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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 10 October 2000. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following topic of concern and Reports:

The University's new on-line accounting system (CAPSA) and its implementation (p. 4)

The following statement was read out by the Registrary before the Discussion:

In their Notice dated 25 September 2000, the Council recognized the widespread concern in the University about CAPSA and its implementation. They noted the continuing significant difficulties both in performance and in functionality. The Council went on to record their concern over the impact on staff and concluded by expressing their gratitude to all those who had worked through the summer to try to complete the implementation successfully.

As the Principal Administrative Officer of the University and as Head of the University Offices, I want to say to the University that I share the Council's views. I regret very much that on this occasion the service provided through the Central Administration has not matched our expectations, or those of the University more generally. I recognize, for my part, the enormous efforts that have been made by many staff in all institutions across the University, including the University Offices, to try to make CAPSA work. I acknowledge that some have suffered distress and inconvenience, both personally and professionally, and I am sorry that this should have been the case. The Council have made plain their view that it is important that CAPSA is successful. To that end, the Planning and Resources Committee at their next meeting will be asked to allocate additional capital and recurrent resources particularly for academic Faculties and Departments to support CAPSA on an ongoing basis.

I can also say to the University this afternoon that the Vice-Chancellor will shortly be writing to Heads of institutions to confirm that, in recognition of the efforts that have been made towards the implementation of CAPSA, a one-off ex-gratia payment will be made to the individual members of staff involved.

It is important that as a University we learn the lessons from this project and the Audit Committee of the Council will shortly begin a review. I hope that when it is available, their Report will be published. Change of this sort and of this magnitude is inevitable in a modern university. That makes it all the more incumbent on the central bodies and their officers to ensure that it is handled sensitively and carried through effectively.

Finally, may I, for my part, record my gratitude to Professor Longair who has chaired the Project Steering Committee that has overseen much of the work that has been put in to CAPSA. I understand that he is present this afternoon and will set out briefly the history, present situation, and future planning of the project.

Professor M. S. LONGAIR:

Registrary, I have been asked by the Chairman of the Council to make some remarks about the implementation of the University's Commitment Accounting System, CAPSA, in my capacity as Chair of the Steering Committee.

As early as Michaelmas 1997, the decision was taken to develop a Commitment Accounting System for the University as a whole. The pressure for change came from at least three directions. First, the Audit Committee, based on the reports of the internal and external auditors, noted 'entrenched weaknesses in the management information systems'. Second, the existing Legacy accounting system, which had been developed in-house, failed to satisfy the internal needs and external requirements of statutory, audit, and other bodies, including HEFCE. Third, there was an urgent need to satisfy the VAT authorities of the integrity of the accounts. It was made clear that the University's position with respect to reclaiming VAT was unsustainable in the long term, unless its accounting system was modernized.

In spring 1998, an independent consultant carried out an assessment study and independent review, resulting in the recommendation in June 1998 that the University acquire a modern, integrated, industry-standard financial accounting package. The Finance Committee supported the proposal to introduce this much-enhanced project. This decision had far-reaching implications for the way in which the University and its institutions carry out their business in many technical ways, which I will not elaborate, except to note that the overall aim was to foster 'best practice' in all aspects of modern accountancy. The new accounting culture would necessarily be much more akin to business practice than to the University's existing procedures. The Audit Committee strongly urged that the new system be in place by 1 August 1999.

In November 1998, ORACLE UK Ltd was approved as the preferred supplier by the Finance Committee, and in February 1999, the Planning and Resources Committee approved the project plan with a budget of £4.7m.

On 1 January 1999, the Director of the Management Information Services Division was appointed as part of the drive to remove the 'entrenched weaknesses in the management information systems'. The CAPSA project itself formally started on 1 March 1999 with the independent consultant as Project Manager. The Steering Committee began its work in the same month. The project was immediately strongly impacted by the announcement of the Special Early Retirement Scheme. Most of the senior members of the Finance Division indicated their desire to take advantage of this opportunity, my understanding being that this partly resulted from a lack of enthusiasm for CAPSA. On 1 July 1999, the new Director of Finance took up her post. She was immediately faced with the urgent need to recruit qualified staff for the Finance Division, and to define a new Chart of Accounts, which would match modern accounting practice. The Management Information Services Division faced equally severe recruitment problems.

On 20 July 1999, the Steering Committee requested an independent review of the project by KPMG, following significant deviations from the proposed project plan and unforeseen overspend predictions. These occurred despite the fact that the internal auditors and the Project Manager had assured the Committee orally that the project was on schedule and within cost. The Project Manager resigned on 14 August 1999. The report by KPMG was received in September 1999 and confirmed that ORACLE was an appropriate choice for the University. In November 1999, KPMG were invited to take over the project management of CAPSA with a revised total budget of £7.6m.

Through the period spring to autumn 1999, the Accounting Policy Working Group was set up to determine an accounting infrastructure which would match the requirements of ORACLE Financials. Membership of this Group was drawn widely from the central bodies and the Departments. All major decisions on accounting policy were made by this Group. The new Chart of Accounts was agreed on 9 November 1999.

In the autumn and winter of 1999, KPMG carried out a major reassessment of the project and how the University's requirements could be mapped onto ORACLE Financials. The project was under strong pressure from the Audit Committee, the Departments, and the central bodies to proceed as fast as possible. A go-live date of 1 August 2000 was agreed, coinciding with the beginning of the new financial year. ORACLE agreed that the time-scale was feasible.

I will not list the numerous complex issues, which had to be addressed, except to note two points. First, under the old arrangements, the University consisted of over 150 'Departments', each with its own different culture and procedures. Within ORACLE Financials, all of them required sub-ledger security. Information had to be available both at Departmental level and centrally, and so standardized formats were required for all financial transactions. Second, the Research Grants module was relatively new and untested. It did not work with VAT and sub-ledger security, both of which are essential for the University.

The Steering Committee has now met 28 times. A considerable number of changes were required from ORACLE Financials to accommodate many crucial functions, including those I have just mentioned. In March 2000, 20 critical 'bugs' in the system were identified, 'critical bugs' in this case meaning that the system was not acceptable until they were fixed. Key meetings were held by the Director of Finance with the most senior management of ORACLE in March, April, and May 2000. On 8 June 2000, the system was frozen, but the go-live decision was delayed until the 'bugs' were eliminated. By 26 June 2000 there were still four major 'bugs' in the system. The system was finally accepted on 27 July 2000, by which time all the major 'bugs' were either resolved, or would not affect the immediate use of CAPSA.

After go-live on 1 August 2000, it soon became apparent that the performance was unacceptable in terms of speed by a very large factor. It is only fair to record that the very poor performance of the system came as an unwelcome surprise to both KPMG and ORACLE. By early September, the source of the speed problem was traced to two major problems. First, the system had been set up with 800 concurrent managers, while the recommended maximum for ORACLE Financials was less than 50. Secondly, software bugs were identified in the system supplied by ORACLE, which required expert solution.

Since the beginning of September, ORACLE have put in staff effort 24 hours per day, 7 days per week at their own expense to solve these problems. The system response is now much improved, orders can be made, and invoices paid. There is still an unacceptable delay in the approval process for payments. CAPSA is still time-consuming to use, but this will improve as the system speed increases, users become more familiar with it, and the system is further tuned.

There are still a number of major concerns, which I will not list, but the Steering Committee has been pressing very hard on all of them and a large amount of effort is being devoted to resolving them. At yesterday's meeting of the Steering Committee, significant progress was reported by ORACLE in speeding up all aspects of the system and the Committee was cautiously encouraged by what was reported. I'm using my words carefully: 'cautiously encouraged'. My own expectation is that the system will improve very significantly over the next few months both in terms of performance and functionality. Not all the problems, however, lie at ORACLE's and KPMG's door. The University has not had sufficient experienced effort to cope with the management of the CAPSA databases. For example, the lists of suppliers and payment addresses need constant expert attention centrally, as do the inventory databases. Perhaps the most difficult structural problem is the difficulty of hiring and retaining staff with professional skills in accountancy and database management. This is very severe, given the salaries on offer from the University. Various solutions are currently being actively explored.

It was a severe disappointment that ORACLE were not more appreciative of the massive size of the project and the enormous complexity of University operations. KPMG should have been more alert to the potential problems of massive loading on the system. The Steering Committee was well aware of the fact that the system had not been tested during User Acceptance Testing with anything like the normal loading. On the other hand, many of the problems could not have been identified until the system was running under fully loaded conditions. It will be little comfort to those who are valiantly battling with the system to make it work, but very large accounting packages are notoriously difficult to bring on line, 30% of them never succeeding - we are very far from that position. I consider that the University embarked upon a programme which was reasonable, granted the reputation of the companies involved and the urgency of implementing a modern accounting system.

