We have had an incredibly busy time in the few months since Issue 1 of our newsletter was produced, and we can proudly say that all 10 members of the OCS initiative have gone live. We have definitely passed a crucial milestone.
For many Centres, 31st December marked the first year-end in OCS. Anyone from a finance background understands that in finance departments everywhere this can be a tense time. Brand new procedures are invoked – all the General Ledger entries for the year are totalled, rolled forward, reported on, assets depreciated, accruals and prepayments calculated, accounts reconciled, and the list goes on and on. The potential for a calamity is always there in the background. If anything major is to go wrong with an ERP system then the chances are that it will happen at year-end. If there were any faults in the system set-up – a box left unticked or a table not updated, this is where the flaws will be cruelly exposed.
So the year-end has come and gone and while there are have been some issues that needed to be resolved it has been a relatively calm and orderly year-end close.
The fact is that this has been achieved is no small feat; teams of dedicated and committed staff have been “burning the midnight oil”, taking decision after decision, sometimes without much support or recognition, and leveraging years of experience and expertise to achieve this outcome. You know who you are, and at this point we think a metaphorical pat on the back is in order.
Now, we know that an ERP system such as OCS is more than just a finance system. Several Centres have forged ahead and already implemented modules for HR (and all its many sub-components), logistics, project management, planner, timesheets, travel expenses, fixed assets, reporting and dashboards. The list goes on, and you can read about them in the user stories in this newsletter. Other Centres have included many of these modules in their 2016 work plans.
Another priority Centres have set for 2016 is to ensure that OCS is rolled out to all their regional and country offices. This will provide real-time reporting on the complete set of a Centre’s activities and mitigate against some of the risks linked with small offices and segregation of duties.
To assist with the process of continual improvement and development of OCS, Brendan Fagan, an expert systems architect and project manager has been recruited to lead the common developments. Brendan brings many years of experience working with ERP systems, and in particular Unit4 Business World, to the team.
Much remains to be done. To steal a quote from Nadia Kazmi in Africa Rice “ERP system development continues until the last user is dead.” Well, perhaps that is a little strong but you get the point…
Latest from the centers.
OCS at goes LIVE at ILRI!
By Ewen LeBorgne
OCS went live at ILRI on 21st September 2015 with logistics and 12th October 2015 with finance, people and organizational development (HR), planner, project costing and billing, research and time registration.
It’s been a long journey from the system definition stages in 2012 to go-live in September 2015. The ILRI OCS team, led by the Project Manager Isaac Kihara, have worked amidst several challenges. It was because of these challenges that the ILRI OCS steering committee made the difficult decision, in the final quarter of 2014, to postpone go-live to the second half of 2015. This saw them work on a very good set of building blocks, both in terms of the modules developed, data cleaning and preparations identified and initiated, consultancy partners (GCON4), communication activities planned and governance of the OCS project sorted out.
In the past few months, together with the experience and expertise of GCON4, Isaac and the OCS team have been able to:
Work on the various OCS modules that ILRI will run;
Prepare data cleaning and undertake thorough connectivity stress tests in the Nairobi (Headquarters) and Addis Ababa campuses;
Hold bi-weekly (and now weekly) steering committee meetings to ensure that the project is on the right track and that no major issue is overlooked;
Undertake a series of communication activities to engage staff and various types of users around OCS.
The main challenges and opportunities of OCS at ILRI
The big challenges that ILRI has gone through, and mostly turned into opportunities have been:
Getting buy-in from the management of ILRI to really support and be seen to support OCS. This is now secure and embodied by the high-level representation at OCS steering committee meetings;
Identifying Unit4 consultants to assist the ILRI OCS team had proven nerve-wracking.
Among the technical operations, data transformation and mapping also proved difficult, but the biggest issue was redefining business processes. Various ILRI work processes were previously not very clear, but the OCS workflow necessitated that these be articulated very clearly. This business process re-engineering took major efforts but eventually proved extremely useful. However, it has not been entirely finalized as ILRI has the peculiarity of owning two major campuses (headquarters in Nairobi and another major campus in Addis Ababa) where business processes and requirements are not always the same.
Managing expectations of the leadership and staff was another area of concern throughout the project. It was really tempting to go live in 2014, especially to cover up the slow progress in developing the system. However, the whole team resisted this and instead put emphasis in all communication materials that OCS would aim to improve processes in the organization, but would definitely not be perfect. It would require inputs from everyone to improve functionalities.
