By Sherief Younis
The UAE University wanted to streamline its administrative systems to improve service delivery. It chose Sungard - a vendor familiar to academic institutions. Sherief Younis finds out if it shed some light on the situation.
Universities and technological institutions in the region have recognised that IT has a pivotal role to play in education and the UAE University in Al Ain is no different. Data organisation and accurate replication was both laborious and increasingly problematic.
It needed a system to streamline its unregulated HR data and allow details to be electronically viewed and retrieved. Under its old Sungard student information version 6.0, data on the same accounts had to be entered separately into different systems. Such duplication was not only time consuming, but increased the potential for human error.
"We had several databases that contained similar data. For example, when I got hired, my details would be added to the HR database, payroll database and the finance database. Having three databases was a problem because information could be misspelled or entered incorrectly. The data would be all wrong. The benefit of having one suite of software means the data only has to be entered once; so when I'm hired as an employee, all my particulars are entered once and they don't have to be replicated," explains Abdul Nasser, chief financial planning officer at the UAE University.
As part of its integrated business information system, the university replaced administrative systems with enterprise-wide software, consisting of Sungard's Banner software, student information systems, human resources and finance, and Luminis portal. As it was already a Sungard user, it upgraded its HR and finance systems to the latest SunGard offering and went live early last year.
"Before we implemented the Banner HR, we had to upgrade Sungard's student information system from the older 6.0 version of the system. We had made a lot of modifications to the version so the software didn't really look like a Sungard product. In April 2006 we went live with version 7.0 of their student information system," says Nasser.
Although the univeristy upgraded its Sungard solution, it went through a comprehensive selection process to determine which system could best meet its demand - turning down Oracle and Peoplesoft in favour of Sungard's expertise in education.
"When we were considering the ERP software there was a big process where different vendors put forth a proposal and brought their products to the table, but Sungard was mainly chosen for their presence in the region," he says.
As a result of consolidating all the university's information into a single location, the enhanced transparency enabled university staff to track purchases and make more efficient transactions than before.
"The current system offers an electronic trail whereas the previous system meant we had to rely on paper. It might have taken about ten pieces of paper to do a purchase - now we can do it in one."
The web-based solution also provided users with previously unavailable access to specific account details and removed the timely process of physically contacting the university office to resolve any problems.
"The other aspect was information, because in the past we required specialist software to be installed on our machines and it was not user- friendly. What we have now is a web-based information base where everybody can go in and check budget balances, their account details; they couldn't do that before. The other thing we could not do at all with the old system was review our pay cheques so you couldn't see any of your deductions or details," he adds.
" Before if there was a problem with the pay cheque you would have to ring someone at HR and make an enquiry. Similarly, you'd also have to call the HR office to find out how many days leave you were entitled to. Today you can go online and all the information is in front of you 24 hours a day."
The university chose to work on both projects - Banner HR and Finance and the student information 7.0 - at the same time to have the project live in the New Year.
"The implementation took nine months in total with two simultaneous projects. We kicked off in November but didn't do much work with it until January. For both products it was between nine and 12 months because we did it simultaneously. The deadline for us to go-live was 1 January 2007 and we processed everything through the new software."
Despite meeting the implementation target, Nasser frankly explains there were some teething problems.
"We initially thought we were just going to do direct deposits for everybody, but we needed to issue cheques to some people for various reasons. We tried to mitigate for that, discussed it with the bank and resolved the issue.
"I wouldn't say there were any problems, but there were definitely issues we had to contend with. The bank called us to ask why we were using post-dated cheques because they had a number of cheques dated for the 1 June 2007. We had to explain to them that it was supposed to be a 6 January cheque but the system had been formatted in an American format which of course puts the month first and then the day. It wasn't a major issue and we got it straightened out."
Nasser is keen to impress that the immediate success of the project is only a small part of a much grander plan. With the foundations in place, the university has aspirations to further improve its infrastructure.
"We still have lots of work to do in terms of policies, procedures, guidelines and getting everything into place, but we also have other pieces to implement. The next step is the fixed asset module. Because the software comes with a number of modules, we can implement each one as we go. As we progress we have other ideas like implementing document imaging for example," he says.For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.