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Ghent University: Management of third-party funding with digital records in SAP

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Universities need third-party funding for teaching and research. Ghent University has long argued that digital document management for this was extremely complex. Simple operations, such as drag-and-drop into SAP ERP and integration with Outlook, were impossible. However, the University has sought and found a way with the top xRM ECM product suite. Since then, standardised workflows are accelerating the business processes and are making them less error-prone.

The influential Shanghai Ranking (ARWU) creates a ranking list of the 500 best universities worldwide every year. Ghent University (UGent) is at number 62 on the list. Nobel Prize winners and numerous winners of other scientific prizes emanate from the almost 200-year-old institution. With around 41,000 students in 117 fields of study, it is an important centre for science and research in Belgium. Third-party funding plays a major role in this success. In the fields of medicine, bio-engineering science and pharmacy alone, funds in the three-figure millions are attracted every year. The funds are directed towards basic research or specialised industrial products – sometimes with world-beating results: some of the pitches for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil were developed at Ghent University. The productive effort required for acquiring and managing the funds and monitoring their use is enormous. Digital documentation of the processes involved is extremely important.

Project overview

The objective

  • Central management of digital documents and records for the management of third-party funding and for procurement
  • Seamless exchange of documents between Windows, Office applications and SAP Folders Management
  • Search for documents globally and across files
  • Establish efficient approval workflows

The solution

  • top xRM ECM product suite
  • Based on SAP Folders Management
  • Seamless integration in SAP ERP

The benefits

  • Significantly reduced effort in document handling; acceleration of processes
  • Access to documents and information by comprehensive, filter-assisted search
  • Guided working along established workflows
  • Extremely high acceptance by staff thanks to new functions and user-friendly interface

The influential Shanghai Ranking (ARWU) creates a ranking list of the 500 best universities worldwide every year. Ghent University (UGent) is at number 62 on the list. Nobel Prize winners and numerous winners of other scientific prizes emanate from the almost 200-year-old institution. With around 41,000 students in 117 fields of study, it is an important centre for science and research in Belgium. Third-party funding plays a major role in this success. In the fields of medicine, bio-engineering science and pharmacy alone, funds in the three-figure millions are attracted every year. The funds are directed towards basic research or specialised industrial products – sometimes with world-beating results: some of the pitches for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil were developed at Ghent University. The productive effort required for acquiring and managing the funds and monitoring their use is enormous. Digital documentation of the processes involved is extremely important.

Strict requirements for document management

Normally, a research or teaching department initially defines the financial requirement for a project. Applications relating to the amount and use are written, and negotiations are carried out with potential sponsors in commerce, foundations or national institutions. All documents required for this purpose must be recorded and documented in the SAP system. When the funds applied for are finally allotted, the same procedure also applies to the concluded contracts, cash flow and finally the documents relating to the use of funds.

The 600 staff in the purchasing department responsible for this must also follow strict guidelines. All activities, that is to say enquiries on suppliers, quotations, awards of contract, invoices and cash flow, must be scanned and digitally documented. For expenditure in excess of 8,500 euros, this is supplemented by the documentation of invitations to tender, authorisations and approvals. “Efficient document handling is a prerequisite for all processes to run smoothly and on time. Unfortunately, this could not be achieved with our IT configuration,” recalls Geert Van de Gucht. He is manager of the finance department of Ghent University and, at the same time, is responsible for the management of third-party funds and procurement university-wide. He was previously a consultant for SAP and therefore knows the German software manufacturer’s strengths and weaknesses.

Inadequate integration and file-searching

In the past, the standard SAP Folder Management files were used. However, the staff found the solution to be inflexible, time-consuming and complicated. For example, although supporting documents produced in SAP could be organised without any problems, it was difficult to incorporate correspondence with external partners as there was no direct connection with Outlook. Emails and their attachments were therefore copied and entered manually in the standard records for the particular activity. It was also impossible to simply drag-and-drop files between Windows Explorer and SAP ERP. All documents first had to be imported via Folder Management and provided with meta data in forms.

The highlights for Ghent University

  • The clear interface and intuitive functions ensure convenient handling.
  • Documents can be moved between Windows and SAP ERP without import and export routines.
  • top xRM is integrated directly in SAP ERP.
  • No interfaces required.
  • Return on investment was achieved after three months thanks to the efficient workflow.

