The board of directors underestimated how much time and effort the implementation of software system AFAS was going to take, says board vice-president Hans Biemans. However, the university can learn from the mistakes that were made and avoid them when implementing Brightspace.
In an evaluation that was published last week, consultancy agency Wielinq concluded that the UG should have started planning the implementation years ago. Wielinq also says the university should have included AFAS in the programme beforehand to allow a step-by-step collaboration.
Biemans, portfolio manager, admits that this wasn’t done right. ‘We allotted six months so our experts in HR, finances, and administration could come up with a way the AFAS products could best sync up with our needs. In hindsight, that wasn’t enough time.’
He also subscribes to Wielinq’s conclusion that AFAS wasn’t properly informed of the large differences within both the university and the various faculties.
‘We tried to adapt AFAS to fit our primary processes, but that was difficult’, says Biemans. ‘Apart from the lack of time, we failed to bridge that gap between the new system and people’s processes in a smart and creative way.’
It’s not that the UG didn’t see the switch to a new system coming. ‘We realised as far back as 2011 that all the separate software systems we were using were becoming increasingly customised and vulnerable.’
But once AFAS became a reality, the university didn’t manage to get its employees on board. ‘It’s very difficult to change the way people work in an organisation that has such a specific culture and traditions. We didn’t manage to garner the support we needed, and we lost time because of it.’
But the board decided not to postpone the launch of the new system. ‘When I was told that the tests couldn’t be executed in accordance with our planning and that the protocols had been changed, I talked to everyone in charge of the subsectors. They all told me we were okay to continue and that any and all problems would be solved. As such, I had faith in the decision to keep going’, says Biemans.
Because it involved such a large IT project, the UG should have also relied much more on the knowledge of its own CIT department, said Wielinq. But it’s not that simple, says Biemans. ‘CIT had its hands full with all the old systems we were still using. Besides, it was more an organisational change than a technical one.’
Not only did an entire software system need overhauling, but they also needed to change the minds of people who were used to working a certain way, says Biemans. ‘Organisational changes take time and effort and usually aren’t painless. Unfortunately, we had to go to quite a lot of trouble in order to make it.’
He thinks it’s a ‘shame’ that the project was so difficult for UG employees. ‘But it’s really difficult to anticipate all potential issues, because users can’t report problems until they run into them.’
By now, the university is on the right track, he says. ‘I greatly admire the work everyone’s done, and I’m happy with AFAS. We’ll continue to keep an eye out for improvements. It’s a continuous process and the system will continue to develop.’
In the end, says Biemans, AFAS is a better system for the entire organisation. ‘Our external accountant complimented us on our annual statement, because we were done two months earlier than we usually are and it hardly needed any corrections.’
What has he learned from the evaluation? ‘We need to take more time to prepare for projects such as these and improve our communication to the end users and involve them more in the upcoming changes. That’s something we learned and we’re utilising in the implementation of our new electronic learning environment Brightspace.’