Streamlining the Financial and Management Reporting Systems for Higher Education Institutions

Often times, one of the duties of the Vice President of Finance for a higher education institution is to lead in its efforts in the streamlining of its financial and related management reporting systems, as well as assist in the evaluation of academic and administrative technology planning. This duty and the encompassing project related thereto will be a major undertaking. It will most likely require the formation of a special project team consisting of various departmental leaders at the institution who will provide much input before a final recommendation is made to implement a change to the financial and related management reporting systems.

A project report containing a timetable for implementation with due dates of completion for each phase of the project undertaking should be formally developed and approved, most likely by the President and Board of Trustees of the college or university. Because of the time and effort required for this undertaking, including a concerted effort and embracement by the Team Members required for a successful implementation, this project will most likely be completed over a number of months.

The following information will assist you in your endeavor to streamline the financial and related management reporting systems at your college or university. This information covers the various capabilities of software/IT solution based systems and products that have been developed and available through solution providers. Much of this information and the items noted should be considered in identifying appropriate software/IT solution providers who will assist you in meeting and serving the needs of the academic and administrative offices of the college or university.

In presenting this information, I am not advocating any specific software/IT solution provider or what route for a revitalized financial and management reporting system for a college or university for their specific undertaking. But, as more research and investigation is performed as a Team effort, I am sure you will be able to identify a very good provider, with a great history, with great platforms of products and resources, and someone who is very much up-to-date on meeting the needs and demands for your institution; not only today, but for years to come in assisting you in your desire to continue to grow and prosper.

The key steps and processes noted in this article will provide you with information for identifying the “types of features, resources and capabilities” you will want to consider in deciding what types of changes may be needed in order for you to streamline the financial and related management reporting systems at your institution. The following is the information for your consideration.

Identify Leading Software/IT Solution Providers

A potential list of candidates of leading providers of software, strategies, and services for higher education institutions will need to be compiled. You should identify providers that have been providing these services over an extended time period, with a proven record of providing solutions that have given colleges and universities the power to meet all of their academic and administrative needs.

You will identify software/IT solution providers that have developed and continue to improve and enhance their software, and combined with their experienced professionals, have a successful record of implementation, cost-effective operation, with a record of setting a clear path to future growth for colleges and universities across the nation.

Ideally, identifying providers who maintain a singular focus on higher education may give them a unique perspective on the industry, allowing them to plan for changes and ensuring their clients have the technology, knowledge, and strategies to be leaders.

The Software/IT Solution Providers Must Have Exceptional People

At every level of the company and across each department – from product development, to support, to consulting, to services, to their leadership team – the software/IT solution provider you choose to work with must have people in their organization who are truly committed to partnering with their clients to maximize their success.

Vibrant Client Community

You should identify software/IT solution providers who have a strong active client list. Their client list should represent a community that is one of the most active and engaged in the industry, demonstrating consistently high levels of customer involvement and satisfaction year after year. You will want to make sure they utilize customer advisory boards to help shape the future of their products and services.

Broad and Deep Product Portfolio

The software/IT solution providers you identify should have a family of integrated, proven, and innovative products that caters to the needs of academic and administrative offices across the entire campus and throughout the student lifecycle.

Strong Financial Position

The software/IT solution providers you identify should be on solid financial footing and have a strong balance sheet. They must take a long-term perspective, valuing customer satisfaction and enduring client relationships. You should make a determination, if it makes any difference to you, if the software/IT solution provider you select is a strong privately held company or a publicly held company. Something you will want to consider is that many publicly held companies chase quarterly earnings targets and change ownership frequently, and when this occurs there can be problems with continuity of services; whereas a long-term strong privately held company will most often continue to remain a stable partner with their clients and they can be relied upon to remain committed to their client’s best interests.

Cost of Ownership

In your search for the ideal software/IT solution provider, you should identify organizations that provide the most advanced, innovative, award-winning solutions for higher education, delivering exceptional value with the best total cost to benefit of ownership to the college or university.

Solution Suites

You should research, review and consider the following types of solution suites to have in place at your institution in your pursuit to streamline the financial and management reporting systems of the college or university.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems: You will want to have in place robust ERP systems that are built to meet the unique needs of your institution.
Continuing Education (CE) and Workforce Development (WD): You will want to consider having in place CE and WD systems to enhance business process efficiencies and institutional growth.
Recruitment: You will want to have in place a fully operational Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform designed to effectively manage recruitment.
Retention: Ideally, having a comprehensive retention solution with predictive modeling and a comprehensive alert system to maximize retention rates and facilitate intervention would be a useful tool and feature to have in use in the management reporting system at the college or university.
Advancement: You will want a solution to foster a vibrant community of supporters and champions for both major gifts and annual donations that the college or university depends on.
Learning Management System (LMS): You will want an integrated LMS to facilitate a collaborative learning environment.
Analytics: You will desire to have institutional intelligence solutions to help the institution measure, track, and report on key performance indicators to optimize performance.
User Experience: You will need powerful communication platforms and technologies including a Portal, Mobile, and Social offerings for the college or university.
Managed Services: You will want to consider the use of managed services to help the institution when you would need it the most – both on and off campus.

