Oracle ERP Cloud implementation - lessons learnt from the University of Birmingham

Updated: Sep 30



At the Oracle User Group in Liverpool this week we heard Alison Jinks from the University of Birmingham share their story of moving from systems conceived in 1983 to Oracle Cloud. Here are her lessons learnt, written in first person as she presented them, and golden nuggets of advice for anyone changing their HR, Finance or Payroll technology.


Our aims and approach

  • We started by saying the project would not be an IT, Finance or HR project but a change project

  • We contacted the big players in the ERP market and carried out site visits to learn from other customers outside of the Higher Education sector

  • The aim was to take as much out of the box as possible, with minimal configuration with simplification being the key to success

  • A well-resourced and dedicated team were onboarded and their day jobs back-filled so they could focus full time on the project

  • We also wanted to simplify our complicated systems architecture which looked like we would need 150 integrations to legacy systems. This was subsequently rationalised to 79 which is still a huge number of vendors and plans to manage

Things weren’t quite as we expected

  • The procurement process plan was 6 months, but it ended up being 18 months because the vendors were talking to other prospects and weren’t available

  • The industry was also transitioning to cloud which we hadn’t appreciated and so the consultants helping on the project were gaining experience as we were

  • Oracle was on version 9 when it was procured but by the time, we built the solution, we were building on version 10, testing in version 11, and will be on 13 when we go live in February next year. This meant the goalposts were constantly moving. Oracle are proud that version 13 was the biggest new release for HCM with as many as 10 major changes to the product. This will bring new benefits, but the system had been bought and designed with discrepancies in mind such as case management (HR helpdesk is now available) so we had to change the design and scope

  • Ingrained behaviours did slip in and we did end up trying to shape Oracle to fit our ways of working

  • We didn’t want to be bleeding edge, but we were the first HCM cloud implementation in Higher Education so there weren’t similar organisations to learn from. We joined various user groups and contacted American universities of which there are about 6 who were much further ahead than us

  • We realised 10 months into the programme that we really underestimated the complexity of the project. So, we re-baselined which effectively meant pushing go live back 12 months. We decided to go live in 3 phases; HCM, Finance and Payroll, but also recognised that we’d be throwing away a lot of the work we’d done already. So, we made a second bold and brave decision to go live big bang with everything in February 2019. Its ok to change your mind a few times!

  • We took the best people out of their day job to focus on the project, but we soon discovered that talented amateurs are not enough. We didn’t realise we’d definitely need ERP experience from outside

  • We also learnt that this is only the start of the journey and we will have to continue putting time and investment in to get benefit back

  • Previously we were used to releases every 9 to 18 months whereas now there are quarterly updates which are hard to keep up with

The challenges of Cloud

  • It's always changing! This is great because we benefit from new developments but it’s like trying to jump on a moving train. Even if you only take mandatory fixes and not the optional features you still have to do regression testing

  • We looked at extensions to the project, but you also need a strategy for backing that out. For example, flexitime wasn’t available in the product when we started designing it. Now that its available we might as well take the standard so its easier to maintain

  • Aside from the volume of integrations, we had issues with the robustness of some of those integrations. We were reliant on the business to test them which was a significant activity

  • We knew the cultural change would be massive, but it was even bigger and more painful than we imagined. We had no self-service before so even basic data like knowing who manages who was a big piece of work we had to do alongside the implementation

  • We know we had to define a standard process but conversations telling people that they’d have to change were difficult and people were still shocked

  • You need to think and plan several steps ahead because cloud implementations are so fast. This is impossible without ERP implementation and change experience, so you really need to partner with client-side specialists

  • We didn’t have too many data issues as we didn’t have much data in the first place but migrating from non-systems was a real challenge. We had reporting lines for 8000 people held in spreadsheets

  • Work schedules, job families and job functions had to be collected which required a lot of time, resource and quick decisions to prevent further project delays

  • We also took the opportunity to redesign our chart of accounts which will be beneficial but again took more time and resource

  • Our implementation included 22 modules and 13 different environments. It’s complex and confusing keeping these aligned

  • We recognise that we now have multiple single points of failure in new and existing systems. There hasn’t been much we can do mitigate that but it’s an ongoing concern

Key lessons learnt and advice for others

  • You can’t do it without ERP client-side support. You need this client-side help so that when the vendor or systems integrator / configuration team present several options, they can advise you on what’s possible, sensible and best for your business. This doesn’t come from the software vendor

  • The pace of change required is phenomenal. You really need experts in change management who have guided teams through the transition to cloud

  • We hire a lot of academics who have enquiring minds and like to debate decisions. I’m sure this applies across other industries and this gives indigestion to the project because we haven’t had time to honour our culture and discuss things at length in groups

  • Therefore, your Sponsor is key. Ours was the Director of Finance. She helped us push decisions through the university machine as quickly as possible

Our biggest learning point is the need for ERP experience. It’s unusual to have that in-house so partner with consultants who have done this before. Stick to your mission of ‘Adopt not Adapt’ and you need Cloud ERP experts to hold you to account for that.


For more information on how Veran can strengthen your team with Cloud ERP expertise and flexible resources, contact becky@veranperformance.com

+44 (0)20 3858 7379

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