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CAPSA and its implementation: Notice

11 December 2000

At its meeting held on 29 November 2000 the Finance Committee received from Mr F. J. Kenworthy, who is currently managing CAPSA in the University Offices, a paper which is attached to this Notice as an Annex.

The Committee agreed to implement the recommendations with immediate effect, subject to the approval of the Council which they gave at their meeting held on 11 December 2000. At the Committee's meeting it was agreed that the Accounting Policy Working Group referred to would be turned into a formal Financial System User Group, under the Chairmanship of a member of the new Management Committee. The Council are publishing this Notice and Annex by way of further information to the Regent House about the implementation and management of CAPSA.


Management Arrangements for the University of Cambridge Financial System (CAPSA)


1. The University's new financial system, which will be in place and available to authorized users throughout the University following the acceptance into service of the CAPSA Project, should be regarded as a 'mission critical' system providing up-to-date and timely financial information and associated management information for the University's financial managers and departmental heads.

2. The day-to-day direction of the University's financial management and cash flow regimes will depend upon the continuous and effective running of this system. This dependency demands that the information technology systems upon which it is founded provide a seamless and protected service on a continuous and totally reliable basis. Not only should the financial information which the system manipulates and provides be accurate and timely in its own right, but it should also meet the legal, accounting, and fiduciary care obligations of a premier international educational and research enterprise. This paper proposes the establishment of supervisory arrangements for the high-level oversight of the University Financial System (UFS) and for the day-to-day management and change control crucial to maintaining system stability and reliability over the long term.


3. The CAPSA system, based on ORACLE Financials package, is designed to provide financial management information to some 150 departments throughout the University, and to the University's central Finance Division. This paper will not rehearse the difficulties encountered in bringing the systems into service, but simply recall that ORACLE and other suppliers' management and financial information systems, based on relational database technology, are in service in many other large businesses and institutions world-wide. This reflects the contemporary need to manage corporate finances on a far more accurate, timely, and reactive manner than was acceptable in the past.

4. The arguments for introducing a modern financial and accounting package to the University were three-fold:

(i) the previous financial management arrangements provided information which was late and partial. This inhibited effective and timely decision-taking, and did not enable departmental managers to exercise proper control of their financial resources;
(ii) financial benefits could be obtained by better meeting legal and governmental requirements for VAT, thus generating a short-term return on investment in the new system of as much as £4m in a financial year;
(iii) to demonstrate to income-providers, whether government, corporate, private, or trust fund, a level of transparency consistent with the modern financial environment in higher education.

5. This last is particularly important, given that the University's income from such sources is now over £300m a year, and rising. Not only must the University maintain this level of external income and keep it growing in order to uphold the University's position as a premier research institution but, in order to reach this goal, the University must be able to demonstrate fiduciary care in deploying those resources to those providing them. In short, in spending other people's money the University needs to show that it has been well and wisely spent, and can be accounted for. The new UFS has been created to provide the information on which those assurances can be based.

The system

6. At the time of writing, the current state of the project's systems are reasonably stable. All principal software modules1 have been rolled out to the live environment and are available to users. Nevertheless, the project team continue to work urgently on refining the performance of the system and extending the range and quality of functionality. About 250-300 concurrent users are now being supported by the system against an expected concurrent population of some 1,000. Daytime availability is virtually 100 per cent, with planned 'outages' for special batch runs or system upgrades being reserved for out of office hours periods. Even so, the system supports on-line activity by users on a 24 hour by 7 day basis.

7. Of considerable importance is the work now in hand to define and agree with the University a selection of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), against which the performance of the system can be measured on a continuous basis. In most information technology environments KPIs form a set of numerical parameters covering system availability and performance aspects such as on-line response times, print deadlines, Help-Desk reaction parameters, and so on. This set of parameters will also form part of a set of Acceptance Criteria which will contain a package of agreed and delivered functionality. The Acceptance Criteria will in turn form the baseline against which future changes to accounting functionality, user requirements, and technical modifications and improvements will be measured. It is hoped that the outline agreement on the acceptance criteria can be agreed by the end of the year.