I believe there is no possibility of turning back at this stage. We must see the present project through to its conclusion. We owe a great deal to the people who have worked very hard to implement the system, from the University and its Departments, the Finance and Management Information Services Divisions, KPMG, and ORACLE. Indeed, in my more optimistic moments, and I do have them, if one looks at where the University was when CAPSA started, I am gratified at the progress which has been made, given that this is the most complex ORACLE Financials implementation to date, certainly in the UK.

My own greatest concern is the stress and unhappiness caused to so many loyal and dedicated staff of the University. They have unquestionably suffered great distress through their inability to carry out their duties through no fault of their own. The advice to everyone has to be to persevere through this difficult period of transition. No one is imagining that this will be an easy financial year.

Finally, it is important to remember that CAPSA is just the beginning of a process by which the University will eventually have a modern unified accounting, payroll, and student record system, which will be entirely computer-based. The efforts being devoted now to coming to grips with the new CAPSA procedures for organizing the University's affairs will undoubtedly pay off in the long run.

Professor J. R. SPENCER:

Registrary, I was afraid that everything about CAPSA and its introduction had been a blunder, and now I am even more convinced.

Even if the ORACLE system that the University has bought had been a good one, the programme for its implementation would have justified calling this Discussion, because it contained every mistake that it was possible to make.

First, the training programme, forced upon us without consultation during the examination period, caused maximum disruption whilst still failing to give those who would have to use the new system the basic information that they need.

Secondly, there was no pilot scheme. The change was introduced across the University in one single go - so ensuring that if it failed to work, not one but every Faculty and Department would be affected.

Thirdly, there was no back-up plan. From the moment the new system 'went live' the manual system it replaced was abandoned - so ensuring that if the new system failed to work, a minor inconvenience turned into a catastrophe. (Did the nature of the new system make such a changeover period impossible? If this is so, that is one solid reason why we should not have bought it.)

Finally, the new system was not adequately tested, so ensuring that instead of 'going live', for the first six weeks, CAPSA went into the computer equivalent of a cataleptic trance.

The consequence of all this was grave disruption of the work of Faculties and Departments, where nobody could place orders or pay bills, and a period of intense stress for the University's computer and administrative staff, who were left stranded with an unfamiliar accounting system that would not work, and a help-desk that was unable to provide sufficient help.

All this was not only eminently predictable, but actually foreseen. Those responsible for implementing CAPSA were repeatedly warned about what would happen by those who would have the job of running it: but their warnings were unheeded. Some had their letters unanswered. Others were told that that their warnings were unwelcome because they undermined morale.

For blunders on this scale, the buck stops at the top. Registrary, your words expressing concern about what has happened are appreciated, as is your announcement that there will be financial compensation for those who have worked extra hours and suffered extra stress. The care and concern about his staff shown by the Acting Secretary General, Mr Allen, has been widely noted and appreciated too. However, what would be even more appreciated is a frank admission that there has been serious blunder.

If CAPSA were any good as a system, the incompetent and arrogant way in which it was introduced might be forgotten and forgiven. Regrettably, however, this does not seem to be the case.

On the University's website you will find a document, entitled 'Aims of the CAPSA Project' which proclaims the following:

The CAPSA Project will ... assist the University of Cambridge to maintain the quality of its teaching and research into the new millennium. CAPSA will deliver to you consistent, up to date information that will be easily accessible from a system which will be simple to operate for all authorised members of staff. It will incorporate on-line policy, procedures and instructions for users to follow. The University staff have been fully involved in every stage of the design of the system, and the selection of contractors. The system will be designed to be flexible and powerful enough to meet the expressed needs of every faculty and department in the University.

Registrary, almost every word of this is incorrect: either wrong when written, or falsified by subsequent events.

This document goes on to list nine benefits which CAPSA will bring. So far, I believe, not one of them has been delivered - and most of them, from what I've heard, look as if they never will be.

In the Squire Law Library (of whose Sub-Syndicate I am Chairman) CAPSA is now 'working' in the sense that the programme no longer jams for hours on end. But it is so slow, complicated, and cumbersome that it takes us roughly eight times as long to pay our bills as it did under the manual system that CAPSA has replaced. And this, please note, is only using CAPSA to perform a simple function that we used to do quite well before. There is no question of our using CAPSA to perform the extra functions, in particular commitment accounting, which are the reasons why it was introduced. The same is true, I believe, in Faculties and Departments throughout the University.

The advantage of computers is that they can do boring, complex, and intricate jobs immensely faster than can be done by human hand and brain. Thus any computer system that does the job no faster than the manual system it replaces is a waste of money - let alone one that takes longer, and makes the job harder and more demanding.

CAPSA, unfortunately, is like the sundial in Hilaire Belloc's couplet:

I am a sundial, and I make a botch
Of what is done far better by a watch.

Except that, regrettably, the sundial is what the University has bought to replace the watch. And it has, I understand, paid £7.5 million for it: a sum equivalent to between two-thirds and three-quarters of the tuition fee for the whole undergraduate body for the current academic year! (This is the price paid for it, please note; it does not include the extra expense of running a new system which takes up more administrative time to run than did the old one; or any of the other incidental costs.)

This state of affairs prompts me to ask the following questions.

Does the system that we have bought comply with the terms of the contract under which it was ordered and supplied?

If it does not comply, when will ORACLE, the suppliers, get a letter from the University's solicitors inviting them to take their demonstrably inadequate system away and give us our money back?

If on the other hand it does comply with the contract, why did the University agree to a contract that is so disadvantageous? Who was responsible for this? And when will he or she or they be sued or sacked?

Registrary, this great University produced the mathematicians and engineers whose work made computers possible. That Cambridge of all places, should have bought a dud computer system, at huge expense, and at the further cost of disruption to its academic work, damage to its staff morale, and further damage to its reputation among the organizations with which it does business locally, nationally, and internationally, is a scandal.

It is essential to find out why it has happened, who is responsible, and what can be done to put the matter right; and that the answers, once obtained, should be made available to all of us.

The scale of the problem, in my view, far exceeds the muscle of our normal internal enquiry mechanisms. I therefore call upon the Council to set up an independent inquiry into CAPSA, and the failures of management that have caused us to acquire it.


Registrary, I have been involved from CAPSA's early days in various of its committees in the role of a computing professional from outside the project. Indeed, to some extent, I was involved before CAPSA even was CAPSA, commenting adversely in 1997 on early plans to produce, in-house, a new accounting package. My main objection to that proposal was that it would have done little to serve the needs of people outside the central administration. CAPSA in its present form seems to have been allowed to regress towards that first model. Indeed much of the work done specifying what CAPSA should do seems to have been wasted and it is hard to look back on the project without feeling upset by the waste: wasted opportunity and the waste of the time of so many people throughout the University.

The project started properly in early 1998, producing a Requirements Specification for a new accounting system. This alone was a huge undertaking. An in-depth survey was issued to all the Departments and there was a 92% return rate. Follow-up visits were conducted in most cases. Twelve expert Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were then formed to produce detailed requirements documents. I was a member of the Technical (computing) SIG and of the CAPSA Management Committee whose main role at that stage was to co-ordinate the work of the SIGs.

I would like to highlight just three points from the specification. The first two are two of the five key points which were listed in the Management Committee's report to the Planning and Resources Committee and the third was a key technical requirement:

(i) A major reduction in the time taken to process grants applications.
(ii) Provision of information, to managers and to Sponsors, in the form required.
(iii) For general users, the system must be accessible via any HTML 3.2 compatible Web browser (a piece of jargon meaning that any reasonably modern computer should be able to access CAPSA just like any ordinary simple Web page).

None of these key requirements is properly satisfied in the current system! Nor has the specified nine months of parallel running of the old and new systems been implemented. Our contract with the suppliers should have protected us against this divergence from the specification. Why has it not?

Let me speculate a little on why things went wrong, taking as an example the third of these three requirements - the requirement for what came to be known as the casual user interface. After the specification had been drawn up and the contract had been signed, the CAPSA Management Committee was replaced by the CAPSA Steering Committee. There was no commonality in the membership of these committees or between this Steering Committee and the Technical SIG (which continued in existence but with a now poorly defined remit). This might not have mattered greatly had the specification been frozen at that point, as in normal Software Engineering prac-tice it should have been. Instead the specification was changed, after the event, to fit what had been implemented!

