After years of running an outdated finance and HR system — much of which relied on paper documents — the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency recently moved to a cloud-based alternative.
The MHRA's chief operating officer Jonathan Fundrey spelled out the benefits the medicines regulatory agency has realized since moving to Oracle ERP Cloud just over one year ago.
A consolidated approach
If the MHRA were to have stuck with the legacy Oracle system it would likely not only have run into support issues, but would have continued to face difficulties in updating information and pulling down data from the disparate systems across the organization.
"Around one third of our business in terms of headcount was on a totally separate system, so we had a lot of manual consolidation, joining stuff together in terms of reporting [to do], and really a poor management information system because of that.
"So, [there were] considerable benefits for us just on the basic integration. Not only bringing separate parts of the business together, but, because effectively you've got core data for both finance and HR, we've seen considerable benefits in that space."
Replacing opaque manual systems
The shift also helped the MHRA to leave behind manual processes that offered very limited insight into the way the agency was run.
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"It was the first business that I've been in for more than a decade where we were still running on paper purchase orders," said Fundrey, "which meant it was very difficult to control what you're buying, what you're spending on, to get any idea of forward commitment, because you're essentially [running] a manual procurement system."
This broader transparency has opened up the potential for a much wider use of analytics to understand and control costs across the agency.
Easier upgrades and maintenance
"We're a relatively small organization of around 1,400 people. So periodic upgrades are actually quite a challenge," said Fundrey, "so the sort of frequent small, incremental ones that come with the cloud solution reduce considerably the load on the organization and actually are just easier in terms of change management.
"Around a third of our employees have a scientific background, operating in laboratories that may not actually interact with the systems for weeks on end. So small incremental change is a lot easier to cope with than significant upgrades."
Paving the way for future change.
The MHRA's move to Oracle cloud laid the groundwork for future change, and the agency is now working on moving around 300 applications into the new cloud-based environment, something Fundrey says will be a vital step.
"Most of our development happened well over 15 years ago, and was done for us by an outsource partner, That arrangement is coming to an end, and actually we did not retain the intellectual property," he said.
"So we know we need to do something different. The intention is to both simplify our applications by make them cloud-based, so we get the benefit of integration, and by utilizing a few core platforms, therefore simplifying heavily the 300 [apps] down to potentially about four or five core platforms."
The key lesson learned
The MHRA's journey to the cloud inevitably threw up a lot of challenges, and Fundrey's fundamental takeaway from the transition is that organizations need to focus on how to rework their existing processes to suit the cloud service and its more one-size-fits-all nature.
"Those of us that have been around for quite a while and gone through ERP implementations are probably more familiar with a process where you analyze work 'As is', work on [what's] 'To be', define the delta, and go forward on that basis.
"Whereas the whole assumption of cloud is to focus on what is 'To be' and make yourself fit, and I don't think we need we spent enough time on that and enough emphasis on that."
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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.