SAP’s northern flop

A pioneering two-year SAP implementation at a northern university has been plunged into controversy after users branded it as an expensive ‘disaster’ which had overrun by six months.

SAP’s R/3 enterprise application at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne is due to go live in August, at a cost of £7m. It is SAP’s flagship public-sector project.

The ambitious scheme, codenamed MAIS and run by the university’s pro vice-chancellor John Goddard, will link all university departments, overhauling the old financial and administrative system.

Criticism of the project comes at an embarrassing time for the German software giant as it aims to gain a stranglehold on the public sector. The University of Warwick is due to go live with an R/3 implementation next month and other university contracts include Leeds, Leicester and Northumbria.

The Newcastle project, launched in 1997 after consultancy advice from Ernst & Young, was one of the first SAP implementations at a UK university. A team of 15 academics and IT staff has worked on the project alongside SAP consultants.

The university insisted the project had gone smoothly and to time. But one source close to the IT project claimed it was six months late, breaking a deadline set earlier.

‘It has taken longer than expected because various dates were set and not achieved,’ said the source.

Other users of the SAP system raised concerns about the early performance of R/3. Doctor Bruce Charlton, a psychology lecturer, claimed the project had created widespread resentment among staff: ‘It’s not user-friendly and some aspects of it are incredibly slow,’ he said. ‘It’s a classic public-sector disaster.’

Charlton also claimed the university had not published all the costs of MAIS, such as staff time and outside programmers.

A university spokesman admitted the implementation had gone £400,000 over budget but said the university was ‘happy’ with the application’s performance.

SAP declined to comment.

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