For example, an announcement was made at a meeting of the University's Computer Officers on 11 May this year that the casual user interface would no longer be implemented. This decision had been taken without the Technical SIG (who had drawn up that part of the specification) being consulted; or even told! To make as radical a change as this so late in a project is very poor practice, to do so without considering all the implications is almost unbelievable. And those implications were considerable: all users now needed much fuller training to be able to use the system at all; special configuration was required for all their Web browsers; and the security both of the system itself and of users' Web browsers was compromised. This single ill-considered decision thus greatly increased the time burden on staff throughout the University as well as reducing the usefulness of the system.

These problems were not inevitable. They could and should have been foreseen; indeed many had been in the original specification. Others were highlighted by people outside the project team, but their warnings were ignored. Among these warnings were many about the importance of the casual user interface and many that the system seemed unlikely to be ready by 1 August. Despite these warnings and despite almost every other deadline in the preceding three months being postponed, CAPSA was introduced on 1 August with the results that we now see.

I would be disappointed in undergraduates who ignored such basic software engineering practice; for managers leading a project like this it is inexcusable. The University needs an answer to the question: why did the management of the CAPSA project allow it to fail in such obvious and predictable ways? This is not a purely backward looking question, the answer has considerable implications for the way we recover from the present problems and move towards a system which does satisfy the original requirements. As a consequence, another question: will the Council tell us how the future of CAPSA is to be decided? It seems important that those appointed to make that decision have a much clearer understanding of the technical specification than can have been the case within the project over the last several months.

Mr G. J. VIRGO (read by Mr R. C. NOLAN):

Registrary, I speak today in my capacity as Secretary of the Faculty Board of Law. Today's Discussion is not about the decision to introduce CAPSA. I have never doubted the need to introduce an on-line commitment accounting system within the University. The problem simply concerns the introduction of this particular system. Others, more knowledgeable than I, are able to talk about the system's many practical inadequacies. I wish to focus on the unacceptable pressures which its incompetent introduction has loaded onto administrative and support staff in Faculties, Departments, and central University bodies.

Over the last few months I have, quite frankly, been amazed by the perseverance of administrative and support staff in their desire to make the system work, despite its widely rehearsed limitations. These staff members have attended numerous training sessions, imposed at a patently inconvenient time in the academic year and involving training which typically was basic and irrelevant to the particular needs of Faculties and Departments. These staff members have borne the stresses of using a system that is and remains inadequate for the particular needs of Faculties and Departments. The jobs of many of these members of staff changed overnight on 31 July 2000, when CAPSA was introduced. It is a testament to their perseverance that the University has not yet reached financial meltdown.

But many of these members of staff are now at breaking point. The future success of CAPSA is dependent as much on the restoration of morale as on the resolution of the software problems. The human costs must not be forgotten in the face of the 'substantial operational difficulties' and 'functional difficulties with the software'.

The University has let down its administrative and support staff and must act as a matter of urgency to regain their trust, their confidence, and their good will. A one-off, ex gratia payment to staff affected by the fiasco of CAPSA is welcome; but there should also be, at the very least, a public recognition of the damage inflicted on the morale of staff, and of the efforts they have made, which far exceed what may reasonably be expected of them. Acceptance of responsibility and an unambiguous apology are essential.

The first obvious short-term solution seemed to be to revert to the previous system, pending the resolution of the current problems; but I am led to believe that this is impossible because the staff responsible for the manual input of Faculty accounts data are no longer available to do this. I am sure that the Regent House would like to know if this is true. I would be appalled to discover that a radically new system has been introduced without a fall-back position.

Professor C. J. HUMPHREYS:

Registrary, I am speaking both in a personal capacity and as the Chairman of the Faculty Board of Physics and Chemistry.

Let me start by relating my own personal experience of CAPSA over the last seven days. I am the Director of a major Centre in the University funded by Rolls-Royce and one week ago Rolls-Royce asked me to supply urgently a detailed financial statement of our actual and committed expenditure for this calendar year and for the next calendar year. CAPSA was totally unable to do this. Figures had to be passed by hand from the Finance Office to the Department and it took a member of the assistant staff of the Department two full working days to compile these figures by hand. Why is CAPSA unable to perform this straightforward accounting job?

Yesterday, (Monday, 9 October) I received a message concerning an EPSRC research grant I have that has just finished. Three outstanding invoices had been submitted to CAPSA for orders placed and equipment delivered well before the end of the grant. CAPSA had accepted one invoice but is refusing to pay the other two, even though there is money available in the grant. The CAPSA Helpdesk cannot understand why CAPSA is refusing to pay. One of these invoices is for £72,000. If the invoice is not paid and the money then claimed back from the EPSRC before the EPSRC closing date, then the University is going to have to find the £72,000 itself. There must be many similar situations on other grants all around the University. CAPSA will not be claiming back from Research Councils money which is owed to the University, and the University will run out of time. So apart from the £8 million we've spent already, we're facing an expenditure of maybe millions of other pounds because CAPSA is an inadequate system. I hear the words about persevering with CAPSA. I believe we need an external investigation, as Professor Spencer has said, to look into this, because the best option may well be to cancel CAPSA and to go with a system which is known to work in another major university.

I understand from discussions I have had with an external expert on financial accounting systems that there are two absolutely fundamental rules that should always be followed when introducing a major, new, complex financial accounting system. The first is to introduce the new system gradually, with pilot schemes of increasing scope, whilst keeping the old system running. The second is to run the full new system in parallel with the old for several months until it is absolutely clear that the problems have been ironed out. These are fundamental rules which all professional accountants use, so we have to ask why this was not done at Cambridge, and the expert who has spoken to me has said it is gross incompetence.

It is clear that an independent external investigation is needed. However, unlike nearly all of the members of my Faculty I have spoken with, I would urge that this is a no-blame enquiry. I believe that it does not help to arrive at the truth if we seek to apportion blame. The object of the enquiry must be to establish, on a no-blame basis, what has gone wrong and why, and to draw up clear guidelines for the installation of the next major accounting system. I would also urge that the enquiry is not carried out by an expensive team of consultants, but by a single expert individual, for example, a Professor of Computing Science at Imperial College, with the appropriate expertise, who would produce an independent report on what has gone wrong, why it has gone wrong, and to draw up guidelines for the next system Cambridge will have in accounting.

The University should not underestimate the very deep dissatisfaction expressed to me by members of both the academic staff and the assistant staff over our central administration in general and the implementation of CAPSA in particular. Our academic staff deeply want to have a central administrative staff they can trust to be competent. This is certainly not the case at present and the word most frequently used by academic staff to me when describing our central administration was 'hopeless'. (I am well aware personally that many of our central administrative staff are excellent, but I believe we should not ignore these widespread academic views at Cambridge.)

This situation cannot be allowed to continue and it should now be a priority for our University to restore confidence in its central administration. Restoring confidence will not be easy, but I believe that a major step forward would be for Cambridge to appoint academic Pro-Vice-Chancellors to be in charge of the various branches of central administration: the Finance Division, Estate Management and Building Services, etc. If a numerate Pro-Vice-Chancellor had been in charge of the Finance Division, then it is inconceivable that such elementary mistakes as not running CAPSA in parallel with the old system would have been made.

In summary, I urge the University to set up an independent external investigation, on a no-blame basis, of CAPSA and its implementation. I also urge that new academic Pro-Vice-Chancellors are created and put in charge of the various branches of our central administration.


Registrary, at the launch of the CAPSA project a special interest group of technically-minded people, myself included, was brought together from all parts of the University: from the Management Information Services Division (the Administrative Computing Unit as it was then), from the University Computing Service, and from the Departments and Schools. We produced a Hardware Procurement document and a Technical Specification which existed both as a document in its own right and as input to the CAPSA Functional Requirements document.

During the course of the CAPSA project, that specification has been systematically and wilfully disregarded. We were never consulted about the effects of the changes brought in. We weren't even shown the courtesy of being told that the specification was being changed.

Let me give three examples. There are plenty more.

We specified that there should be two user interfaces: a light-weight 'casual user' interface for simple use and a heavyweight 'power user' interface for the more complex requirements of accounts offices. This casual user interface for grant holders was a critical part of satisfying the HEFCE requirements. It was only when the technical group forced a demonstration of the interfaces to the University's Computer Officers on 11 May 2000 that a KPMG project manager revealed that KPMG had dropped the requirement for a casual user interface two months previously and that they hadn't told anyone, not even their own MISD project manager.

Will Council identify who authorized the dropping of the casual user interface?

We specified the numbers of simultaneous 'casual' and 'power' users that the system should support, together with the required response time. This information was available right from the start when the hardware was being bought and when the databases were being designed. Either the ORACLE Financials consultants are incapable of doing their jobs or this element of the specification was not revealed to them as it has not been implemented.

