems that [it] brings. That doesn't add any value to my core business as far as I can see."

According to Wilkin, the university still has work to do on its student-facing functions, content management system and customer relationship management, but it's the Oracle ERP software and HCM Cloud implementation that will set the benchmark for the university's IT strategy ahead.

"Frankly, if we can make this work, then it sets the bar really high in terms of where we want to be going forward," Wilkin said.

However, purchasing the software is only half the battle. A well-designed implementation plan is the key to success for any project.

Business change project underway

For Birmingham City University, which started the procurement phase of the project around 18 month ago -- beginning with finding a partner, finalizing the technology choice and then purchasing the products -- the process though exciting, has certainly not been easy or fast.

In September 2016, the university undertook a series of independent peer reviews of the project at key stages to assess if the project could deliver on time and on budget -- but it had to pause and restart the process, which was a fairly difficult task.

"We had got through a fair chunk of the procurement exercise, but it was clear to me that we weren't going to land a successful implementation at that point," Wilkin said.

The initial review of the business case indicated a 20% return on investment, but it had to be reworked to show the true, full ROI from the capital outlay.

But for Wilkin, ROI was a major factor, but not the most significant one.

The project was positioned as a system replacement project-- which meant a substantial change for university employees and end users -- and tackling that issue was going to be the most critical aspect for the success of the project.

"As such, it didn't tackle head on the issue of people change," Wilkin said. "When we corrected this and took account of how the people would need to adapt and change, the ROI rose exponentially, and the project matured into a transformation initiative which was enabled by tech, as opposed to just the delivery of tech into a broken environment."

After taking some time out and learning from the initial software procurement process, the university then finalized on Oracle applications and purchased the licenses straight away.

Wilkin said that, at this point, the university has chosen a systems integrator and business integrator partner. By the end of October 2017, the university will have these two partners on board, and would then go into a 10-month implementation timeline.

"Looking for a faster paced implementation -- perhaps that's the answer ... because we need to get on with this," Wilkin said. "If I'm buying a cloud solution, it should be much quicker to implement than the on-premises solution, and I want to test that and achieve the benefits of that solution."

Improved employee-facing functions a win-win

For Wilkin, moving to the cloud with Oracle HCM and ERP software is more than just a technical implementation; it's a complete business overhaul of the university's operations.

"Yes, there is technical implementation to do; there's a lot to do around data, reporting, integration," Wilkin said. "But, more importantly, this is a business change project because I've got 3,000 members of staff who I need to start doing things differently."

Wilkins expects the benefits of the implementation for the staff will, in turn, benefit the students.

Though the impact of the Oracle ERP software and HCM Cloud on student-facing functions isn't huge, Wilkin estimates the changes will free up staff and faculty from the overhead of back-office functions and enable them to focus more on students.

"Our staff at the moment spends a lot of time on input, on shadow systems [and] on mining data because our core systems are so poor," Wilkin said. "If we can make all that more straightforward, and deliver to our staff full-time, dynamic, easy-to-access, accurate, reliable data on their staff [and] budgets ... then it's going to free up massive amounts of time."

This, to Wilkin, is a win-win situation that in the long term will enable the university to drive more value into the business. 

Next Steps

Here's what to consider before purchasing a new ERP system

Learn more about ERP and its many components

Pittsburg State University adopts Oracle HCM software

Dig Deeper on ERP infrastructure