New CRI takes fast-track route to IT services

Research institute Plant and Food Research standardises on SAP

When the country’s newest Crown Research Institute, Plant and Food Research, was formed last December, it had little time to make a decision about an integrated business IT platform. It had to have the new system in place by the beginning of the new financial year, on July 1.

Plant and Food was formed by the merger of HortResearch and Crop and Food Research, each of which had disparate systems.

“It was a tight countdown to July 1,” says CIO John McMaster. “We didn’t believe there was time to do a full request for proposal. Both had solutions. The question was whether we could take one of them.”

At the same time, the new CRI was doing a lot of work to bring together core network infrastructure to link 14 sites.

HortResearch was running SAP Business Suite, and Crop and Food Navision. The new organisation’s systems had to work for commercial and government clients as well as supporting staff around the world.

“The two systems didn’t have much in common,” McMaster says. “They even had different email systems.

“SAP was up to date and fully patched and had a project administration module in place, while the Navision solution was due for upgrade. It seemed appropriate to put in a clean implementation.”

Plant and Research costed the two systems out over five years and SAP came out on top.

“The other aspect was risk,” McMaster says. “Our finance team was already familiar with SAP.

“Also, we could have got both in by June 1 but Navision needed the upgrade, so there was more risk.”

Plant and Research primarily did the SAP implementation internally. McMaster says that, all up, with some additional licences, the cost was around $400,000.

The new organisation has around 850 full-time equivalent staff, which translates to 1180 on the active payroll. It generates around $120 million a year in revenue.

Ten of its 14 sites are connected via the KAREN research network. “That has enabled us to bring together our systems relatively easily,” McMaster says. “In fact, this is probably the first example of KAREN as an enabler.

“We’ve designed our technical architecture around KAREN.

“We’ve got every telco except 2 Degrees but we will do some rationalising when we review the contracts next year. For example, we could have a problem using TelstraClear as a back-up in the same fibre bundle as KAREN, which will be a key part of the rationalisation.

“We’re also changing from Novell to Windows and at the end we should have pretty up-to-date IT.

“The next move will be to Exchange.”

He says Plant and Research expects to retire Netware by early next year. Then it will undertake a major Sharepoint update.

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