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University of Hertfordshire's new route to procurement

After discovering their institutional repository couldn’t keep up with evolving needs, the team at the University of Hertfordshire explored a new route to procurement.

We caught up with Bill Worthington, research and scholarly communication manager, and Nadine Goldthorpe, business analyst, to hear their experiences of purchasing a new repository with the help of Jisc’s consultancy and dynamic purchasing system (DPS) services.

Time for change

“We were at the point where we needed to replace the repository. We had had one iteration of the repository in 2014 and another in 2018. Four to five years after the last upgrade it had stopped being malleable. It had become dated and rigid. Our existing supplier had done a good job with updating the system twice, but we felt our business no longer met their commercial imperatives - it had come to the point where we needed a change. We also wanted to stop using our own servers and move to a software as a service (SaaS) model in the cloud.”

The University of Hertfordshire has both a Current Research Information System (CRIS) and a repository. Although the CRIS is now the primary point of entry for almost all content, the repository still serves a purpose. It is the university’s primary system for dissemination of research outputs and for delivering its open access (OA) obligations.

“The CRIS and the public portals that come with the CRIS aren’t always ideal because they are designed to satisfy an international market and can’t always react to specific requirements. We wanted to keep the repository to make sure we can keep pace with changing data standards and optimise machine to machine delivery of our research. With a repository, which only has to deal with research outputs, it is easier to adjust schemas and present research metadata to match the needs of global search engines and to satisfy research funding and assessment policy as they change. That’s why we wanted to update the institutional repository to keep it working alongside the CRIS.”

Though they’d made the decision to change the repository, the team hadn’t carried out a major system tender process for a long time.

“We have worked on other system replacements where preconceptions about requirements and vendors get baked in at an early stage - even though you’re in a tendering situation, people think they know what they do or don’t want. The consultancy and DPS take you back to the basics of requirements gathering and encourage a wider participation with all appropriate stakeholders. They liberate you from these preconceptions.”

Establishing requirements

Nadine joined Bill’s team to offer project support with the view to replacing the repository.

“Jisc knew we were keen to work with them and that’s how we started our journey with the consultancy and DPS. We didn’t know anything about it before that, but we became involved in that way.”

“We started with a workshop to draw out our repository requirements. Then Jisc helped in formulating a set of high-level questions which we then asked of further groups of stakeholders. For example, we didn’t initially have any academics present but they were clearly stakeholders. This broadened the scope to better inform our requirements. Then we carried out a number of interviews, which were transcribed.”

“Jisc distilled the requirements into a spreadsheet, which was cleverly formatted to generate consistently structured requirement statements that we could drop into our tender documents and use for scoring the responses. Their whole process used the design thinking approach, which we’d heard of, but we weren’t familiar with and wasn’t something we were using. It was really effective and was so successful that we’ve adopted this approach to form requirements on other major projects.”

“The DPS comes with a set of given requirements that all the vendors have committed to – this means a lot of the service levels, terms of business and due diligence stuff has been done for you; and acts as a provenance to take your own procurement and legal people.”

Confidence in the tender

Working with stakeholders across the university, the team finalised the tender document. They used the DPS portal to invite potential suppliers to respond and successfully assigned scores and weightings to the submissions received via the portal.

“Jisc acted as an intermediary between us and the suppliers, sharing any questions with us we needed to answer. It was a very fair and transparent process and all suppliers had access to the same information. Even to the point where, when a supplier asked us a question it would be publicly answered for everyone to see. We think that was good.”

Bill and Nadine’s team shortlisted against the rigorous set of requirements which had evolved from the stakeholder engagement. They invited shortlisted suppliers to demonstrate their services and were surprised to find a high scoring response from a supplier they had not previously considered as a strong contender. For the University of Hertfordshire, the most important features were integration with the university’s CRIS and search engine optimisation (SEO). The supplier that delivered these was selected for the new repository.

“The consultancy and DPS encouraged us to move away from our entrance views and, right at the end, in the scoring, really focus on the requirements that mattered to our researchers. With hindsight, you can see the points at which we might have gone astray, but we stuck with the plan, and we have a high degree of confidence in the result.”

What next for Hertfordshire?

Since completing the procurement process, the team has begun to implement the new repository, planning a smooth transition from the old to the new, for both users and systems. Looking to the future, they plan to continue using a design thinking approach when purchasing other systems.

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