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New Financial System NWO-I (U4ERP) live

The colossal job which resulted in a good system and considerable solidarity

Just imagine: merging six financial systems and twelve administrations within NWO-I and then doing part of that in unfamiliar circumstances due to the coronavirus. This colossal job was brought to a successful end by more than fifty colleagues from NWO-I, together with temporary external colleagues. This end proved to be a beginning as well: on 1 May, the New Financial System (NFS) of NWO-I, U4ERP, went live. About trepidation, all nine NWO Institutes in a single large virtual office and a different dynamic.

Why NFS?

Jeroen Duyster, head Finance & Control from the NWO-I office, already explained in the Inside NWO-I edition of October 2020 why the use of the new system is so important for the NWO-I organisation: ‘After the merger in 2018, a single foundation remained, the Stichting NWO-I. This means that, as an office, you need to provide a single set of annual accounts together with the nine institutes. In such a case, a single system in the cloud is far more efficient. Each institute will retain its own financial administration, but you create unity in the organisation by immediately working together at the level of financial operations. Using the same systems, the institutes can work together more easily and better support each other. It will also be easier for NWO-I to merge the financial data. As a semi-government organisation, NWO-I is required to work with electronic invoices. In the new system, that will become possible in the second half of 2021. More efficiency also means that more money will be left over for research.’

Recording workflows

On 1 May 2021, NWO-I will hoist the virtual flag. How do project managers Frans Brouwer and Nicoline Mol look back at the realisation of U4ERP? Brouwer started to work at NWO-I in February 2019. At NIOZ, he was used to working with UBW, the software from Unit4 (recently renamed U4ERP) that also ran on the new system. Mol came to strengthen the project in March 2020 with her experience in planning and organisation in previous large projects. Brouwer: ‘We first of all held workshops to record the workflows of the institute. How did each institute do its own financial and project administration? During these brainstorming sessions, we considered the input from all institutes, and we also based ourselves on the experiences of NIOZ and the former FOM institutes AMOLF, Nikhef, ARCNL and DIFFER because they had already switched to the desktop version of UBW several years ago.’

Uniform process

René Schoonen, head Finance & Control at NWO Institute DIFFER and leader of the project group Finance, recalls that much time was spent on “finding each other”: ‘Several institutes had a lot of experience with UBW, whereas others had none. In the beginning, the colleagues who were not familiar with the system experienced some trepidation and emotion. Switching to a joint, uniform way of working meant changing, and changes are not usually easy. Institutes hoped that their way of working would become the uniform way of working.’ Brouwer continues: ‘The outcomes of all brainstorming sessions in focus groups were – just like in a funnel - translated into the outlines of a uniform process and poured into a programme of technical and substantive requirements. We started with the construction of the system in March last year, when the coronavirus pandemic broke out. The coronavirus caused a lot of stress for me, because how could we discuss things during the lockdown? I wanted to be able to have direct, personal contact with people.’

Creative meetings

Brouwer’s recollection makes Mol smile. In no time, Zoom meetings were held, and in the last three months, meetings were organised in a coronavirus-proof manner in a virtual office with fifty breakout rooms. All of the institutes were given their own rooms and set to work in these. When people wanted to discuss something with each other or with one of the consultants, the person needed was sought in one of the other Zoom rooms. ‘We had to discover this new way of working together. And it worked incredibly well’, says Brouwer. Mol describes the size of the team: besides technical builders from the supplier Unit4, the conversion and test manager, the team included a diversity of sub-workgroups with NWO-I colleagues that focused on the content. Mol: ‘We brought about fifty people together with a single Zoom link.’

Different emphasis

Former head of Finance, Planning & Control at ASTRON, Janneke Wubs, headed the workgroup projects for the past two years, which included the sub-workgroups projects, time registration and planning. For the projects stated, Wubs represented the institutes to the project group. In that role, she translated the wishes of the institutes and, vice versa, communicated about decisions from the steering group. Wubs: ‘My work was largely a matter of communication and change management. Each institute placed a different emphasis. All of the institutes had to relinquish something, and all of them gained something. Sometimes the decisions were disappointing, but that is also often the case in real life.’


