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CAPSA and its implementation: Notice

29 January 2001

In their Notice of 22 November 2000 (p. 202) in response to the points raised at the Discussion on 10 October 2000 of the University's new on-line accounting system (CAPSA) and its implementation, the Council stated that, once a stable operational system had been achieved and necessary enhancements, whether in functionality or in performance, had been identified and implemented, a review would be undertaken, both of what further changes to the system would be either necessary or desirable and of the implementation to that point. To be fully effective the review would need to involve persons expert in major software implementations and in higher education management. Whilst it would be important for any review to take account of the particular circumstances of the University, it should also be informed by external expertise and experience. The Council at that time asked the Audit Committee to advise them how best to undertake the review.

The Audit Committee have now proposed to the Council a review strategy and terms of reference for the review. The Council approved these arrangements at their meeting on 29 January and they are published below for the information of the Regent House.

The Board of Scrutiny also plan to investigate the CAPSA project and to report its findings and their implications to the Regent House. They have accepted the Audit Committee's recommendations for the conduct of the review.

The Council have authorized the Chairman of the Audit Committee to recommend an individual with the expertise and standing to oversee this review. The persons whose names were suggested at the open meeting on CAPSA held on 19 October are among those being considered by the Committee.

It is hoped that the review report will be submitted to the Audit Committee and the Board of Scrutiny early in the Easter Term so that they may in turn present their recommendations and observations to the Council for consideration before the end of that term. This should ensure that the minimum of delay occurs in establishing the way forward for managing future University administrative software projects.

University of Cambridge Audit Committee: Review of University's new on-line accounting system project (CAPSA)


1.1 The introduction of CAPSA on 1 August 2000 presented serious administrative difficulties for the University. The situation is being improved but significant shortcomings remain. The Council have asked for a review of its implementation. The Audit Committee have been invited to advise on the conduct of the review in order to identify improvements which can be made in the University's capability to procure and implement large-scale administrative software systems in the future.
1.2 The Council have asked the CAPSA Steering Committee in parallel to advise on the detailed questions associated with functional specification, performance, and the management of the implementation process.
1.3 The Board of Scrutiny have also planned to investigate the CAPSA project and to report their findings and their implications to the Regent House. The Board have formed their own sub-group to move this forward. The Board's remit implies that they are especially concerned with policy audit and with issues of governance and decision-making within the University.

Review strategy

2.1 The recommended review strategy comprises:
  i. Fact gathering and inquiry to establish a narrative of processes and decision-making affecting the project from its conception to its implementation (Part A);
  ii. Assessment of the narrative (Part B) to identify:
  (a) For the Audit Committee: weaknesses in and affecting the decision-making process and to evaluate the implications for the conduct of future projects;
  (b) For the Board of Scrutiny: issues relating to policy formulation and governance within the University.
2.2 The work of the CAPSA Steering Committee should be to identify potential changes to CAPSA for future consideration by the University.
2.3 Liaison and an exchange of information will be needed between the review and the CAPSA Steering Committee.

Terms of reference

3. Objectives of the review:
3.1 Part A will seek to establish:
  (a) how the project was formed, each phase defined, approved, conducted, and reported; the processes by which decisions were informed and taken, and whether appropriate expertise and resources were applied at each stage;
  (b) how the requirement was determined, assessed, and evaluated and how specifications and solutions, their implications and risks, were assessed, evaluated, and decisions made about changes in the requirement and specification;
  (c) whether the contracts were adequate and fulfilled;
  (d) what formal and informal project methods were adopted; whether they were appropriate and followed and if they were not, why not;
  (e) how and why judgements were influenced and made.
3.2 Part B will evaluate the findings of Part A in the broader context of the development of management and administrative systems in higher education institutions, and the particular needs of the University of Cambridge to modernize its management systems, and the relationship between such developments and issues of policy and governance in the University. It will seek to:
  (a) make observations on the origins and causes of CAPSA's difficulties;
  (b) identify lessons learnt and make strategic recommendations for the overall conception, management, control, and conduct of future large-scale software-based administrative projects within the University;
  (c) assess the effectiveness of policy-making and the influence of the University's governance arrangements on the CAPSA project;
  (d) make any other wider recommendation if appropriate.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 31 January 2001
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