The English language and British culture are not the easiest products to package and sell. Nevertheless, the British Council – charged with promoting Britain’s cultural heritage and economic future across the world – needs operational efficiency as much as any manufacturer or distributor.
Until last year, the British Council’s IT infrastructure was divided along both regional and departmental lines.
The systems it had in place to manage financial operations and administrate educational programs, were not lacking. But the business processes they supported and defined varied wildly across the organisation, and managing such a varied stack was becoming complex. So the Council decided to standardise onto a single instance of SAP’s enterprise resource planning software. It now supports every process.
“The idea of the SAP project was to make business processes as simple and standard as possible,” explains Richard Phillips, program director of the British Council’s finance and business systems. “We are resisting localisation.”
The move to a single instance of SAP was a transformational exercise for the Council. Business processes and job roles had to be altered to fit the software. “It was quite a difficult transition, as it affected every single member of staff,” says Phillips. Operational staff that would have previously sent some kinds of work, such as procurement, over to employees in the finance department must now do it themselves, an example of how the new software necessitated an adjustment of the roles within the organisation.
Although the Council did inform employees of the impact of the SAP system, Phillips says that in retrospect, more care could have been taken to explain specifically how particular roles would be affected as they rolled it out in the UK in 2005. In later projects the communication effort was more focused on this issue.
By the end of 2006, the SAP system will be live in the UK, India, Sri Lanka, China, Hong Kong, Southern Africa and the Middle East, all hosted at the Council’s data centre in Swindon and supported by technical staff in the UK and India.
Phillips already has his eye on further infrastructure consolidation. The implementation is one conjoined instance, hosted in one location, but the 13 regions still operate as discrete units. “If you can consolidate down to 13 regions, then why not just two?” he asks.