Will Council determine whether ORACLE's consultants were told these parameters when they started?

We specified that the system would be rolled out over a period of some months. Some Departments came forwards to be early users, blazing the trail for the others. When KPMG took over, the Technical Group met the other KPMG project manager on 12 October 1999, who announced that there would be a single University-wide roll-out with only limited support for Departments that delayed their entry and with no prospect of rolling back to the previous system. She explicitly excluded any suggestion of running the old and new in parallel. We asked her what would happen if there were problems. 'It will work', was her only response. We asked three times, getting the same answer, before despairing.

Will Council identify who authorized the changes to the roll-out schedule and the lack of fall-back?

People are asking the question: how can the University have bought something this bad? This is a legitimate question. Part of the answer is that what we have been sold is not what we asked for.


Registrary, I teach, at the Computer Laboratory, software engineering, bookkeeping systems, and related topics. I have a colleague at the Judge Institute who teaches the same things. I'm curious to know why neither of us was invited to be involved in this project. We certainly want to be invited to be involved in the mopping-up afterwards, so that we not only help the University to learn the lessons from it but pass them on to our undergraduates in lectures. Personally I have been using as an example the collapse of the London ambulance service for five years now, and a freshening of lecture notes would help.

As a very small starting point to this inquiry, I think that there are a few questions that should be asked and that can be answered with simple numerical answers rather than being matters of opinion. First, how many transactions per minute were specified by the University? How many transactions per minute did the system deliver on 1 August 2000, and at the beginning of September, and at the beginning of October? If an opinion is also to be ventured, I would like to hear how many transactions per minute does the University actually need.

The second bundle of questions I'd like to ask is this: how many simultaneous users were specified by the University? How many simultaneous users would the system support while delivering the specified number of transactions per minute on 1 August 2000, and again at the beginning of September, and at the beginning of October? Finally, if the Council cares to express an opinion, how many simultaneous users does the University actually need?

These, I think, are fairly simple questions and should be quite tractable. I think that answering them would go some way to unravelling this problem.

Professor R. C. THOMAS:

Registrary, when I came here from Bristol four years ago I was asked whether it was true that, some years before, Bristol University had lost several million pounds when financial controls were devolved. I replied that money had been overspent, but not lost. Now I find that Cambridge seems to be throwing much larger sums away on CAPSA. I agree completely with Professor Spencer, and would like congratulate him on his eloquence. The whole CAPSA situation is a complete shambles. I speak as Head of large Department with luckily a very loyal and hardworking staff.

Initially of course, after 1 August, it was impossible to order anything. Now the problems are primarily one of time taken to process orders and invoices, and the lack of feedback. The diversification of workload from the Old Schools to the Departmental staff is not as was suggested. My chief maintenance engineer used to write ten orders a day in about twenty minutes. Now it takes him at least four times as long, his budget is still not loaded, and so he is slowly losing track of his spend-ing. The process of ordering is quite unnecessarily cumbersome. My Department accounts office used to process for payment fifty invoices a day in about thirty minutes; now it takes around three and a half hours. There are far too many approval stages. My excellent accounts clerk often has to approve the very same order three times, each operation taking about four minutes. Huge amounts of time are simply being wasted.

Quite simply the system was introduced far too soon for its state of development. I understand that comment from Departmental staff was fed into the CAPSA project team at an early stage. But Departments were not adequately informed how CAPSA would in fact work. The 'user acceptance testing' seemed to be directed mostly at people from the Old Schools or larger Departments. Very few biological or small, computer-illiterate Departments were involved. Their views were not sought with sufficient energy. The playground system, supposed to allow time for people to practice, was far too late to be of any use.

Many deficiences were known about before release but not implemented until too late. Thus radioactive orders need special handling. CAPSA were told of this over a year ago, but the problem was not addressed until after 1 August.

Two months down the road and research grants are a shambles. There seems to be no proper reporting available to the grant-holders who desperately need it. This is especially so where grants have finished since 1 August or are about to finish. Eventually these issues will be rectified but will we be in a position where we have to return grant funding in the meantime? As yet it does not appear that budgets have been loaded in any other accounts, Chest, donation, etc., which could cause problems later in the year. Departments may well find that they have to carry overspends caused by insufficient information.

Security levels have not yet been set as promised, i.e. all information, grants included, is available to all staff within the Department. All staff are able to purchase on any account they wish, within the Department. This is currently being monitored but should not be available.

I could go on, but this whole Discussion is another way CAPSA is consuming time better spent elsewhere.

Ms T. HUG:

Registrary, the issues giving most concern to administrators have to do with resources. The CAPSA system is convoluted and time consuming to use, and a proper evaluation of the skills and time needed to use the system on a day-to-day basis is urgently required.

In the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, areas where the system requires extra work and skills include Trust Funds, Research Grants, Purchasing, and Suppliers. The lack of opening balances for UEF and Trust Funds and the lack of any data on Research Grants has defeated the whole purpose of a commitment accounting system. These matters are serious because they directly affect the lives of students, researchers, and other people dependent on these funds. Plus, many items of routine business involving relatively small sums of money currently being handled by CAPSA are not appropriate for the system at all. The apparent decision to transfer the management of Trust Funds to Faculties and Departments with no notice or training is extraordinary. This course is most unwise. The inefficiency of the Purchasing module and the central decision that the default position should be to pay invoices late means we are at risk of being sued and of losing suppliers.

The overall effect of CAPSA has been to force on to Departments responsibilities which they cannot effectively and properly carry out; and at the same time to take away from Departments the simple tasks which they have long carried out properly and efficiently.

There are a number of questions to which we urgently need answers, questions which administrators have repeatedly raised with the CAPSA Steering Committee but to which no satisfactory responses have been received.

(i) Is the Finance Division prepared to take back its responsibilities for Trust Funds and Reporting?
(ii) Is the Finance Division prepared to give back to Departments the responsibility of setting up their own suppliers?
(iii) Why were balances of all accounts, including salaries and overheads, not available when the system went live? When will they become available? And how are Departments and Faculties expected to function in the interim?
(iv) Who was privy to the decision to pay invoices late rather than early when the due date falls after a payment run? Does this comply with current European law and are we satisfied that this is a proper way to proceed?
(v) Why was there not a proper evaluation of the time and skills needed to use the system, and when will a proper evaluation be carried out?
(vi) Finally, why was the system allowed to go live on 1 August 2000 when it was patently obvious that it was not ready?

If these issues are not rapidly resolved, I fear that there will be loss of administrative staff and the business of Departments will come to a halt.


Registrary, early in its life the CAPSA project set up several advisory groups, styled Special Interest Groups (SIGs), on one of which I served. I leave it to others to catalogue its failure to take on board their recommendations. My purpose is to request clarification as to how far this failure represents endemic weakness of management at the very top of the CAPSA project, and conceivably of others. If as I fear such problems are integral to the very structures of the Management Information Services Division (MISD), we may need to ask for sweeping changes before any confidence can again be vested in it.

It is not trivial to discover CAPSA's management structure. On 25 August one of those seconded to the project commented in a public forum, 'I still don't know who is in charge, or who has the authority to sort out the Old Schools side of things ... The longer this discussion continues without some intervention the more I doubt that anyone else knows either'. Official CAPSA statements - the messages emanating from the Change and Communications Team - do not help; they are invariably vacuous and unreliable and fail to address direct questions. Whenever the Technical SIG requested, at meetings with members of the CAPSA team, explanations for technically inept decisions, we were told that the 'APWG' had decreed it so. You will search the University's website in vain for any details of the composition, remit, or powers of this group, even the meaning of the initials; and indeed since they stand for Accounts Policy Working Group it seems unlikely that what we were told was true. However, I have evidence that at least on one occasion it functioned as a mere rubber stamp for decisions taken by one or more of the new Directors, so who can say. Meanwhile e-mails to the very top expressing concern went unheeded. To whom are these people answerable?

Whatever its structure, the CAPSA management team's attitude to the rest of the University has been intolerable. We have been told, and it has been repeated again this afternoon, that many of the problems faced by CAPSA were unforeseen. On the contrary, the majority of problems we now experience were both foreseen and predicted by members of the Technical SIG. The responses we received amounted to a blatant attempt to put to silence those who questioned, those who protested, those who warned of impending problems, even those who requested information so that we could properly assess the proposed system.