After the construction, a test application was ready in July 2020 for use by the sub-workgroups to first of all familiarise themselves with the new design and functionalities. The errors were removed in four subsequent large test rounds. Brouwer says that with the merging of twelve administrations, there always remains something to be wished for, but that the users have embraced the final result. Mol describes the training rounds for standard U4ERP users in the project, such as employees from the financial departments and colleagues responsible for projects and procurement. ‘The groups who received training were gradually expanded, and we concluded the trainings in March. In April, information sessions were held for the other users that will work with U4ERP to submit order requests and declarations. After the launch, they will be provided with quick reference guides and instruction videos as well.’ When asked whether U4ERP is user friendly, Brouwer answers that the application is quite complex because it can do so much, but that the users will, for the most part, find this advantageous: ‘For example, many of the fields include a Google functionality. This means that when you start to type the project name, then the system proposes all possible values. There are many such handy features.’

An incredible improvement

The impact of the new U4ERP will be the greatest for colleagues from the departments Finances, Projects and Procurement. They will use the system daily for things like accounts payable, contract management and bookkeeping. Schoonen considers the new system to be an incredible improvement: ‘The entire planning and control cycle from drawing up the budget to completing the annual accounts and the consolidation of all annual accounts will proceed far more efficiently. Crosslinks can be made more easily too, because you can easily switch from the project administration to the financial administration. The bookkeeping has been set up in the same way everywhere, as a result of which totalling is simple.’ Wubs also lists the improved setup of the modules for projects and planning: ‘The good collaboration between the sub-workgroups resulted in agreement about the requirements. The translation of these requirements in the system means that we can now retrieve the necessary data for providing accountability to grant providers far faster from the system.’

Time registration

What will change for the NWO-I colleagues who are not involved with the financial operations each day? Brouwer: ‘They will use U4ERP to declare expenses or to request a trip. Now all institutes will record the time spent on projects that require hours registration, and for a large number of institutes, all employees will register their hours. From 1 January 2022 onwards, that will apply to all NWO-I employees.’

Towards 1 May

This interview was held at the beginning of April. Will everything be ready by 1 May? Mol and Brouwer think so, but they are not resting on their laurels yet. Mol: ‘Janneke Wubs has produced a scenario for the financial department of each institute. That is an important document for the correct closure of the old financial system and the good start of U4ERP. We are also working on creating follow-up care. The employees of application management will be the first point of contact for technical questions, and the sub-workgroup leaders will become coordinators who will answer substantive questions. Besides the helpdesk, institutes can approach us if they require a specific training. We are now finishing the training videos about time registration, travel and declarations, and order requests, and we are compiling the quick reference guides. Finally, we will only have to transfer the configuration documentation and the application management. The remaining long lists with the last things to be checked will be ticked off in the two weeks leading up to 1 May.’


Brouwer feels that the launch is a good reason for an online party: ‘Everybody has worked really hard, and U4ERP is a major step forward for NWO-I. Despite the circumstances, we have been able to successfully deliver such a large project. I am particularly proud of the institutes that have worked together in such a flexible manner. During the project, a different dynamic has arisen. It is no longer a case of ‘me on my institute island and you on yours’, but ‘we are one NWO-I’. You could say that the coronavirus crisis has helped us in this regard because everybody was part of the same lockdown situation with a deadline in view. People quickly managed to find each other in the breakout rooms. Possibly faster than before the coronavirus crisis. Working with Zoom also saved an incredible amount of travel time.’ Wubs and Schoonen also mention the increased motivation and solidarity. Wubs: ‘In the scenario discussions, I noticed that all of the financial and project administrations have a positive attitude and are ready for the switch. By working on this project, we have come closer together.’ Schoonen: ‘During the process, there was the occasional clash, but that was good because now, in the end, we have a uniform way of working.’ Brouwer concludes: ‘I am most pleased when I see people happily working with the new system.’

Text: Anita van Stel
Newsletter Inside NWO-I, May 2021


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