Hans Biemans sees a light at the end of the tunnel
AFAS prep could have been better
Yes, they should have better prepared staff for the switch to AFAS. And yes, that might have made all the teething problems less frustrating. But no, they could not have been prevented. But more importantly, the problems are being solved ever more quickly and efficiently. That is, in a nutshell, how Hans Biemans, the board of directors’ portfolio manager, views the AFAS implementation.
‘We could have done more in the preparation stage of this big change. Not everyone likes change; they’d prefer everything stay the same. We failed in our preparation, there was too much resistance’, he says. ‘We hadn’t properly embraced the change as a university. The feeling that we were all in this together was missing.’
Nevertheless, he is happy with how everything is going now, ten months after the system was implemented. ‘The worst of the complaints are behind us. The flow numbers tell me it’s improving. The number of user reports is decreasing and the response time to tickets is getting increasingly shorter.’ An interim report on the implementation that the university council’s funding committee discussed last week shows that the response time has gone down from forty-two to twelve days.
Biemans is happy with the progress, but the committee members are critical. Isn’t twelve days still a really long time? What about the users who are so frustrated that they’ve simply stopped reporting issues? During the meeting, Erwin Boelens, programme manager for the AFAS implementation, said that the response time of forty-two days was a thorn in his team’s side. He also said the current response time of twelve days is still a lot, but that they were working hard to get it down.
What about the user problems? Biemans says the biggest issues have largely been resolved. ‘For these bigger issues, we talked to the people who were actually having the problems, rather than just the people in charge. Right now, we’re switching from focusing on individual problems to looking at structural flow problems. We can sort of elevate the problems to get a better idea of what the issue really is.’
Because, he says, we shouldn’t underestimate the fact that a system change like this also affects people on an individual level. It takes time for them to learn where all the new buttons are, or all the steps to perform certain tasks. ‘That doesn’t necessarily mean the system isn’t working. It’s important to focus on the design of the system as part of the design of the university.’
Biemans says the AFAS design is ‘basically okay’, but that the university design is more complicated because faculties are autonomous. ‘But now we have the ability to figure out where things are going wrong and how we can resolve it and make everything run smoothly.’
Nevertheless, the current process makes you wonder: couldn’t they have done this earlier? Perhaps through comprehensive testing before the system implementation. ‘We did do testing’, says Biemans. ‘But what you need to consider when testing is the three-way interaction between the AFAS design, the design of our own processes, and people. A beta test enables you to test whether everything works as it should, but you can’t ever really test how people are going to respond.’
What about the design? Couldn’t they have checked whether the system matched up with the various faculties’ processes? ‘We started by taking stock of everything for six months, in order to agree on the processes we needed and to discuss how the new system would match up’, he explains. ‘We did invite end users for this process, but there was a disconnect between them and the programme team. We thought we all understood each other, but we agreed on the outlines rather than the details.’
Fro the next step, which will take place at the end of this year, is that the university will conclude the implementation phase. The programme will be turned over to the UG’s own management organisation. Right now, the AFAS takeover is scheduled for December. While the problems that users are currently still facing won’t be resolved by then, the university will be able to take care of them itself.
Biemans is positive about the future of the changeover. ‘Right now, people are working together in a constructive manner. I’ve seen it happen at FSE. This process is no longer solely the domain of the programme team. The current problems are everyone’s problems. Once people realise that, the resolution will arise.’