On 9 June the Director of MISD sent out a message to the Departmental Computer Officers' e-mail discussion group, stating that our critical appraisal of CAPSA was 'not appropriate' for such lists. The approach of the CAPSA team to comments from Computer Officers was always confrontational, and at a meeting of Computer Officers on 28 July, it was publicly stated by the KPMG Project Manager that I had been blacklisted because of the nature of my messages on the CAPSA list. These, I should make clear, were a combination of bug-reports and requests for information for the work I was doing on the Macintosh interface, as others here today can confirm. At that same meeting, when two of us protested that the revised password policy had enabled us to break into the accounts of others, we were told we were lying. As a whole the group of Computer Officers were vilified throughout the meeting for our supposed negative attitude and for not spending enough of our time on testing CAPSA; surely not our duty but theirs. Subsequently, at least two Heads of Department have been asked by the Director of MISD to stop their staff from posting messages to University e-mail forums. One senior member of the administrative staff who had asked questions in a training session was described to the Head of Department as 'disruptive'.

Such events caused a colleague to comment wryly on the formal ambiguity of the statement in the Staff Guide that 'The University has a policy on bullying ... with guidelines for its implementation'.

My questions therefore: Does the Council countenance the way in which the CAPSA team has treated the Departments; does it tolerate the tactics used to block communication and assessment, and how will it ensure that the University is no longer cowed into silence by some of its officers?

One of the central tenets of scholarship is that we learn from our mistakes. I urge the Council to ponder the words of Kipling:

Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should,
We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.

Dr A. D. B. POOLE:

Registrary, CAPSA is a complicated affair but I wish to say some comparatively simple things, disappointingly, perhaps aggravatingly, bland. As Chair of one of the Councils of the Schools, as a member of the General Board and other central committees, I have accepted the necessity for this new system and I have been involved in various decisions affecting its implementation. I have been conscious of the painful difficulties that have impinged on a large number of people in different roles across the University, both at senior levels of management in the Old Schools and in the Faculties and Departments of the School of Arts and Humanities. Like many others I have carried warnings to and fro over the last year or more. Most of the fears confided in me by those in the School on whom the burden of CAPSA was always going to fall most heavily have proved well-grounded, and these have turned unsurprisingly to anger. This anger is exacerbated by the comparisons being made between the loss of crucial academic posts enforced by the recent savings exercises and the very large amounts of University money expended on a system the benefits of which were never going to be most obviously transparent to the constituents of this particular School. It may be said that the introduction of Senior Lectureships and the savings exercise required to fund them on the one hand and the introduction of CAPSA on the other have nothing to do with each other. That is not what it feels like to those on the receiving end of these and other new exercises, initiatives, and procedures, which land on them, hard, from the centre. Clearly there are all sorts of questions about CAPSA that need to be answered. However, no useful purpose will be served by violent recrimination, let alone by the personal abuse to which some individuals have been shamefully subjected. We have our own proper channels for enquiry into what has gone wrong and how it went wrong. I believe that it is to these that we should look, from whatever angle we presently view this turbulent scene and whatever the role we have played in its making.


Registrary, I want to concentrate on the question why no one foresaw the scale of the problems we were creating for ourselves, for it raises important issues about the way we run the University. In his speech on 2 October the Vice-Chancellor gave the Regent House, and all the staff and students of the University, an assurance that those making decisions would be 'properly trained to do so'. 'Comprehensive training should be a requirement, not a voluntary activity for the few who are far-sighted enough to see the need.' We will forgive him the split infinitive that followed, for surely a Vice-Chancellor has got beyond the need of 'every student and member of staff to fulfill their (sic) intellectual potential'.

He is not, however, beyond the need to get some training himself. My letter in the Independent Education Section on 5 October described what happened at the traditional Madeira and seed-cake reception on that Monday morning, when I asked the Vice-Chancellor if this training-requirement included him and the members of other committees meeting at present. It appeared it did not. This CAPSA crisis burgeoned partly because we do not require members of committes to learn their job.

'Training' is relevant in two ways to the theme of this emergency Discussion. We did do some training, at what now proves to have been an unnecessarily elementary level, of those now distressed unfortunates who have to implement the CAPSA system. But we did not require those who were being trusted to take the big decisions about it to undergo training. We appointed them in the usual secretive way, without identifying publicly the skills which would be needed (just like the mysterious Steering Committee which is supposed to be organizing all this promised training in fair and informed decision-making). Professor Humphrey's suggestion about academic Pro-Vice-Chancellors will not work if the same cosy crowd chooses them secretly.

The conjunction of academic democracy with open processes of appointment to committees and proper training for the job is potentially a winner. For what possible reasons have we not previously insisted on it? Why is the Vice-Chancellor still stalling?

If you buy in expensive 'experts' there is a danger that you will think you can leave them to it, if you are not equipped to think for yourself. We did so. Now there are attempts to blame KPMG for not being sufficiently alert to what would happen when a system designed for much more modest use was overloaded. ORACLE too are being criticized for not making adequate provision for the sheer scale of our financial affairs. (No one disputes that ORACLE are working all the hours there are to sort out the remaining problems.) If KPMG and ORACLE deserve these criticisms, we should be laying the cost at their door.

Chairing the CAPSA Steering Committee we have the Head of Physics, Malcolm Longair, who is to be congratulated on his air of resolute cheerfulness in the face of disaster. Should the the CAPSA Steering Committee Chairman try to slide out from under the burden of responsibility by arguing that his Committee was relying (and by implication entitled to rely) on the reports and information they were receiving from the Project Manager and the Project Team? Surely they had a duty to question what they were being told? Surely they should have listened to the warnings we have been hearing about? But people who ask questions do not get put on committees in this University. They just get 'blacklisted', ignored, or shouted down. And, of course, the committee members who were chosen did not have any of that training the Vice-Chancellor says is a requirement (but not yet). Recent history in the public sector shows that investment in a big computer system by decision-makers without the technical expertise and without the humility to learn where to press questions is a recipe for just this sort of disaster.

There are potential questions of the personal liability of the various members of the University's so-called supervisory bodies. I say this with some trepidation, for it could be argued that the members of the Council, which was ultimately responsible under the Statutes, should also be held personally to account, and I for one certainly did not realize how bad things were getting. I said something at, I think, the July meeting of Council, but only on the basis of rumours I was hearing. Of course I have had no training to be a member of the Council, except for that which I have gone out and got for myself. I understand that Oxford's new Council is getting proper detailed instruction in its constitutional duties, the personal responsibility of its members, and the way recent legislation is going to impinge on the University's affairs. Once more, Oxford is ahead of us with the really important aspects of the running of a university.

Yes, we had to do something. We were in trouble with our auditors and HEFCE about our failure to meet statutory requirements in our accounting system and our slowness in putting matters right. We were also doing things which the law does not allow, such as mixing up donations and grants.

We got in Ms Susan Baron as an independent consultant to carry out an assessment study and an independent review. She recommended that the University acquire a modern, integrated, industry-standard financial accounting package. The Finance Committee thought this sounded like a good idea (the magic solution?). No one appears to have paused to ask whether industry-standard patterns would fit our structure. No one appears seriously to have questioned whether the entire accounting culture of the University could, or should, be turned round in months, so as to get everyone to behave as though running a business. No one allowed for the need to think through the kinds of preliminaries touched on this afternoon. Our lack of self-knowledge and common sense and ability to prioritize repeatedly astonishes me, but then our committees are packed with all those safe pairs of hands, chosen because the mouths above them are not trained to ask awkward questions.

The task of mapping our needs onto the requirements of ORACLE Financials was going on all through the spring, summer, and autumn of 1999. One wonders why the fundamental compatibility problems did not begin to be understood at the outset. (Lack of training on the committees?) No one seems to have checked, either, that the proposed system was capable of carrying a load of the complexity necessary in the University. (Lack of training?) The recommended maximum of concurrent managers for the ORACLE Financials system was 50. We set up a system with 800. No wonder it has been taking eleven hours to process an order.

In February 1999 the Planning and Resources Committee approved the project plan and a budget of £4.7 million. They reported to the Council, and we had our usual cursory glance as we raced untrained through our agenda. In the same month most of the senior members of the Finance Division (the ones who already had training?) said that they wanted to take early retirement under that expensive and abortive scheme which took from us so many of our senior disaffected staff in other areas too. (There, too, it is now hard to see what was achieved and why we did it. Any long-term 'savings' have now presumably been thrown away in trying to buy our way out of this mess. The Registrary has just told us that the Planning and Resouces Committee is going to allocate even more. The Vice-Chancellor's promise to slip everyone involved a little financial bon-bon evinces an attitude that money solves things. I don't think that it always does.)

One wonders why that mass resignation in the Finance Division was not seen as monitory. They at least may have had some technical understanding of what we were getting into. Did someone try to weigh their objections and act on any warnings they were giving? It is hard to judge that kind of thing without training.