Software, Strategies & Services for Higher Education

The software/IT solution providers you identify in your search must offer technology solutions empowering colleges and universities of all shapes and sizes to meet the needs of their students, academic, and administrative departments – serving the entire constituent community.

The enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems must be flexible, customizable, fully-integrated, and designed to help drive higher performance across the campus and beyond. The ERPs must leverage robust functionality and simple controls so that the school operations can be streamlined and optimized from the back-end to the front-end of its operations. The ERPs you employ must give the performance insight you need to nurture critical relationships with constituents. Ideally, data access should be available anytime and anywhere for any authorized users. Integrated data will promote collaboration, user satisfaction, and efficiencies through-out the college or university. Most likely you will be focused on the following areas in streamlining the financial and related management reporting systems:

Admissions. Streamlining, simplifying, and automating the admissions processes, so that the institution can keep their focus on identifying and recruiting the best candidates for the institution.
Enrollment. Being able to organize workflow and communication with the right candidates at the right time and to get them ready for a successful educational experience.
Financial Aid. Providing prospects and students with comprehensive financial aid information, giving each the broadest consideration that is possible.
Academic. Being able to budget, project, and plan programs and resources saving the institution time and money, while driving a higher probability that each student will be able to complete his/her area of study on time.
Student Services. Having the ability to manage a broad range of student records, student activity, student profiles, and student health information; providing the highest quality of student life.
Finance. Controlling all aspects of the institution’s financial operations, including student billing, with accurate timely data – so the right business decisions can be made.
Human Resources. Being able to manage all components, including employee compensation, and having the ability to share data with departments across the campus.
Advancement. Streamlining and simplifying management of campaign and donor activity for both major gifts and annual donations that the college or university depends on.

Continuing Education & Workforce Development

You will need to have a software/IT platform for continuing education that is designed to help the institution streamline, simplify, and optimize the everyday tasks of operating a profitable continuing education and workforce development program, including:

Online registration
Course management
Student billing
Business management

You will want a platform that is easily deployed that can be integrated with any ERP system or can be used as a stand-alone solution.

Analytics

You will want to ensure you are always able to have readily available reliable data so you can make better decisions. The software solution should provide a full range of options that can revolutionize the way you manage your operations and develop strategy.

You will want the availability of analytics that will provide configurable dashboards, alerts, reports, and analytics, so the college or university can gain the insights needed to succeed across all aspects of their operations.

A Need for Information That Covers the Complete Student’s Life Cycle

Recruitment

You will want a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform that will allow the college or university to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time engaging with their prospective students and their families. It must be a recruitment tool that keeps the institution focused on students – and on track with enrollment goals. The platform should contain features such as:

Manage lists.
Produce and send personal communications.
Monitor progress.
Capture and update information.
Create and manage events.
Have the ability to manage recruitment efforts from either at your desk or on the road.

Retention

Having the ability to utilize predictive modeling techniques to assist the college or university in identifying students who need intervention, while there’s still time to turn them around would be a tool to have in streamlining the management system. Having a system in place that will automatically issue an alert through the workflow process when an attrition risk factor appears on a student’s profile, thereby alerting the relevant administrators that intervention is required, would no doubt be an excellent retention tool to assist the college or university’s students in succeeding. Some of the benefits of having this capability would be:

Improve student retention rates.
Spend less time identifying at-risk students.
Intervene earlier to improve student success.
Implement the right intervention strategies at the right time.
Satisfy parent and student expectations for educational support.

Advancement

Having a web-based fundraising solution that’s flexible, easy, and designed to help the institution meet their campaign goals can streamline and simplify management of campaign and donor activity for both major gifts and the annual donations that the college or university depends on. It should be able to assist everyone in the fundraising team – from administrators to managers and solicitors; so everyone can work smarter and more efficiently. It should be able to be used as a stand-alone solution or as part of an ERP solution to:

Improve engagement by reaching constituents in ways that are convenient for and familiar to them.
Strengthen constituent affinity with online communities and events.
Develop and leverage key relationships with complete constituent profiles.
Increase giving with segmented, targeted campaigns and personalized communications.
Manage the advancement team and fundraising efforts with individual and overall progress indicators.
Analyze results and plan for the future with intuitive business intelligence tools and comprehensive data.

eLearning Tools

With the deployment of eLearning tools, the instructors at the college or university will have the ability to offer more dynamic, engaging learning environments and develop creative learning spaces that engross the students. Having a Learning Management System (LMS) that integrates completely with the administrative system will provide the institution a seamless data exchange and up-to-the-minute information. Some of the benefits of having this type of Learning Management System in place will be:

Provide students the power to access their courses through any mobile device.
Satisfy the teaching and learning demands of the faculty and students with robust functionality.
Incorporate digital learning objects from a variety of sources into the course materials.
Integrate all of the learning systems.
Obtain a low total cost of ownership by the university combined with simple eployment.