Migration from project to 'steady-state' on-line service provision

8. As the CAPSA project migrates systematically towards becoming a 'steady-state' financial services system, its managerial superstructure needs to be prepared for a regular oversight role. This role should be executed in such a way that the machinery of oversight reflects the importance of the system to the University, whilst ensuring that day-to-day management is carried out smoothly and systematically without undue involvement of higher authorities. What is proposed in this paper, therefore, is as follows:

(i) a revision of the CAPSA Project supervisory committee structure (with immediate effect);
(ii) the setting up of a formal Financial System Control Office;
(iii) appropriate dedicated staff resourcing of the Management Information Services and Finance Divisions to service the Control Office and Change Control mechanisms, and the supervisory arrangements;

Liaison with University users

9. An especially important aspect of these arrangements is the maintenance of good liaison and information interchange with the user community. This community comprises two principal components: University departmental heads, administrators, and research supervisors (about 150 departments); and the central Finance Divisions. In fact, the Finance Division has a dual role: as financial policy and procedural authority within the University; and as a user of the financial system itself. The Finance Division regards provision of support to University departments as a prime responsibility, and the introduction of the new system must not impede continuance of established working relationships. Close working with the system managers and the user community at all levels is intended to foster better co-operation, and help put essential change control on a systematic and dependable basis. Strictly methodical and dependable operational and change control procedures are essential to the smooth running of any 'mission critical' information technology based support system. The representative function of the new committee will aid these processes.

The proposed new structure

10. It is proposed that oversight and supervision of the University Financial System (UFS) should be vested in a Committee chaired by a senior departmental head, acting as independent Chair and as a representative of the University in general. The new committee should envelope and regularize the functions of the present CAPSA Steering Committee and the Accounting Policy and Research Working Groups, to which the new committee will be the successor. Membership of the Committee should comprise relevant divisional heads and user representatives. The Committee should act not only as supervisor of the system's performance in the first instance, but also change approval authority for the UFS. No change to the functioning of the UFS should be made without the express approval of the Committee, whether procedural, user required, or technical, or by procedures approved by the Committee. The Committee will monitor the performance of the system against agreed service parameters (a 'High Level' Service Level Agreement - SLA). Normally, this should be a routine operation, but must incorporate exception notification procedures in case of unusual variations in service. The Committee should report to the University Finance Committee, preparing quarterly reviews of system performance and delivery, normally on an 'information only' basis.

Support and secretariat

11. The UFS Management Committee should be supported and advised by a permanent and dedicated UFS Support Office, under the control of a newly instituted post of Financial Systems Manager, recruited on a personal contract basis. Although the postholder would work organizationally within the current Management Information Services Division at a (recommended) Deputy Director level, it should be quite clear that the post is essentially at the service of the Committee. The Financial Systems Manager will oversee all aspects of the service on their behalf, present system performance reports directly to them, manage the change control process, and provide the secretariat, in conjunction with the Finance Division. The post-holder would also support the Director of the Management Information Services Division in managing external support contracts in order that all aspects of service provision for the UFS are organized on a co-ordinated basis. This post is a completely new one, and should be filled as a matter of urgency to aid in the transition of CAPSA to a managed service. The early appointment of an experienced systems service manager would also assist in meeting the pressing need to reduce the University's continuing dependence on external consultancy support within the CAPSA project.

12. Under the leadership of the Financial Systems Manager, the Support Office would provide and manage all aspects of the operation and support of the financial system:

Operations management;

Technical systems management;

External Suppliers management;

System Baseline Maintenance and Documentation;

Performance monitoring, logging, and reporting to SLA criteria;

Contingency planning, including Disaster Recovery Plan and Procedures;

Change Request logging and evaluation;

Change implementation procedures and controls;

End-user relations and communication;

Advice Centre.