As early as July 1999 a request was made for an independent review of the project by KPMG. It was turning out to be far more expensive than had been planned for. In November KPMG (yes, KPMG) was invited to take over the project management of CAPSA with a revised budget of £7.6 million. This was approved by the Planning and Resources Committee and reported to the Council in December 1999. Who among us had the training to know whether this was a good idea?

The CAPSA Millennium Dome is having a succession of sums in the millions thrown at it in an attempt to rescue it, on the principle that 'returning were as tedious as go o'er'. We are in the hands of consultants and experts, and Cambridge pays for the best.

I do not know whether CAPSA can be made to work now, and in a reasonable time. I was disturbed to hear that it is being suggested that everything might move more smoothly if the system could be got to disregard a certain level of inaccuracy in the input and if changes to procedures could be made unilaterally within Departments. What would happen to the reliability of the figures in these circumstances? Will it be possible to put any more trust in our published accounts in future if the system is geared up to ignore mistakes?

I do not know what would be the cost of scrapping CAPSA and carrying on as before, while we take stock rather carefully of what our real needs are and plan a better route to reform of our accounting practices. I suspect that might be best. But before we do that, let us overhaul the secretive selection of members of committees and make that requirement of training bite. The staff development courses this year offer, in a discriminatory way, 'Navigator' courses for men and 'Springboard' courses for women. (That is discriminatory because it implies that women need a start and men are already at the helm.) I think it is about time those of us who are this community's real natural leaders were allowed to get our hands on a helm or two and were offered proper courses to ensure that we are equipped to steer better than this present Steering Committee.

I hope the remarks made today will be taken seriously by the administration. Relieved though one is to see (Reporter, p. 5) that 'they' have heard what the community said about the attempt to end Discussions as we have known them for eight centuries, it remains disturbing that there is no acknowledgement of the strength of feeling expressed in the now infamous Discussion on Discussions. If the Regent House and the rest of our staff had heard about the policy-making sooner; and if Discussions had been allowed to serve their proper function of compelling serious thought in the central bodies, we might have been spared this present emergency.

On this CAPSA crisis, we do not want to hear soothingly from the Council that teething troubles were to be expected. We want a hard look at what went wrong and why and some admissions that there are lessons we could learn. It will be good for us if the big brothers who are watching us (HEFCE and the National Audit Office) lay a heavy hand each on either shoulder of the University over this. This does call for a public enquiry. Those meathooks the History Faculty is making such a huge fuss about (as Varsity points out, it evidently has nothing more important to put in order), may prove to have been a good investment after all. Probably the members of the Council should be hung on them.


Registrary, in speaking about CAPSA today, I would like to refer in passing to the Report of the Board of Scrutiny published in the 4 October issue of the Reporter (p. 25); I am of course aware that the Discussion of that Report will take place at a later date. In a departure from their generally trenchant style, the Board of Scrutiny remark (section 28) that they 'welcome the assurance they have received that the University will not embark on a major student database project until the lessons of CAPSA have been learnt'.

But Registrary, these lessons are as old as the hills! We have been reminded of them by Professor Humphreys. Lesson 1 is that large database projects take a great deal of time and effort to implement; you must not underestimate this. Lesson 2 is that you do not disable the existing system until the new one is in place and tested at least to the extent of its essential functions. Both these lessons have apparently been disregarded. Yet, around 1990-92, the Financial Board (as it was then called) had vivid experience of the difficulties arising when a new accounting system was under development and was a long way behind schedule. The lessons were obvious then, yet seem to have been forgotten.

In the outside world, and especially in the activities of governments, other examples abound. Some of us will remember the driving licence fiasco of the 1970s. The Inland Revenue's introduction of self-assessment has given a lot of trouble. More recently, the attempt to computerize post offices so that pensioners could be paid using smart cards has been abandoned after costs of around £500 million. New systems to issue passports and to administer immigrants have both foundered due to not being ready in time. How can these be new lessons that still need to be learnt? It's no excuse to remark that governments have also failed so to learn.

But success is possible. Two years ago the major supermarkets introduced loyalty cards, and whatever one may think of that idea, it has to be said that the necessary systems were put in place remarkably quickly and smoothly. Closer home, two decades ago, the University Library computerized their cataloguing, borrowers' records, and circulation system in-house, and did it very well, in the context of software then available.

It is very difficult to make fair comparisons, since such projects vary so greatly in scope, and have been prepared at differing epochs. It is hard to compare like with like, and even more to do so at a time when developments in hardware and software have been advancing so fast. Anything that takes two years to develop is liable to be out of date before it opens.

If I may be a little self-indulgent, I would like to record another instance of success without embarrassing problems. It occurred in the mid-1980s at the University Centre, where I chaired the Management Committee. We were able to computerize the membership records and the issue of cards, etc., containing approaching 10,000 members, originally with a computer without hard disk. And I can depart from my text to say that, at that time, we were the only place in the University that had a computerized list of members of the Regent House, because here, in the Old Schools, it still existed only on cards. Emboldened by this we went on, with the help of a freelance, to set up accountancy software, primarily to deal with stock control, since the University accounting system, not surprisingly, did not have the specialized programmes needed by catering. We introduced this system gradually, without burning our boats! In this, I was much helped by the then Finance Officer to the Centre. Subsequently, the Centre has acquired professionally-written catering software, which now works well but which, true to form, took longer than expected to configure. Is CAPSA going to supply a Catering Accounts module for the Centre and the other catering outlets in the University? Do not imagine that all this will need will be minor modifications to general Accounts software - it isn't so!

The Board of Scrutiny remind us that we are a self-governing body of scholars. They also hesitate to 'cast the first stone'. That suggests a more benign regime than commercial business. So will heads roll? Is anyone going to emulate Kevin Keegan and declare themselves as not having been up to the job? No such benign thoughts occurred to the University Centre Syndicate when they made the Finance Officer I referred to redundant.

Professor A.T.H. SMITH (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):

Registrary, I am unable to be present on this important occasion, because of other University business, and have asked that this intervention should be read on my behalf.

The Faculty Board of Law has asked me to make the following statement in my capacity as its Chairman:

The Faculty Board of Law deplores the widespread dislocation during the Long Vacation of the activities of its officers that has been occasioned by the implementation of CAPSA. It appears to have been the product of a serious management failure, whose cause should be investigated by an independent inquiry. Speaking as lawyers, we would draw particular attention to employment law implications of the stress under which employees of the University have been placed, to the additional working hours that have been expected of the administrative staff, and to the attitude of the University as employer, which has appeared to pay insufficient regard to the employer's duties of trust and co-operation.

Speaking in my personal capacity, I wish to add that I wholeheartedly endorse these sentiments. I regret the fact that it should have become necessary to proceed by way of this Discussion. Attempts to voice concern through customary channels seemed to lead nowhere. The experience of the last few months has dented my confidence in the ability of the University to manage change. No doubt a great deal of change is necessary in our financial and accounting systems. But even when all are agreed that change is vital, its possible impact on all of those affected by it should surely be the subject of minutely careful planning. In particular, the strains upon those who will be expected to implement and accommodate change should be considered long before rather than after the event. If Cambridge has a tradition that no change should be essayed until all the options and consequences have been evaluated through consultation, the departure from that tradition in this instance is proof enough (for me at least) of the wisdom of our forebears.

Mr C. JARDINE (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):

Registrary, although I have considerable experience of ORACLE databases, I have not been directly involved in the CAPSA project. It has been difficult for an outsider to obtain hard facts about CAPSA. One source has been meetings organized by the Computing Service for Departmental and College Computer Officers.

On 14 January 1999, an MISD representative made a presentation to such a meeting. It included a timescale, which was minuted as follows:

Contract negotiation and hardware procurement discussions would take place through January and February; in March implementation and hardware installation; by August the initial wave of Departments will go live, with a phased roll-out to all Departments over the following year.

This schedule was like the curate's egg - good in parts. The good part was the phased roll-out. There was to be a full year of parallel operation of the old and new systems. The rotten part was the extremely short time that was allowed between hardware installation and first production use - only four clear months. This would have been a tight schedule even if the project had relied on tried and trusted software which could be used straight out of the box. This was not the case.

The project relied on ORACLE Financials - a package which normally requires considerable customization, and some development work, to adapt it to the accounting practices of each organization which uses it. Moreover, two different user interfaces were proposed. One of these relied on the Java based version of ORACLE's Forms product, which was very new, and not yet worthy of trust. The second, intended for casual users, was to be a new development. It was completely absurd to propose that all this work could be done in four months. It was, therefore, no surprise that nothing visible had been produced by October 1999.

