Jonathan Strefford

In my first blog for Medically Speaking, I thought I would reflect on my experience of contributing to the ALPACA Initiative, a university major strategic programme initiated in October 2020. My aims are two-fold, to consider my recent experiences in this role, to perhaps highlight the value that others might gain from such tasks, and to promote the initiative itself, as I believe it has the potential to radically improve our working lives.

Much to my surprise (having spent some time considering it!), ALPACA is not an acronym. I discovered later that it was the off shoot of a pre-dinner conversation about the South American mammal, and nothing to do with the initiative itself. It is nice to see that such quirkiness continues in our institution!

Project ALPACA is a business change programme to transform the management of our research and enterprise applications and awards – with the aim of making it easier for academics and research support staff.  It is looking both at simplifying business processes and implementing a new system that will integrate costing, approvals, awards set-up, contracts and financial management of grants.

My role on the Board is to represent the Faculty of Medicine, and all Deputy Heads of School Research across the University. I am keen to ensure the needs and views of academic users are well understood, to make sure that the solution being developed meet our collective needs, to provide a conduit from/to the Faculty and champion the programme.  With Professor John Holloway as the academic sponsor for the overall programme, the Faculty is well represented. 

Projects like ALPACA, can be a little overwhelming at the start. There are lots of people to meet, novel processes to learn and a brand-new strategic plan to consider. However, the reality is never as challenging as you expect, and people are generally patient and kind. The members of the ALPACA Board were no exception, and it has been a pleasure to work with the ALPACA project team, senior members of other Faculties, as well as leaders from RIS, iSolutions, Finance and HR. Whilst all our meetings have occurred virtually (due to the pandemic of course), the experience has been a very positive one, that allowed me to understand the University better, meet my contemporaries/peers from other faculties, and to contribute, albeit in a small way, to the generation of a valuable resource.

There are documents to read, committee contributions to make, and volunteers to find. The latter of which was made easy by the generosity of the staff in our Faculty, who readily have already contributed to key aspects of the review and development processes. My sincere thanks to all those individuals, I hope that you will consent to provide your valuable knowledge and experience moving forward.

So, what has the ALPACA Programme achieved so far? The ALPACA team has met with over 100 academic and professional services colleagues to map the current pre-award processes, including key contributions from Medicine and a workshop with the USH Trust. One of the off-shoots of these discussions is the formation of a group to look specifically at the interfaces between the University and the Trust that is so crucial to the research in the Faculty. In the next phase, the team is building on the ‘As-is’ process mapping to to develop a granular view of future ‘To-be’ requirements. In parallel, the software procurement process has been completed, with a commercial partner called Worktribe, and additional information can now be access on the ALPACA sharepoint website, that went live in July. The project and technical teams are currently familiarising themselves with the system through workshops with Worktribe.

Moving forward, the team will start the design phase shortly and integrate new functionalities onto our existing systems before starting to develop the exact suite of tools that best fit all our stakeholders. They will work closely with Advisory Groups that would be excellent forums for more input from our faculty. If you would like to get involved or have any questions, please contact the team on

So, all in all a positive personal experience, an increased understanding of the university and its staff, that will contribute to new structures and processes destined to make our duties easier and more efficient. It is clear that our faculty has contributed significantly to the genesis of the plans, and hopefully we will continue to play our part in its development and implementation.

Engaging with the central university: my experiences of the ALPACA initiative by Professor Jon Strefford

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