13. It is essential that the Support Office unit is dedicated to the University's new financial system and is not divided in task orientation. However, the new finance system requires a support operation which combines financial and technical expertise. It is therefore highly recommended that the unit should be set up on an organizationally integrated basis, staffed by members of the University's Information Services and Finance Divisions and by appropriate contract IT staff to ensure availability of specialist technical capability. This staff mix is important for the continuous reliable operation of the system for the following reasons:

(i) Although many of the questions which come to the help-desk/ Advice Centre will fall easily into a finance or systems category, some may not do so, and specialist expertise should be available as second-line support and to resolve borderline cases.
(ii) Maintenance of the 'baseline system' will need to be carried out with due regard to core functionality (financial aspects), technical aspects, and the interaction between the two; e.g. modifications dictated by changes in financial legislation should be carried out in concert with technical specialists.
(iii) It is imperative that the Support Office has sole responsibility for change control issues. The change control mechanism (receiving, identifying, evaluating, and prioritizing change requests and requirements) will need management and handling on a multi-disciplinary basis. Furthermore, the supervisory committee will need to receive clear and co-ordinated advice, based on joint evaluation, so that they may be properly guided on what choices are available.
(iv) A multi-disciplinary approach will also be required for the evaluation of the impact of authorized changes on the operation and use of the system, and the communication of these factors to end-users.


14. It is proposed that the new Committee be set up immediately (and the new Financial Systems Manager recruited as soon as practicable) as part of the migration process. The transition to and final acceptance of the project into 'service provision mode' should be supervised by the new Committee and the Financial Systems Manager as part of their early duties, together with agreement on the terms of high-level service parameters.

15. Similarly, line managers in the Finance and Management Information Services Divisions should proceed with setting up the new support arrangement and informing the Financial Systems Management Committee. Resources also need to be allocated to staffing/accommodating the new arrangements. It should be stressed that financial or technical staff assigned or recruited to the Support Office should be full-time staff members and not tasked with other, part-time duties. In establishing staffing levels, every effort should be made to have more than one person to cover each major area of responsibility, by overlap, shadowing, or duplication as appropriate. This is in order to avoid undue dependence on a single key person. Detailed new requirements applications will be made in due course.


16. The new financial system for the University will need to be managed on a 'steady-state' basis and the previous and partly ad hoc arrangements must be regularized. A system of formal and regular communication with users, continuous monitoring and the careful change control of this 'mission critical' system must be rigorously implemented. It is important that the support system is not only properly resourced and staffed but is dedicated solely to that purpose. It is believed that the arrangements advised in this paper will support these objectives and should be implemented as part of the migration process from project to system and reducing dependency on external support. The proposals should be implemented and resourced accordingly.

Proposed Terms of Reference for the University of Cambridge Financial Systems Management Committee

The Committee will be responsible for:

(1) The Final Acceptance into service of the University's on-line Financial System (CAPSA).
(2) Establishment of acceptable high-level service parameters and their subsequent supervision.
(3) Monitoring of the systems performance against agreed parameters.
(4) Responsibility for supervision financial system change control procedures and acting as the Financial System Change Control Authority on behalf of the University. Change control will imply approval of all changes applied to the system: financial procedures, user change requests; user interface and technical changes and upgrades, and associated resource implications.
(5) Provision of advice and monitoring of resource levels appropriate to maintaining the integrity Financial System consonant with the levels of service required.


Chair: A Senior Head of Department (on a rotational basis),
A member of the Finance Committee,
The University Treasurer,
The Finance Director,
The Director of the Management Information Services Division,
The Director of the Research Services Division,
The Director of the University Computing Service,
Appropriate representatives of users in the Departments of the University, including present members of the CAPSA Steering Committee

In attendance and reporting:

Deputy Director (Financial Systems) of the Management Information Services Division.


Provided jointly by the Finance and Management Information Services Divisions


To the University Finance Committee

1 Requisitioning, Purchase Orders, Purchase Invoices, Sales Invoicing, Inventory, General Ledger, Research Grants.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 13 December 2000
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.