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Finance Division

 

Through its response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Finance has had to adapt at speed to keep critical business functions operating, while progressing major functional activities such as the budget and year-end process. Operating remotely posed a real challenge to continuity of service to paper-based processes but enabled the Division to

accelerate important change strands of ourcambridge, the Finance Transformation Programme (FTP) and other University initiatives, devising novel workarounds to cope with the exceptional issues faced.   

Set against the backdrop of significant financial pressures for the Collegiate University ahead in the wake of the pandemic, Finance now endeavours to come through the recovery phase with a clear functional roadmap, strengthened mandate and confidence to enable the function to better support the University's changing needs.   

At the beginning of March, the FTP released the results of its Discovery Phase, which can be found here.  A recurring theme was a desire to move to simpler, more standardised user-experiences and evolve from paper-based processes to a digital environment. This became vital at the outbreak of COVID-19 with the closure of University buildings, which resulted in reduced access to offices and distributed paperwork. As Financial Operations got to grips with remote working, an escalation in physical constraints, loss of delivery services and staff shortage through sickness, a short-term project was initiated. This enabled Finance across the University (central functions, schools and departments) to mitigate disruption, ensuring sustainability and reliability of critical services could and would continue.   

The project was supported by Head of the FTP, John Galvin, alongside the Financial Operations and Procurement. Together, through great collaboration with schools and departments, significant achievements have been designed and executedSuppliers have been converted to sending electronic invoices and an existing initiative to move away from cheques has been accelerated through a conversion to BACS. Additionally, key meetings, such as the Financial Users Group, have successfully changed to a virtual format, drawing in large audiences and helping us share key information and stay connected as a community. 

John commented: “In a few short weeks the project mitigated real risks to continuity in the University’s critical finance processes during the crisis. It has also driven forward the shaping of our collective vision for Finance’s future - encompassing more efficient and user-friendly, end to end transactional processes, and designing and developing a new generation of smart and stable processes and systems.”   

Bringing solutions to the forefront  

Another area which has been brought into focus through the contingency planning work, is the potential to deliver further solutions, including technology options, to help in such situations, with opportunities for further streamlining core processes as and if required.  This would enable Finance to continue to execute critical processes even if departments were unable to operate fully, triggering support from the wider University Finance function. 

The project has also served to reinforce the findings of the FTP’s Strategic Procurement Review, which outlined the business benefits of improved, sustainably responsible solutions in the buying of goods, works and services. Our approaches to procurement and purchasing vary widely across the University, and implementation of a full, end-to-end procurement and purchasing approach could significantly streamline our processes, introducing substantial user benefits, a more robust, environmentally friendly, approach to sourcing and substantial cost savings. The potential in this area has rightly been recognised as one of the key strands of immediate measures the University is putting in place to mitigate COVID-19's financial impact. Meanwhile, our electronic Expense Management System is progressing well and further information regarding this can be found here. 

Next steps  

Director of Finance David Hughes said: “The crisis has seen Finance work collectively and dynamically with other functions with a real ‘can-do’ spirit, finding solutions and helping out where neededIt has also added a tangible sense of urgency to the FTP programme, with a strengthened mandate, aligned to the University's recovery agenda and priorities.   

“We are now drawing on all our prior thinking and the experiences of our rapid move to remote working in blending the best of all our work to date, including the ongoing change initiatives, FTP Discovery Phase and Strategic Procurement Review findings into a single, compelling, business-relevant roadmap for the future of Finance. This will provide the University with a more resilient and efficient function, playing a more significant role in helping Cambridge navigate through the very real business challenges it now faces.”   

All of the above, combined with the feedback we are actively seeking from our wider finance user community, will feed into creating a new vision for Finance which will be articulated in the business case the FTP team is currently developing. This will be submitted to the Planning and Resource Committee later this year for approval, alongside and integrated with similar plans being developed in HR, Estates and Research Office, and as part of a more holistic review of the delivery of professional services across the University.     

Further information about the FTP, its Discovery Phase and next steps can be found here.  

CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19
FOR STAFF

Please see our CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19 Assistance pages for help with areas of Finance during the current situation.

UFS issued communications and the University website also contain information on this topic

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