Graduating with distinction
- 30 April, 2004 22:00
When Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) deployed a new budget forecast, planning and analysis platform, users were prepared for a steep learning curve. The migration followed a period of revenue growth and devolution of fiscal responsibility to the 24 heads of school. The university’s focus was not on cost cutting, but driving profitability. Heads of schools and units were made accountable by being provided with a target.
VUW scouted for a system that would provide more accurate and timely information for decision-making, and streamline time-consuming administration processes. After reviewing several vendors, it chose Cognos enterprise planning software. Prior to the rollout, however, the affected staff had questions. “The users were initially concerned that the system may be too complex and difficult to use,” says Mark Hewitson, manager of financial advice.
To mitigate these concerns, the finance team focused on the “internal customer”. Key users reviewed the original design concepts, while representative users tested each stage of the process, says Hewitson.
The IT department was involved “from the seminal idea to implementing a new budgeting system,” Hewitson notes.
“IT underpins the budgeting system,” he explains of this collaboration, “Without working closely with them on any system issues that may have arisen and without having full confidence in their ability to deliver, we wouldn’t have chosen an e-based budget tool.”
IT attended all presentations and their feedback was sought. “They were partners in the process. This was important to manage any system risks. Once server and access requirements had been organised, IT then became a silent partner, albeit a very important partner, in the process.”
Finance dealt with all system administration issues and, because the organisational-wide IT systems are robust, the IT team was not needed directly during the rollout.
The finance team decided to dramatically increase the level of budget service. “During both the budget and re-budget period, we ran a seven-day-a-week service, specifically for budget help. This had never happened before in finance. We did not let our customers loose on the new budget tool without a full back-up service.”
When the initial rollout and training were in place, the finance team made sure there were formal hands-on group training sessions (each user on a PC, in groups of around 10 users) where questions or concerns could be aired openly. “We also ensured intended benefits to the organisation were stressed and all users were aware a dramatic change in budgeting systems was needed. Users were informed that, in our professional opinion, the use of this new tool and all the implications it entailed was a paradigm shift that was needed. However, it necessarily involved risk, which we were active in managing. This was appreciated by users, as we were open and direct about the potential strengths and weaknesses of the project.”
The most important lesson he took from the project was the need to put together a very motivated, extremely competent small team and appoint a team leader whose main goal is to implement the project.
“Give the team the trust, respect, resources and freedom to experiment with new ideas. Keep in touch closely with your users and monitor progress. You must have full confidence in the team leader to deliver, and this can be tested by reviewing development targets. If the individuals involved don’t feel as if they own the project, you will definitely not get the best out of them.”