Online Connectivity

Because students today are on the move – and having a desire to attend a school that provides them the convenience of online and mobile applications that will keep up, you will want to work with a software/IT solution provider that can deliver portal, mobile, and social media solutions that will keep users engaged with the institution throughout the entire student life cycle. Some of the benefits of portal, mobile, and social media solutions would be:

Portal. Providing the school community the information they need when they need it, from any location, while safeguarding confidential information.
Mobile. Offering secure, reliable mobile access to the college or university data and systems in the sophisticated the environment today’s students prefer, i.e., smart phones and other mobile devices.
Social. Being able to connect with the student communities where they live: on Facebook. Partnering with a software/IT solutions provider that has this feature developed and in place for use with the availability of its platform of products will simplify the process of building an online campus community via Facebook.

Also, having Customer Relationship Management (CRM) components available for use in a portal solution should allow you the opportunity to tailor user access to key information based on different user roles, such as:

Admissions Officer
Advancement Officer
Candidate
Student
Parent
Faculty
Staff
Constituent

Using a Single Vendor as the Software/IT Solutions Provider

As part of your desire to streamline your financial and related management reporting systems you will want to work with a technology partner providing the most innovative and comprehensive software suite available. This would probably be best if the services are provided from a single vendor who will also provide strategic and operational services to maximize the return on this technology investment by the college or university.

A Team of Experts to Assist the Institution in this Endeavor

You will want to make sure the software/IT solutions provider has the capability at every level of their company and across each of their departments – from product development, to support, to consulting, to services, to their leadership team that are a Team of Experts whose individuals are committed to working with the college or university to maximize their success. This would cover all areas of the project, such as:

Implementation. Their services should be designed to meet the unique needs of the institution and the people who use the college or university’s technology. They should have a proven track record of having on time and on budget implementations.
Training. They should offer hundreds of learning opportunities each year in a variety of formats, from on-site training classes to self-paced courses the college or university can take anytime and anywhere to help them use their products efficiently and effectively.
Support. They should have expert customer support personnel who are dedicated to finding answers and solving problems. They should have a record of resolving almost all inquiries within 24 hours.
Managed Services. They should be able to deliver the IT expertise the institution needs and comprehensive services they can shape to meet the college or university’s goals – whether you would need day-to-day support, project management, total network management, or managing your technology for future growth.
Executive Services. They should have experienced consultants who will work with you to create a technology roadmap to align resources with your priorities and meet your mission and critical goals.

An Actively Engaged Client Community

The software/IT solutions provider should have a client community that is one of the most actively engaged in the industry, demonstrating consistently high levels of customer involvement and satisfaction year after year. Ideally, they should utilize Customer Advisory Boards that help shape the future of their products and services, and encourage and support a host of opportunities for interaction and collaboration, such as Regional User Groups, Annual Meetings, Advisory Groups, etc.

Cloud/SaaS

Cloud computing is a way to increase capacity or add capabilities without investing in a new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software.

Software as a service (SaaS), sometimes referred to as “on-demand software” is a software delivery model in which software and associated data are centrally hosted on the cloud. SaaS is typically accessed by users using a web browser. SaaS has become a common delivery model for many business applications, including Office & Messaging software, Management software, CAD software, Development software, Virtualization, accounting, collaboration, customer relationship management (CRM), management information systems (MIS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), invoicing, human resource management (HRM), content management (CM) and service desk management. SaaS has been incorporated into the strategy of all leading enterprise software companies. One of the biggest selling points for these companies is the potential to reduce IT support costs by outsourcing hardware and software maintenance and support to the SaaS provider.

According to Thomas McHall of the Gartner Group, it was estimated SaaS sales in 2010 reached $10 billion, and were projected to increase to $12.1 billion in 2011, up 20.7% from 2010. The Gartner Group estimates that SaaS revenue will be more than double its 2010 numbers by 2015 and reach a projected $21.3 billion.

Whether you are looking to leverage the cloud for operational efficiency, cost savings, or business continuity, you should to look to a software/IT provider that has a solution to ensure your success. Ultimately, you should choose a hosted application that fits your needs best in one of the following:

Cloud Hosted Applications. For scalable and flexible application access.
Fully Managed Infrastructure and Applications. For cloud-based hosting of the institution’s applications with or without the expertise of the software/IT solutions provider’s team of managed-infrastructure specialists.
Virtual Infrastructure Hosting. For scalable, reliable, and secure disaster recovery and business continuity.

Conclusion

On the ideal digital campus, every administrative and academic office matches the technological sophistication of its socially-networked students. The digital campus leverages innovative technology to operate at optimal efficiency and the lowest possible cost, resulting in the highest possible return on investment. The digital campus leverages the most effective tools available, including software and services, to achieve its critical goals for enrollment, retention, and advancement. And, at every initiative, the digital campus ensures that its technology investment is aligned with its institutional mission and goals. For colleges and universities today, the digital campus is a superb model for achieving institutional success in our new century.