Case study: How much IT does a modern university need?

Introducing new financial systems while maintaining integrity of data


Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) has eight departments spread over three locations at Winterthur, Zurich and Wädenswil. It has 8,000 students in total. ZHAW has a strong regional presence and is the biggest university in Switzerland.

Implementation of new finance systems

The Hochschulamt (a university governing body in Zurich) decided to introduce ABACUS Payroll as an alternative financial system to PALAS, which triggered an incremental integration of various ABACUS business software modules at universities in Zurich. This involved some major challenges, not least the high demands of ZHAW in terms of integrity and functional variability. At the same time the merger of ZHW, IAP, Hochschule Wädenswil and the School of Social Work, etc. brought different cultures together. The aim was not just to incrementally introduce more modules to replace older systems, but also to meet the requirements of a modern university. Various sub-projects thus became one big project.

Conversion to SAP

Due to ZHAW's significant and as of yet unbridled growth, new software had to be introduced that would accommodate this growth and the university's increasingly complex requirements. In addition, the cantonal finance department implemented SAP in 2008 – another reason for ZHAW to switch from ABACUS to SAP. 

In our collaboration with PwC during the past few years, I particularly appreciated the consultants' technical know-how and the continuity of the team's composition.

Reto Schnellmann, Chairman of the Board ZHAW


ABACUS was selected as the solution capable of satisfying ZHAW's specific requirements. It was implemented in four phases spread over several years: phase 1 - payroll, phase 2 - financial applications, phase 3 - cost accounting, phase 4 - school administration software and project and results accounting. These modules were put together by PwC to meet the individual needs of ZHAW. The old systems were successively phased out and replaced in a smooth transition. PwC also successfully supported ZHAW in developing a support organisation called BAS (Business Application Support).

Client-oriented solution

In the final analysis, PwC developed a solution with ZHAW to meet all the functional requirements of a modern and growing tertiary-level education provider. In doing so, PwC particularly wanted a client-oriented solution instead of a provider-oriented one.

Flexible support

PwC also provided staff to gather and assess data for the different projects. They supported the ZHAW accounting staff and helped out with unexpected bottlenecks.

Smooth conversion

Following the Finance Department of the Canton of Zurich’s lead, ZHAW is currently introducing SAP. PwC is supporting ZHAW in converting all universities of applied sciences in Zurich to SAP, which proved to be an extremely challenging data migration exercise.


ZHAW and PwC have been working together for ten years. Much has changed during this time. With PwC these changes have been incorporated smoothly with both parties looking ahead.

Access to a knowledge network

The PwC staff do not just deliver core services, they also make regular use of their own in-house network to answer client’s questions in regard to SAP for example. The client knows their questions will be answered promptly and competently by the PwC knowledge network.

Long-term benefit

The solution implemented by PwC, and updated to meet changing requirements, ensured that ZHAW’s specific requirements would be met consistently and over the long term.

Mature relationship

The long-standing cooperation has ripened into a valuable relationship between the companies and their employees. This relationship is built on mutual respect and tolerance. PwC regularly takes time to document the current and pending requirements of ZHAW and contribute its own ideas and thoughts to addressing those requirements. 


Michael Gniffke

Leader Business Software Integration Switzerland, Zurich, PwC Switzerland

+41 58 792 47 74