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Eight steps universities should follow when procuring and implementing a new IT system

Many universities face the challenge of procuring and implementing a new student record system – their main ‘information backbone’ for recording student details, choices and achievements. This is often because their existing systems are becoming obsolete, they want a new system to enable a broader transformation, or they want to move to a cloud-based solution.

However, this is unfamiliar ground for most universities – their larger procurements are usually for property rather than IT, and this is typically an exercise that takes place once every ten years. And when they have navigated the procurement process, they face the challenge of trying to manage a large complex IT contract.

So how can universities make the best out of their student record system procurements, and manage the subsequent contract? Here we explore the eight key steps to navigate before and after procurement to ensure success.

During procurement:

1. Sell the opportunity to the supplier market. With the field of suppliers being relatively small and the number of potential customers high, it’s important to do pre-procurement engagement. Ensure your procurement documents are clear and well presented, so suppliers can spend their time developing the best solution, not trying to figure out what you want or how to reply. Demonstrate senior sponsorship so suppliers are confident of their commitment.

2. Use the procurement procedure as an opportunity to engage stakeholders and develop your thinking. Things don’t need to grind to a halt during the procurement. Use the time to develop your new operating model, sort out your legacy data, build interest among stakeholders, and plan how the transition will work.

3. Push hard for strong contractual provisions around implementation. Suppliers’ standard terms around implementation can be limited. Push hard for more effective provisions here so you only pay when value is delivered. This approach will allow you to monitor progress closely and ensures you have a range of remedies available when things head off track. Accept that you will have little influence on the supplier’s standard terms around live cloud services or software licenses

4. Part of adopting a cloud service is accepting you’re getting the same services as everybody else. Although you may be able to select the level of service you receive (e.g. gold, silver, bronze) it’s unlikely that a supplier will negotiate specific targets around availability or incident response time. It’s also important that you check these service or licence terms against the main contract to ensure no provisions are undermined. For example, the licence may allow the supplier to terminate for a minor breach or to increase the price under certain circumstances.

With the procurement successfully navigated, and the supplier on board, there’s a tendency for the university to relax and trust that the supplier will handle the rest of the process. But universities must continue to be stay focused, even after the procurement is complete.

5. Be prepared to be disappointed (initially). Not all suppliers are as good as you might expect at project management. In fact, it may take the supplier some time to mobilise a team. It’s unlikely they will have people with the right expertise ready to start work immediately. So, you may need to be a bit more leading in the early days than you expected to.

6. Know the ‘levers’ in the contract, and adopt the proverbial ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ in using them. As you’ve already invested the time in agreeing a robust contract, make sure that you know the levers available to you, and use them. This does not mean being aggressive or confrontational with the supplier, but it is important to set clear expectations early on. If you decide not to exercise any of the available remedies, make sure that you record why – so this is clear in any subsequent audit or review.

7. Be joined up in your management of the supplier. It’s important to present a united front – otherwise you risk giving inconsistent direction and not making the best use of the contractual levers. It’s equally important not to handle the different aspects of supplier management (e.g. service delivery, invoicing and contract maintenance) in isolation.

8. Don’t forget to look strategically. When you’re in the delivery phase, it can be easy to forget about the long-term view. For example, have you considered where your supplier is going? How is their financial health? Are they expanding, or are they losing customers? Do you have a view of their product roadmap?

A new student record system can bring huge benefits – including improved student satisfaction, staff productivity and student retention. Although the procurement process may seem daunting, through careful planning, appropriate resourcing and effective execution it can deliver big benefits.

Contact the author

  • Ed Jones

    Ed Jones

    PA public services procurement and commercial expert

    Ed is one of PA's senior procurement and commercial practitioners. He has led and worked on many major procurement and commercial programmes for a range of clients across the public sector.

    Insights by Ed Jones

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