Lessons learned from the University of Waterloo’s Unit4 ERP implementation in the cloud
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University of Waterloo

Lessons learned from the University of Waterloo’s Unit4 ERP implementation in the cloud

Implementing new systems is never an easy process – especially for projects as fundamental as a fresh ERP upgrade. And in Higher Education, downtime doesn’t just mean lost working hours. It can have a huge knock-on effect on everything from operational efficiency and transparency to student experience and success.

Running a smooth project requires not just picking the right technology for the job, but the right process for bringing it online and acclimating everyone to the new normal.

At this year’s X4U our customers from the University of Waterloo were kind enough to walk us through their experience implementing Unit4 ERP in the cloud, and what they learned as the institution adopted their new cloud system.

A great leap forward

The University of Waterloo decided to make the jump from their legacy on-premise ERP system to a cloud-based Unit4 solution because support for their existing Oracle ERP system was ending. This created a project timeline with a strict deadline, and a unique opportunity to reassess the institution’s needs and choose a new technology that would account for the organizational changes that had occurred in the 30 years since the last ERP had been brought in – and adapt flexibly to inevitable future changes.

Aside from the usual reasons for a cloud deployment – including more easily controlled and visible cost models – they also wanted to use the move to radically update business processes for users. Giving everyone who needed it the ability to generate reports as and when they needed directly through the system. This meant expanding from a team of 70 core users of the ERP system in Finance, Procurement, and Research teams to a vastly extended userbase of around 2,500 people from across the administration. Bringing them into optimized workflows and painting a more complete picture of an integrated institution for great planning ability and transparency. And from a system with basic general ledger, accounts, and fixed assets functionality to a comprehensive platform with self-service capabilities for all end users and a high level of process automation – something they never had before.

Perception versus reality

Teething problems were naturally expected in such a large upgrade, and having fallen behind in upgrading their legacy ERP, moving to the cloud wasn’t exactly everything they expected. They anticipated that automatic upgrades to the SaaS solution would eliminate much of the stress of upgrading and keep them automatically up to date, but were surprised to be occasionally faced with having to delay upgrades at times that weren’t convenient – like their fiscal year-end.

Because of reduced need for the in-house IT team to focus on hardware and database maintenance, the university also made the unexpected move of building a team with advanced reporting expertise to handle and analyze the larger volume of available data for improved data-driven insights.

Lessons learned from implementation into operation

In a phrase: there’s no such thing as too much planning.

Ensuring you have a sufficient resource backfill to support a complete system change is key – as is a mature approach to change management, configuration documentation, and a clear view of the current state before you begin transitioning to the new system. Don’t forget about integrations – have a plan for them, and figure out how and when data will be loaded or moved between systems.

It’s also vital to ensure your staff are appropriately engaged with the changes – especially if you’re in a situation where a lot of new users will suddenly be expected to rely on self-service tools in the new system.

Many of these considerations will vary depending on the scope of the project. Take the time to prepare and to make sure you cover as many bases as possible.

Moving to operational continuity

Operational continuity and support is a little different for cloud solutions than for traditional on-prem builds. In the main, many issues that used to need to be fixed in-house must now be approached in partnership with the vendor.

As with any aspect of the cloud, your view should be towards continuous improvement and horizon-scanning. To ensure alignment, the University of Waterloo built a finance team with a functional/technical hybrid model, ensuring priorities are regularly re-aligned via bi-annual review of tickets to help resolve reoccurring issues and potential bugs, and hold weekly or even daily meetings to help develop roadmaps for future enhancements, upgrades, and integrations to further champion the People Experience.