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UGent automates research management processes, for big wins

  • Yor Rombaut & Ann Koolen

As an institution of higher education and research, the University of Ghent (UGent) must deal with large volumes of documentation, financial information and other data related to educational and research projects. As UGent was already using SAP to manage its finance and HR data, they decided to take their financial and operational approach to research project management to the next level with SAP Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) and SAP Fiori.

The task at hand? To provide UGent employees with a clearer overall picture of research projects and their financial status at all times, improve project management, automate administration and link diverse data sources to enable a complete overview.

Uniting formerly siloed sources of information

“Researchers and other employees at our university are often involved in multiple projects”, explains David Vermeersch, business project manager for Finance and Research Management at UGent. “Managing all those projects, both administratively and financially, is certainly a challenge: it involves approval requests, reporting tasks, budgetary changes, and so on. GISMO, our own recently developed Java-based portal for research and project management, CV maintenance and more was already a big step in the right direction.”

“Researchers are often involved in multiple projects. Managing all the tasks involved, administrative and financial, is certainly challenging.”
David Vermeersch, business project manager for Finance and Research Management at UGent

“However, there was still room for improvement”, explains Yor Rombaut, SAP consultant at Flexso, “as creating the link between the research side (GISMO) and the financial side (SAP) of a project was still mainly a manual task. Financial tracking involved Excel files being physically moved from mailbox to mailbox, with sometimes heavy manual labour necessary to ensure their accuracy.”

Combining researcher workflows with financial data

To optimise the management of their many projects, UGent decided to use SAP PPM. David: “The solution offers great structure to manage consecutive phases in research projects. Its setup is conceptually similar to the process of a research endeavour, making it a great match for us.” Yor: “SAP PPM offers an ideal hierarchical structure that allows easy categorisation and combination of different project elements.”

One of the first steps in the implementation project was to activate the PPM module and migrate existing financial data into it. Jan Verhamme, ICT lead for Research Management at UGent: “Next, Flexso created the interface between SAP and the GISMO portal, enabling the Java platform to send project information to SAP to be stored in PPM and financial data to be reported back to the GISMO portal. After that, Yor and the rest of the team created links between PPM and the SAP financial module, enabling smooth, automated, interlinked data flows.”

Thanks to SAP PPM, workflows related to the financial data at UGent were greatly simplified. “It was a complete transformation,” asserts Yor. “The research project data in GISMO is now completely aligned with the related financial information.”

The next step

In addition to deploying SAP PPM and interfacing it with other SAP modules and the GISMO Java-based platform, the Flexso team and UGent also developed about 16 custom Fiori applications to simplify financial follow-up on research projects. You can read about the SAP Fiori phase of the project in the following blog post.

The business benefits

  • Interlinked SAP data sources relevant for research projects, such as finance.
  • Interface between researcher-oriented Java portal and finance-oriented SAP module.
  • Automatic translation of external data formats into SAP-standardised formats.

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