On 21 October 1999, an MISD representative again addressed the Computer Officers. We were told that management consultants had been called in, and that there was a new timescale. CAPSA was to go live with a 'big bang' on 1 August 2000. The only good feature of the previous schedule - the phased roll-out - had been axed. One of the audience asked if there was any plan for possible retreat, if it turned out, after the 'big bang', that there was some serious defect in the new software. We were told that there was no such plan.

Boat burning may be a useful technique in some extreme forms of warfare, but it is a poor tactic in the management of a software development project. It is a recipe for turning failure into disaster. Any competent software engineer will tell you that planning for failure is important, because software often fails.

As the months passed, more detailed information emerged about timescales. It became apparent that the timing was very tight. For example, we were told in January that a test system was not expected to be available until 12 June, leaving only fifty working days for training and testing. It was not until May we were told that the interface for casual users had been axed.

The consequence of all this is that the University now finds itself trying to use a system which is incomplete, unfinished, and inadequately tested. There is no plan for retreat.

The University needs to ask itself searching questions about the decision-making process which led to this mess.

The CAPSA project has made very heavy use of outside consultants, and very little use of in-house expertise. I think that the balance may have tipped too far, and that there may now be so little competence in software engineering within the central administration that the University cannot tell the difference between good and bad advice from consultants.

Professor A. C. MINSON:

Registrary, I don't want to reiterate much that has been said already. Like others, our Department has suffered greatly from the introduction of CAPSA. We can't order effectively, we can't pay invoices effectively, many of the routine financial transactions we used to make have become essentially impossible, and our staff in the finance office, who have loyally served the University for years, feel frustrated, feel unable to do their jobs properly, and are losing their sense of job satisfaction.

This is the recurring theme we have heard; there is frustration and anger, and we share much of that. Under these circumstances it is understandable that there are demands for an inquiry and for heads to roll, but what concerns me is that we should temper our anger and frustration and act in a constructive way that may help get us out of this mess.

So I want to make two points. The first is concerning post mortems. Clearly we have to have a post mortem at some point. Of course we have to try and find out what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what was wrong with the decision-making process, so that we can learn for the future next time we make dramatic changes in the way we run our University which have wide-ranging consequences. We need to make sure we don't mess it up again. But I don't really think I want a post mortem now. I want the people who are responsible for implementing CAPSA, the central administration of our University, to devote all their attention now to try to improve things and get things right. I don't want those people being diverted from that activity by defending themselves on the floor of this house or by facing an inquisition set up from outside. The time may come for that and will come for that, but my plea is not now.

The second point concerns the matter of the morale of our support staff and our administrators. We've heard much of the loss of morale in the Faculties and Departments; and that's absolutely right. We have lost morale and we're in danger of losing those staff. But the same thing of course is true in the central administration. We're all, as academics, acutely aware of the fact that the salaries are not good in comparison with the cost of living in Cambridge, and while that's true for academics, it's probably even more true for administrators, for computer officers, and for clerical staff at all levels. Those people can walk away tomorrow and get better jobs outside the University, but they stay with the University because they find it a rewarding place to work. If they spend every day reading e-mails and hearing phone calls which are little short of abusive then they won't hang around. They will go. And we know that's beginning to happen, both outside in the Departments and the Faculties, and indeed in the central administration. Administrative staff at all levels are taking sick leave and resigning. If that goes on, then in six months' time we may be in a far worse position than we are now.

So my plea is, yes, of course we have to have an inquiry, but perhaps not yet. Secondly, we have to voice our concerns and criticisms, but let us do it in a temperate way and let us do it constructively through the Faculty Boards and through the Councils of the Schools, identifying those issues which concern us most. Let us help the central administration sort those concerns out and get things right; let us not act in such a way that all we do is drive them out of their jobs.

The Report of the General Board, dated 12 July 2000, on the re-establishment of the Beckwith Professorship of Management Studies (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 1019).


Registrary, Mr Peter Beckwith is now Dr Peter Beckwith. We gave him an Honorary Degree in July. I listened with care to the encomium by the University Orator in the Senate-House in order to discover what beyond his immense financial generosity to the University, had brought Mr Beckwith in front of the Chancellor in his scarlet gown. We have a Court of Benefactors for those who are simply very generous to us, with, I believe, a bluish robe. You may all read the panegyric for yourselves. Please will the Council put a Report to the University on the principles which ought to inform our selection of honorands? There was that small hiccough about Helmut Kohl after the event …

'The whole trend ... in recent years had been to make the Doctorate a real thing', said Professor Burkitt on 2 December 1924. 'They wanted these people to be encouraged to take it in the ordinary way, not to get in by side winds … the degree which was officially called honoris causa, but which was really jure dignitatis ... degrees for certain dignitaries' (Reporter, 1924-5, p. 315).

Back to the Report before us, or I shall lay myself open to the kind of thing which could happen when the Vice-Chancellor chaired Discussions himself. On 22 May 1924, Sir William Ridgway was asked to con-fine his remarks to the present Report (Reporter, 1923-4, p. 1097). So I shall.

'The General Board have ascertained that there are now sufficient funds to support the permanent endowment of the Professorship'. May we know whether these funds are all to come from the £1 million of the benefaction? Will the University or the Fund be paying for any 'recruitment incentive' for future holders of this post? Will this Professor be eligible for secret extra payment in the future on University funds?

It is disappointing that the new Personnel Committee is not apparently in any hurry to tackle this or may other questions. I see the Council handing issue after issue over to it, with a sigh of relief to be rid of each matter. So it is overloaded. Working parties have been set up, chosen out of sight of the Regent House, without opportunity for individuals to offer themselves and their intimate knowledge of the problems which have to be addressed. It is rapidly becoming the old story of delay and failure to get movers and shakers into places where they can make a difference. Now here is something the Judge Institute and its new Beckwith Professor could perhaps help with. Surely they can tell us how to get some movement in managing this change?

The most important thing, I believe, is that the University has to understand that in appointing a Director of Personnel (and his compeers), it is creating a new kind of animal. You do not get in an experienced senior professional and then tie his hands by making him, in effect, a secretary to one of our bumbling untrained Microcosmographia Academica committees. That is what we are doing and if I were the Director of Personnel I should be pretty frustrated.

It is good to see an invitation to write in to the Personnel Division with suggestions (Reporter, 9 August). Here is one. May we please have a live open forum in which members of the Regent House can have an input? I hope the new Beckwith Professor will come.

The Report of the General Board, dated 12 July 2000, on private practice within the School of Clinical Medicine (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 1020).


Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, the recommendations of this Report very properly include the new University office (here called a 'grade') of Senior Lecturer, but the proposed ordinance calls the office 'Senior University Lecturer' whereas the relevant statute, D, XVIII, in fact created a new office with the different title 'University Senior Lecturer'.

I have been trying, so far without success, to persuade the Old Schools that the inclusion of the word 'University' in the title 'Senior Lecturer' is cumbersome and unnecessary, though I had not anticipated that confusion would set in quite so quickly. University Lecturers were originally so named to distinguish them from College Lecturers, but there are no College Senior Lecturers, just as there are no College Readers or College Professors.

I have also been trying to persuade the Old Schools, similarly without success so far, that it is absurd to have placed the chapter on Senior Lecturers in the statutes after that on University Lecturers rather than before it and after that on Readers. In consequence the order of the offices in the proposed ordinance, though eminently sensible, is statutorily incorrect, and must be changed unless my attempt at persuasion finally succeeds.

Fortunately, a Report on the amendment of certain Statutes has just been published (Reporter, p. 23), and as it already contains proposed corrections to Statute D as a result of earlier representations of mine, it would be easy to incorporate these further suggestions. To the charge that I should have made them when the draft statute was first published, I have to observe that the Report proposing it was put up for discussion during the Long Vacation of 1999 at a time when, entirely reasonably, I was abroad on holiday.


Registrary, 'private practice for personal reward'. What is in the interests of the University here? All that is visible on the face of these proposals is yet better remuneration for a group among us already paid far more than others in the University doing the same job because they have to be kept in line with NHS rates.

Our Vice-Chancellor leads the way in private practice for personal reward, with his many tens of thousands in the last year and a bit, as Non-Executive Director of Vodafone (other perks too, I wonder?). His new enlarged salary (not yet published for you to compare with your own) will also widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the University, while Vodafone operatives stand in King's Parade handing out leaflets which say, 'Great offers for new students', and Colleges offer free Vodafones with their Visa cards; and Sir Alec goes off to China in mid-October at its controversial President's invitation, just as the news breaks (5 October) that Vodafone is moving into China big-time. Signals cannot help but be sent. It is very important indeed to keep private practice for personal reward free of any possibility of that happening.