As well as inadequate integration, searching for documents was a major irritation. The records in Ghent University’s funds management system contain 60 or more folders with various files. If, for example, a draft contract was sought, the appropriate record could be quickly located using the software, but to get to the required document, the folders had to be opened and examined individually. A system-wide search was not possible. The consequence of this was that each member of staff developed his own way of working with homespun workarounds for the greatest hurdles in the SAP system. There was an absence of established workflows for documentation over the years.

The task: To implement central functions without interfaces

Inconsistent document management and the absence of Office integration and a system-wide search facility were leading to unnecessarily long processes. In addition, acceptance by the staff was poor. Van de Gucht therefore searched long and hard for a suitable solution. At first in vain. This was because of a technical peculiarity at Ghent University. The servers used are divided into two worlds. The first half hosts the SAP system while all other applications – such as Office programs – run on the other half. In particular, this division of tasks ensured that communication between Outlook and SAP, for example, did not appear to be possible. “Eventually I saw in a YouTube video how someone moved files between Windows and SAP using drag-and-drop. It actually worked,” says Van de Gucht, describing the decisive moment. If this hurdle could be overcome, it should also be possible to find ways of solving the other problems.

Uni Ghent: Management of third-party funding in SAP

Uni Ghent: Management of third-party funding with digital records in SAP

From this point, Van de Gucht researched specifically for ECM suppliers who knew all about complex SAP integration and solutions for the decisive deficiencies of Folder Management. Three candidates – including top flow – were shortlisted. Van de Gucht: “In a live demo of their top xRM add-on, top flow demonstrated how, in comparable cases, Windows integration and system-wide document search could be realised under an intuitive and functional interface”. The results were immediately impressive. top flow was also able to guarantee Ghent University’s other requirements – the seamless integration and implementation of the solution without significantly loading the internal IT resources. For this reason, the order went to top flow.

The project was launched in July 2015 with a workshop. top flow staff were on site in Gent for two days for preparation and to reach agreement with the university’s IT department using an iterative process. “Everything else was carried out remotely. But I was kept informed of every action and was able to carry out live progress tests throughout. The whole implementation of top xRM was carried out incredibly quickly and unobtrusively – which cannot be taken for granted,” says Van de Gucht who was in charge of the whole venture. Apart from him, only one other member of Ghent University’s staff was involved in the project. In order to install top xRM for third-party-fund management, the IT department loaded the add-on into the existing SAP system. Rights and roles were assigned in close agreement with the data-protection representative. “Even the migration of the old records and documents into the new structure was completed after just four weeks. Our staff were able to work normally throughout this time and the entire intervention was almost unnoticeable”.

We should have known about the top xRM ECM solution much earlier. Then we would have saved years when our business processes were unnecessarily long and laborious. SAP should make their customers happier and refer them to the add-on.

Geert Van de Gucht, Manager of the Finance Department at Ghent University

Staff accept add-on straight away

Only two months after the commencement of the project, top xRM had been implemented and the database fully migrated. Before going live, Geert Van de Gucht presented the new solution to key members of staff. “Many of my colleagues were highly sceptical due to the previous experience with SAP. But the long dreamt-of functions – such as the filter-assisted file search – and the simple handling with intuitive front-end made an immediate impression,” says the Finance Manager. “We were also able to retain our familiar file structure. Familiarisation with top xRM occurred correspondingly quickly and easily”.

Another positive effect came to light in the first few weeks. “For the first time, we were in a position to develop common processes. Thanks to the logical structure of top xRM, we were able to incorporate the organisation of documents into an agreed workflow, and transfer document-related tasks, for example, to the next colleague with the help of checkboxes,” says Van de Gucht. Processes were significantly accelerated as a consequence and the error rate reduced. Van de Gucht: “We have made enormous cost savings due to the more efficient workflow, the seamless connection between the Office and SAP world, and the system-wide file search. Our investment has therefore been amortised after just three months”. Word of the positive experience with top xRM has long since infiltrated other departments of the university. For example, top xRM is to be used for building administration in 2017, and the Human Resources Department has already submitted an enquiry.

The company

  • Ghent University
  • Location: Ghent, Belgium
  • Offer: 11 faculties with 117 fields of study
  • Turnover: 639 million euros
  • Personnell: 9,000 staff and 41,000 students
  • Internet: ugent.be/en

Success Story top xRM – Uni Ghent (PDF)


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