Lastly, the regions (and country offices) in which ILRI is operating, beyond Nairobi and Addis Ababa, will not be served in 2015, but will have to be part of the next bandwagon.
The next frontier for OCS at ILRI
ILRI is on the final sprint before releasing all modules live. Procurement is already live and all others will follow by mid-October (2015).
Then, as is the case with any system roll-out project, the real work starts; this involves collection of additional feedback from live practice, and identify the next frontier and improvements that need to be added to the system. Already the ‘people and budget planner’ module and other P&OD functionalities are planned for 2016. Communicating about OCS – carefully and consistently
Since 2014, the OCS team, with the help of the communication and knowledge management (CKM) team of ILRI put together a communication strategy, a website (http://ilri-ocs.wikispaces.com/), a question and answer email address (AskILRIocs@cgiar.org) and a series of communication activities to ensure that all staff and various types of users understand, appreciate and are confident using OCS modules. Among the communication activities put in place:
At ILRI TownHalls (general meetings bringing the whole institute together physically or virtually), Director General Jimmy Smith has provided regular updates on OCS and what is planned;
Specifically when the training was in full swing and focusing on the issue of timesheets/time registration, a video of Jimmy Smith was recorded and shared with all staff to explain what is at stake with OCS time registration for ILRI;
Every week there has been updates in the ‘Week ahead email’ as well as on the digital signage screens on both ILRI campuses, with short news about what is happening in relation with OCS every week;
Misja Brandenburg has written a monthly update about OCS shared by email and on the ILRI Announcements blog to give a more comprehensive overview of what is happening;
An ‘OCS open day’ was organized in Addis Ababa and then in Nairobi to engage all staff;
At special meetings (Board meetings, Management team meetings), the OCS team has regularly organized a briefing on OCS progress and important issues to keep the leadership of the organization aware of progress and of its possible role in promoting OCS;
A series of posters (a general poster and some thematic module posters) and a flyer were developed, partly building upon the example of ICRAF);
An OCS website has been set up. It contains information about each module, the process and plan, the issues that people are putting forward on time registration or otherwise; it also explains who is behind OCS and keeps tracks of all the meeting minutes of steering committees.
ICARDA on OCS
By Hashem Abed.
On 13 April 2015, ICARDA went live with the One Corporate System after years of hard work and collaboration with other CG Centres. Representatives of ICARDA’s senior management and the OCS team witnessed the first transactions processed through the ICARDA UBW System.
ICARDA’s goal has been to effectively implement OCS in all its locations worldwide to support decentralization. The organization’s biggest challenge was not so much on changing technology or creating new business processes, but motivating staff to adapt to the change.
ICARDA considers OCS an opportunity to re-engineer and enhance its business processes in addition to building the capacity and skills of its staff. All staff at ICARDA were involved and trained on the use of the system. Training is a key component in accelerating performance and developing skills and abilities of staff on the use of the system.
The real return on investment following implementation of a new system takes time. There are still some teething problems that have arisen, but the benefits gained far outweigh the costs and difficulties.
ICARDA plans to implement additional modules in order to strengthen and streamline its business processes.
Updates from ICRAF
OCS training in Bogor.
By Isaac Ochieng
The ICRAF OCS team travelled to Bogor, Indonesia to conduct User Acceptance Training (UAT) for staff from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East and Central Asia. Participants from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, India and China, as well as field staff from Sulawesi in Indonesia, converged at CIFOR where the Southeast Asia Regional as well as the Indonesia Country Offices are hosted, from the 24 August to 14 September 2015. During the first week, participants went through the common modules which comprised Introduction to UBW, Leave Application, Travel and Requisition. While participating in the training workshop, Dr. Ujjwal Pradhan, the Regional Coordinator for Southeast Asia expressed strong support for the One Corporate System initiative that is anticipated to enhance internal controls and cut across all participating CG Centres. Acknowledging that OCS, if well implemented, would provide uniform and efficient access to valuable resources required for both technical and financial reporting, Dr Pradhan noted that ICRAF SEA would remain in the forefront in ensuring co-ownership of the system by providing all the support required for trainers, both from the region and HQ. After the training, the Southeast Asia, South Asia and East and Central Asia teams formed specific expert groups and are communicating on Whatsapp and other social media accounts to share experiences, concerns and seek clarification.
From Southeast Asia the ICRAF OCS training team will move on to the East and Southern Africa, West and Central Africa and Latin America Regions.OCS Open Day By Betty Rabar
ICRAF held its first open day on 16 October 2015. The main aim of the event was to gather feedback on the new system from various regions including Philippines, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, China, Malawi, Tanzania and Cameron. The sessions, facilitated by Hassan Mehmood – Head of Capacity Development, saw various issues raised, both positive and negative.
