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Turning around a finance function

Following a difficult ERP implementation, a raft of changes were needed within Oxford University’s finance department. Robert Williams discusses the turnaround of the finance department with Emma Riddell.

Case for change

In 2004 Oxford University implemented a new ERP system. The business case for this change was convincing: a variety of systems and processes were being used across the university’s 160 departments resulting in financial information being inconsistent. This made it difficult to consolidate and use for high level planning and control purposes.

Implementation failure

However, while change was necessary the implementation of the new system was poorly done and the services finance provided were severely affected. One of the most significant consequences was that invoicing of major research funders ground to a halt, putting pressure on cashflow. In addition, academic staff were not being supplied with adequate management reports and so did not have a full picture of their financial position.

These factors may well have contributed to the lack of trust that Williams (current deputy director of finance) believes his academic colleagues had in finance at that point. He elaborates: ‘If you were to ask people about the finance team in 2004, you would have got views that it was a transaction processing centre and not service focused. It would have been in the equivalent of the fourth division of any league tables. It certainly didn’t emulate our academic colleagues in the university who are in the top half dozen of the world.’

Williams doesn’t believe that the new system itself was the source of the problems; rather it was the way it was implemented. He identifies poor communication, limited time allocated for training and a lack of robust change management as the key issues. ‘As part of the lack of process change we probably also allowed too many individual ways of doing things across departments to continue. We should have been much firmer in standardising processes,’ he explains.

New team, new vision

This is an extract from the Finance & Management Magazine, Issue 193, November 2011.

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