If you want to draw attention to any conflicts of interest you observe to arise as our clinical medics go forward into private practice for personal reward, we now have a Public Interest Disclosure Code, our whistle-blowing policy, passed by the Council on 25 September. It is unclear how soon or by what route copies of it may reach you. It is not going to be published. It diminishes your existing rights if you are a member of staff, although students who are not provided for will presumably still retain them. Instead of making a speech in the Senate-House like this, you will be expected to raise your concern with the Secretary General, the Registrary, or the Vice-Chancellor or, failing them, the Chairman of the Audit Committee, Dr David Thompson, if he is not too busy unravelling the CAPSA story for our audit.

The Report of the Faculty Board of Education, dated 26 June 2000, on a proposed amendment to the regulations for the Education Studies Tripos (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 1021).


Registrary, I am getting fairly practised at reading the subtexts of Reports to the University. When I see the verb 'believe', I stop and read the sentence again. 'The Faculty Board believe that their proposals have significant educational advantages' means 'the Faculty Board has its own reasons but they are probably not educational'. 'An alternative, more explicitly professionally oriented course of study' means (perhaps) 'a way of getting a Cambridge degree on the basis of teaching practice (and without writing all those essays?)'. I would not like to suggest that this sounds like dumbing-down, but I do think the Faculty Board should be a little franker with us about its agenda.

CMI Ltd is not to be an educational charity after all and we shall have to have another Grace to establish it as a commercial concern delivering its own educational studies (in or outside this Tripos?). I am not sure you will get a Report to enable you to discuss whether you want that. I tuck it in briefly here, while we are on educational studies, to warn you. CMI Ltd is another potential Cambridge Dome, whose contents promise to have all the high excitement and cultural leading edge of that place in Greenwich. I hope these new Tripos proposals in the present Report will turn out to be intellectually richer.

Professor D. I. MCINTYRE:

Registrary, the reasons for the introduction of the proposed new scheme for the Education Studies Tripos are quite clear in the Report that has been published. They are necessary in the view of the Faculty of Education because of the threat to recruitment and to standards that has been brought about by a Government change in its procedures for recruiting teachers and in particular by the offer of salaries of £6,000 for trainees who want to enter primary schools through a P.G.C.E. course. This will mean that the incentives not to study education at an undergraduate level, but to wait until postgraduate level are very substantial. That is the primary reason for precipitating our need to make this change.

However, I would point out that there are indeed advantages in this change. The proposed change whereby in effect the B.Ed. Degree could be replaced by the new B.A. Scheme B can be guaranteed to improve the qualifications of those entering the course. There is clear evidence that many of the ablest potential candidates are currently deterred by the simple fact that the course is labelled a B.Ed. course, not a B.A. course. On the other hand, without this change it is clear that the impact of the graduate salary for primary P.G.C.E. students will be a severe deterrent to those entering the B.Ed. Degree. It will be difficult to recruit B.Ed. students, and therefore the current high entry standards for the B.Ed. will be bound to fall.

The Faculty of Education's strategic plan is to re-duce gradually over the next ten years the number of students admitted to the professionally-oriented undergraduate course. This being so, it can be virtually guaranteed that the present high level of qualifications for B.Ed. entrants, which will immediately be improved by the change to a B.A. course, will continue to improve over the next few years until, very soon, they will be indistinguishable from those of other B.A. students.

Our aspiration, our plan, is to make the undergraduate study of education, already attracting candidates with high entry qualifications, to be on a par with other undergraduate courses and students in the qualifications of entrants.

The Report of the General Board, dated 12 July 2000, on the establishment of a British Heart Foundation Professorship of Cardiovascular Sciences (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 1064).


Registrary, if you look back through the years you will find several of these contrivances in each annual sequence of Reporters. It is proposed that we grace and simultaneously appoint to an established Chair.

This is a 'personal professorship for a named individual, nominated by the institution'. And it is a necessary condition that the 'candidate should already be in receipt of a British Heart Foundation Programme Grant or an equivalent level of support from another grant-giving organization'. Some universities promote people because they show that they are able to get money. I hoped we would not go this way, at least quite so brazenly. Now that there is no financial bar on Chairs for all who deserve them, there is no need at all for this proviso.

What was the method of appointment used in arriving at this name? An Advisory Committee was set up (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 1064) without the knowledge of the Regent House, which did not then have a hint of the proposal that 'it' should establish this Chair. We do not know who 'really' appointed this Advisory Committee or on what authority. It certainly did not come before the Nominations Committee, which keeps a cursory eye on the appointments to Boards of Electors for established Chairs. The 'authority' of this Committee appears to rest upon its analogousness with such Boards. So should there not have been be similar watchdog rules about its appointment?

What did the mysterious Advisory Committee in this case then do next? I think we may safely assume its members did not get any training in fairness. It 'considered potential candidates from within and outside the UK'. There can have been no opportunity to invite applications, since there was no Chair to advertise. It was then decided to 'nominate' Dr Bennett. I know nothing about Dr Bennett or his merits. But others who might have liked a chance to contend for this Chair may wish to know why this internal candidate was favoured and whether the reality is that the Chair was created for him personally.

Those waiting month after month since January to know their fate in this year's promotions round should be so lucky. My own appeal against the decision of what we will for want of a more exact term call my Faculty's 'promotions committee' succeeded. It was accepted that it was improperly constituted in my case. But I am no further forward, since the General Board Committee does not appear to have grasped that if a whole committee is ruled out of order and its work voided, the next stage committee cannot just go on regardless and rely on those documents. They do not 'exist'. Nor do the references obtained on the recommendation of that voided committee. So the Vice-Chancellor is committed to putting a stop to our 'sink or swim attitude to career development', to doing 'justice to the talent we have in Cambridge', to 'complete fairness'? 'I see it as vital to establish a more friendly and supportive environment for everyone', he promised in his speech on 2 October. On 17 October he will chair the untrained General Board Promotions Committee, himself untrained. At the risk of sounding bitter, for it needs saying on behalf of many others, I would suggest that the 'environment' is chiefly friendly and supportive for the lucky recipients of such truly ad hominem, customized Chairs as this, individuals whom the Big Leading Players wish to advance.

I expect to fly in from the USA (where the international reputation my Faculty alleges to be uncertain has invited me across the Atlantic to be a keynote speaker for the third time this year) on the day when the letter arrives in my pigeon-hole to tell me that once more I have not succeeded in my application. Then I shall appeal on the procedural ground that the General Board Committee was conjuring with phantom pieces of paper. But my appeal will fail of course. No training, you see, so no one will understand the issues.

Good luck to you Professor Bennett. While the rest of us wait, disappointed that the promised reforms of the promotions procedures are to be held up for at least another year, your career can forge ahead. I hope you appreciate the size of the gulf between your treatment and that of others. You did not have to 'navigate' your way through the shoals of the promotions procedures where so many perfectly sea-worthy craft founder. You will be now be allowed all those opportunities for career progression which come one's way with a Chair. You will be offered lots of important and interesting committees.

It looked twelve months ago as though hope was dawning, and that, and other matters directly affecting the lives and careers of the University's academic staff and all those involved in its educational and academic responsibilities, might be able to be addressed in a new climate. There is continuing uncertainty about what is going to happen as we move towards 1 December. Many in the University would be relieved to discover that there was going to be a vacancy for a principal officer. Many of us feel that a Vice-Chancellor ought to grasp this nettle; ought to have grasped it by now. Everything is stalled and hanging fire while we discover whether the University is going to be free to go forward with its planning for a humane, accountable, responsive, and better-regulated regime in the future. There is no immediate prospect of movement on the transfer of the whole business of promotions to the Personnel Division either, or on the liberation of the Personnel Divison from the stranglehold of the old General Board ways, until it is clear what is to happen.

I do not enjoy standing up and saying this in public, even in code. But it is not right that one individual's entitlement to walk back into his former office and take up his continuing statutory Office with its penumbra of unstatutory 'powers' in little over a month's time, should have so many thousands of us kept waiting for long overdue reforms.

One of those reforms must be the ending of this kind of 'special favour' route to a Chair. Indeed, I will go so far as to make a formal objection to the award of this Chair in these circumstances, so that the Notice in reply to this does not brush me aside with the usual assertion that there was no such objection to going ahead with the Grace. But I bet they will, just the same. 'Complete fairness' (Reporter, p. 60)? Come off it, Sir Alec!

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Cambridge University Reporter, 18 October 2000