Some of the concerns raised were on the Procurement module. It was largely described as efficient, but members requested that purchase orders include terms and conditions for the suppliers and that fonts on supplier details be standardised. Users were urged to ensure that they select the correct classification when making requisitions.
A number of issues arose on the Citrix system and it was resolved that OSU would work on these. It was however pointed out that some maintenance had been recently conducted and this would help in resolving some of the problems.
Other modules that were extensively discussed were Leave, Travel Authorization and Travel Expense Claim. On travel, it was also proposed that an option be included in the system to initiate cancellation of a TA in case one’s travel is cancelled.
On the Finance modules, it was noted that the commitment slide for financial reports would be improved, journals were now working much better with the new templates and that on accounts payable, both the originator and approver would be clearly indicated for each transaction to ensure accountability.
The issue of the funds checking function also came up. It is currently available but not enabled. The technical team would continue to work on this. The OCS team would also share the new budget codes with administrators.
Training for other regions would begin with East and Southern Africa and Latin America before moving to West and Central Africa.
OCS Operational Support Unit (OSU) News board.
A lot has been happening on the OCS front. Here are some the latest additions to the environment for value addition.
Amazon Workspaces for the OCS Environment.
The OCS Operational Support Unit has released the Amazon Workspaces for OCS users. Amazon WorkSpaces is a managed desktop computing service in the cloud that allows customers to easily provision cloud-based desktops that allow end-users to access the documents, applications and resources they need with the device of their choice, including laptops, iPad, Kindle Fire, Android tablets, and zero clients.
This enables OCS users to access published applications on the OCS environment, and is particularly useful for users who are either travelling or working from home. Some of the benefits realized in using Amazon WorkSpaces include:
Easy to use – Users will be provided with a link to the Amazon WorkSpace client, where they can log into the OCS eminent using the credentials provided by OSU support.
Secure – When users are using Amazon WorkSpaces, data is not sent to or stored in end-user devices. This offers a secure, high quality experience between users’ devices and their WorkSpaces. Amazon WorkSpaces incorporates PCoIP technology from Teradici which compresses, encrypts, and encodes the users’ desktop computing experience and transmits ‘pixels only’ across any standard IP network to users’ stateless zero clients, PCs, laptops and mobile devices.
Desktop and mobile compatibility – Amazon WorkSpaces clients are available for both Windows and Mac computers, for iPad, Kindle Fire and Android tablets, as well as for zero clients. When WorkSpaces are provisioned for users, they will receive an email containing details on how they can download the clients. The WorkSpaces PC or Mac client provides users with full access to their desktop and includes support for multiple monitors, audio and video.
Flexible payment structure – Amazon offers a pay-as-you-go model with no long-term commitment. This means that Centres will only be charged for what they use. This is a unique feature that distinguishes Amazon Workspaces from other cloud virtual desktop providers, such as Citrix.
Web Application Firewall.
Security has always been a main concern with cloud systems and therefore OSU has to keep abreast with the latest security systems in the market. One such system that has been tested for implementation is Incapsula.
Incapsula’s content delivery network (CDN) comprises data centres located at strategic points on the Internet (e.g., close to ISPs). These locations enhance global coverage for our clients, while also allowing them to comply with regional content and privacy regulations. Incapsula’s CDN runs on top of major Tier 1 provider networks, ensuring the highest quality of service, maximum throughput and minimum latency.
Leveraging Incapsula’s proven security expertise, our PCI-certified web application firewall and advanced bot protection capabilities secure any website against known and emerging threats. It thwarts all OWASP threats—from bots, scrapers, and spammers to sophisticated injection and XSS attacks. All network and application DDoS attacks are also mitigated, as are application-level attacks.
Meanwhile, outgoing traffic is both accelerated and optimized by Incapsula’s caching and optimization techniques, ensuring optimal pass-through speed for welcome visitors.
Pictorial OCS finance training at ILRI Nairobi in March 2015. OCS Open Day in ILRI Addis Ababa in 13 August 2015.ICARDA OCS team “Smiley faces at the first system transaction”
OCS Project Manager, Linus Kabutha and Faith Murigi ICRAF MIS assistant assisting approvers on the approval process and substitute assignment.
Some of the participants from ICRAF OCS open day in Nairobi
To read more in this issue. Find the full copy in high resolution here.