Melbourne Uni embarks on AU$14 million ERP transformation

Upgrades to enterprise systems often present an opportunity to reform business processes, but doing so while the clock ticks is another challenge the University of Melbourne is having to deal with.

The University of Melbourne is in a race against the clock to overhaul its key enterprise resource planning system, while also trying to use the opportunity to improve its business services. Dubbed Themis, the ERP system is a critical piece of software running on Oracle's E-Business Suite Release 11 — a release that will no longer be supported in November 2013, and that has already been superseded by Release 12.

If the university plays its cards right during the upgrade, it could potentially save about US$10 million over ten years, by overhauling multiple systems and changing its business processes.

The task is not a simple one — the university's implementation of Themis is highly customised, increasing the cost of supporting the existing system and making the move to Release 12 much more complex.

Just a few of the systems that Themis is tied into include its staff security cards system, telephony system, printing and imaging services, student records and relationship systems — systems that simply cannot fail and must be integrated into Themis if any value from the new system is to be gained.

Last year, the university included US$14 million in its budget for the project, and it has been holding stakeholder meetings throughout the year to run through the new release of E-Business Suite, work out which customisations could be eliminated and begin to redevelop its business processes. The university initially brought on IT services provider CSG for this task, together with Colab, and later appointed Infosys as its system integrator and to manage the remainder of the project.

Initially, the university's plan was to complete the implementation by the beginning of 2013, but it is now reconsidering its strategy after running through a "stocktake period" earlier this year, to ensure it was targeting the right business processes and rebuild its business case.

"We haven't quite settled, but it's likely that we will pursue a dual-release strategy to allow some business reform activities to take place," University of Melbourne CIO Sendur Kathir told ZDNet.

"We didn't think it was prudent to try and introduce a lot of change simultaneously, which is why we want to get the technology upgrade by the middle of the year, and get that out of the way."

This ensures that the university will have the technology upgrade completed prior to support for Release 11 expiring, while providing it with time to focus on larger modules to be implemented in early 2014, which will ultimately bring better cost savings for the university.

In particular, three modules that the university is looking to later implement focus on better reporting, procurement and capital projects management. For its reporting and capital projects, Kathir said that the university has some legacy systems that it would like to upgrade to an enterprise-grade level. Its strategic procurement functions were also currently disparate and were spread among a number of ad hoc systems.

However, after over a year of planning, the real work of implementing the project starts now, with the university only giving Kathir and his team the green light in the past week or so.

"We're in the detailed planning of the implementation at the moment, and we'll go from there. We see this as a very critical university project. It's very high priority that we do this, because we believe there are some significant benefits to be gained. It will be one of our really key university projects for the next 12 to 18 months."