The Progression of Cloud Computing
in Further Education Colleges
Finance, HR and Payroll Services in the Cloud
Detailed outcomes from Individual Projects
4.2 Finance, HR and Payroll Services in the Cloud
Needs and Opportunities
The main need for the delivery of efficient finance, HR and payroll services in an FE College is to
provide the highest level of service combined with maximum business efficiency. This involves
accurate and timely recording and reporting services to the College management, governors and
other stakeholders including staff. Delivery of services requires a high level of systems
functionality which, increasingly, includes self-service facilities for staff.
Cloud computing has the potential to support the maximisation of business efficiency by enabling
users to access the latest software. Users, of course, are drawn from support and curriculum
If a shared service approach is also adopted, further efficiency gains can be achieved through
single software purchases for a group of Colleges, adoption of a common set of business processes
and shared use of IT and expertise.
SISSC Ltd (Shared Services in Sussex and Surrey Colleges) comprises eight Colleges (three in
Surrey and five in Sussex). It is allied to FE Sussex, a consortium of 12 post-16 Colleges in Sussex
(six general FE, five sixth form and one land-based). The FE Sussex project, which is led by
Northbrook College and delivered by FE Sussex and SISSC Ltd, involves the development and
delivery of shared financial, HR, payroll and e-recruitment services across the Surrey and Sussex
Colleges. At the time of writing, payroll services are going live in one College, with a progressive
roll-out planned. The system has been tested extensively through parallel runs with historical
data. A training programme is in place. Further updates on the success and impact of this project
will be reported in updates of this report.
The Isle of Wight College Project is a single-College project based on running Symmetry, a
finance system, in the cloud. This system went live in August/September 2013 with a roll-out to
35 staff members across College campuses. Evaluation of the use of the system will be reported in
updates of this report.
Both projects, Isle of Wight and FE Sussex aim for service improvements which include
self-service access in departments.
Both projects anticipate significant savings. FE Sussex £75000 and Isle of Wight £18000
Training and Culture change
8 Colleges 7000 users
The most significant element
of the project. Agreement and
conformance to common
business processes and
Isle of Wight
1 College 20 users
Users are adapting well to
the new system.
Proceeding smoothly in a
Initial challenges with
getting Symmetry to work
fully in the Cloud and with
JANET band with
Can be used by any college
within the partnership.
Can be used by other
FE Sussex: The delivery model for FE Sussex, as a shared services project, is cloud hosting of
finance, HR and payroll applications software and databases, supported by the SISSC Ltd team.
There is a single database for each application serving all Colleges, all of which are required to
implement a common set of business processes.
Isle of Wight College: The delivery model for the Isle of Wight College is cloud hosting of Symmetry software and the College finance database.
FE Sussex: An OJEC tendering process was used for procurement. ULCC was selected as the
hosting service, through a JISC-supported process. Risks in software procurement were minimised
by using a system that has been proven in the University of Sussex and Northern Ireland Colleges.
Isle of Wight: Having selected Symmetry cloud, the two main supplier challenges encountered
concerned the timing of the upgrade of the JANET connection and the need for further support
from Symmetry to enable functionality of specific College-based reports.
Project and Change Management
FE Sussex: “Change management has been the biggest challenge of all!”
The human element is seen as more difficult to solve than any technical problem. Systematic
recording of faults and changes to specification is essential.
A training programme has been put in place across the group of Colleges for 7000 users. This
training has been around the new system and moving away from paper to an online system. This
in turn, it is felt, will lead to a change in culture over time through changes to working practices.
The software has been set up
and the main complexities
were around configuration,
ensuring that all was set up
correctly, documenting all the
information in a configuration
log and ensuring
continuity with staff over any
issues and making sure these
Isle of Wight College:
“One of our most significant issues was the conflict between the need to run our existing services
whilst trying to deploy a new system at the same time. All change management meetings were
successful up until the testing phase. At this point, time pressures and frustrations with delays
possibly caused us to pay less attention to the details than we should have done. Some reports
were missed and silly things, such as the wrong logo being ported over on the reports, were not
identified in a timely manner. This has led to issues being carried over into the final version that
should have been resolved prior to the live version being deployed.”
During testing it was found that several critical reports did not work correctly and this required a
significant amount of reprogramming by the Symmetry consultants.
“Once this work was completed, it was found that the reports were still not running correctly and
as we were heading towards the end of the College financial year, we delayed the final handover
until we could be sure that the system would work from day one. The Symmetry team provided
a series of test versions until we agreed that they were working fine. The rollout of the new
system was carried out overnight and we closed down the old server the same day to prevent
any data crossover. Unlike FE Sussex, the human element has not been a significant problem.
Most staff are using the system with little requirement for long training sessions and have been
up and running fairly quickly. There are some areas where staff are having issues. These are
being completed via individual trainings sessions and lessons learnt are being disseminated to
FE Sussex: This project involves extensive SLAs between specific Colleges and SISSC Ltd and
between SISSC Ltd and ULCC, the software provider and JANET.
“Ensuring watertight agreements and a collaborative atmosphere mitigated the barriers.”
Binding Solution Design Documents underpin the transition to the cloud for each application.
Isle of Wight: The main SLA for this project is between the College and Symmetry, now Blueqube.
FE Sussex: Impact is continuously evaluated as Colleges become live on the system.
Isle of Wight College: Many staff have found the system easier to use and it is significantly faster
to complete a lot of the finance processes than with the previous system. The ability to customise
your own reports and to export to Excel has made budget monitoring much easier and quicker.
“We will reduce in-College servers by ten at the end of this project. Each server costs
approximately £13,000 per annum to run and service. Hosting environment fees are less than half
this. This will result in a £75,000 saving.”
Isle of Wight: The following savings have been identified:
£2,000 software upgrade costs will no longer be required in 2013/14.
£11,000 from modifications to our existing dashboard software installation that will no longer be
£2,000 annual consultancy costs.
£3,000 hardware replacement costs.
Total projected savings £18,000.
Staff time will be saved in the following areas:
Report writing can be completed by local managers without recourse to the finance team.
Requirement for specialist technical skills to support server-based issues will be reduced.
Sustainability and Expected Longer Term Impact
FE Sussex: Sustainability for the project is an integrated part of the business plan and SISSC will
increase its reach as further Colleges and applications come on board.
Isle of Wight College:
“The Isle of Wight College is expecting the project to provide an improved financial system that
will enable local managers to produce timely, relevant reports directly without the need to refer
to finance staff. This will enable staff time to be used more efficiently whilst improving the
quality of data to facilitate better decision making.”
Replicablity for the Wider FE Sector
FE Sussex: The ability to replicate the project in other Colleges in the group is in-built. There has
been a high level of interest in the project from other Colleges who are keen to benefit from the
savings the shared service can produce.
Isle of Wight College: The approach used here should be replicable for other single Colleges
using Symmetry and general experience is of value to any College considering moving to a
cloud-based solution for its financial system. The College journey will support replicability for
any College moving a financial system to the cloud. Once completed, feedback will be given via
the Finance Directors’ Network over issues we have experienced and how the implementation has
benefitted our organisation. A case study will be completed. We anticipate inviting other
interested Colleges within our sector to a presentation day to share good practice and to discuss
With thanks to all project partners who contributed to the
development of this report and consultant Chris West
The Association of Colleges 2013
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