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Launching an enterprise architecture approach

Drew Cook, Director of ICT, discusses what a true enterprise strategy means to the University of Lincoln

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | July 12, 2016 | Technology

The University of Lincoln has an international reputation as a research-driven, pioneering institution. We have over 13,000 students from across the globe being taught and supported by over 1,600 members of staff with an income of around £130 million.

The approach

The University has developed an IT strategy, based on an enterprise architecture approach. The enterprise architecture approach resulted in a number of guiding principles to ensure that the portfolio of activity and roadmap of work required to deliver the IT strategy fully supported the University strategic objectives. 

One of the guiding principles underpinning the IT strategy is to consider implementing new and replacement services within a cloud based delivery model. The objective behind this principle is to allow the University to effectively extend the life and capacity of our on campus data centres, reduce the need for further significant capital investment within our data centres and move to a more predictable and stable revenue cost model. The principle also comes with a number of caveats, that, although new software applications are procured with a preference for Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery, this must not compromise user experience, performance, data security, or increase the complexity of the overall technical architecture required to integrate systems. Finally, the total cost of ownership for the solution must also be lower than an on premise alternative.  

Ageing solutions

The IT strategy roadmap of work identified that the legacy finance solution was a “burning platform”, and needed immediate change. Although the solution allowed the University to continue its business as usual activities, it was an ageing solution that was no longer being developed by the supplier. The University had grown significantly in both size and complexity over the years since the legacy solution was implemented and the solution was now limiting the ability of the finance team to consider improved and alternative methods of delivering finance services to the University and its partners. The decision was therefore taken to procure a new finance system. A range of colleagues within the University developed the requirements specification for the new solution that not only covered the standard requirements of Higher Education (HE) sector finance but also stressed the importance of enabling self-service, process automation and management information. The Invitation to Tender (ITT) also described a preference for SaaS based delivery but allowed potential suppliers to offer either SaaS, or on campus-based solutions. 

The SaaS model

The responses received by the ITT highlighted a wide range of maturity within the SaaS offerings from suppliers and their understanding of SaaS based delivery. Many suppliers’ ‘SaaS’ offerings were nothing more than solutions designed and developed to operate in an on premise environment, packaged up within a managed hosting offering. Most of these offerings resulted in a higher total cost of ownership and all resulted in a more complicated technical infrastructure.

The IT strategy roadmap of work identified that the legacy finance solution was a “burning platform”, and needed immediate change

It was very clear from one particular vendor that it had considered all the complexities of SaaS based delivery in a multi-tenancy environment, along with the advantages and benefits for both the supplier and the customers that can be gained from properly implemented SaaS solutions. It demonstrated that it had developed a solution from the ground up that was designed to be delivered as SaaS, rather than trying to shoehorn a solution developed for on premise delivery into a SaaS delivery environment. 

The quality of the functional aspects of the TechnologyOne OneUniversity solution met all of the University of Lincoln’s requirements, in particular supporting the University’s objectives to improve the levels of self-service available to students and employees, and improve the efficiency of operations through process automation. The icing on the cake was a very cost effective cost of ownership model, which fully leveraged the benefits of SaaS delivery and easily outstripped other on premise offerings.

Implementation

The University set very ambitious and aggressive implementation timescales giving just over four months from the signing of contracts at the end of March 2015, to go live at the start of the financial year in August 2015.  The TechnologyOne team worked closely with the University of Lincoln project team comprising of finance and IT colleagues, and the implementation of the solution was successfully completed on schedule. A testament to the success of the TechnologyOne system implementation has been the rapid adoption and acceptance of the solution within the University.

The solution is now delivering benefits in a number of areas through the automation of previously manually intensive and paper driven processes such as purchase card processing and purchase requisition and authorisation, both of which touch most areas of the University. All users benefit from self-service access to information, which has replaced more complicated enquiries or spreadsheet-based reporting which was time consuming for the finance team. Further benefits will be realised when the University goes through its first annual budget development cycle, fully utilising the solution from the start to finish of the budget development process. This replaces a legacy process that typically did not involve the finance system until the final budget was loaded.

The partnership between the University of Lincoln and TechnologyOne has been further extended when following a subsequent ITT for a student management solution TechnologyOne won the contract with its bid and offer of SaaS delivered OneUniversity student management solution. The University’s intention has been to procure “best of breed” solutions. The outcome, when the TechnologyOne student management solution is implemented alongside the existing finance solution, will be a fully integrated and less complicated technical architecture which will provide further benefits from opportunities for process improvement and easier access to a wider range of information for both students and staff.

The University’s primary objectives for the student management solution are to provide:

  • A significantly improved experience for students that reflects international best practice
  • Students with access to a suite of seamless online services to easily manage university life
  • Enhanced administrative efficiency and effectiveness to liberate resources for improved service delivery and value-adding activities
  • A flexible suite of corporate IT systems that can react quickly and effectively to change
  • Improved data accuracy and access to information for senior management, to enhance the evidence base for strategic planning, resource allocation and service delivery

The implementation of the student management solution will start in earnest during the summer of 2016 and the solution will be implemented in two main phases over the following two years. The implementation of the SaaS delivered student management and finance solutions fits well within the overall IT strategy and compliments the provision of other services through cloud based technologies. Utilising solutions such as the TechnologyOne OneUniversity that is designed to operate natively within the cloud environment ensures that our overall technical architecture is not unnecessarily complicated.

References

Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2014/15 Headline Statistics. University of Lincoln Headline Statistics 2014/15. [Online]
Available at: www.hesa.ac.uk

University of Lincoln, 2014/15 Financial Information. Financial Information and Statistics 2014/15. [Online]
Available at: http://finance.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/financial-information/
 

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