Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

Doing Things Right: Why Standardized Process Matters in Higher Education

Guest Author

by David Ebert, Director of Higher Education, Oracle

As a university or college administrator, do you have what it takes to do things better, faster and smarter? Simply put: Are you doing things right? 

Universities and colleges need to become the modern, high-tech campuses that their students, staff and communities expect. That’s not an easy task considering that funding isn’t what it used to be. 

According to a recent report, funding for public two- and four-year colleges in the USA is nearly $10 billion below pre-recession levels. So how do you accomplish your goals of delivering the best education possible without significantly increasing costs? 

You need to create seamless and frictionless touchpoints between your departments and students by simplifying and standardizing your processes. I’ve identified several key opportunities to keep costs down through standardization. 

Cloud-Based ERP Cuts Process Waste

Inefficiencies throughout your processes not only lead to higher costs, but also distract departments from their core functions. For example, if you’re overseeing a chemistry lab, you can’t waste valuable time analyzing and communicating your equipment needs. To ensure maximum efficiencies, your procurement teams must identify ways to tighten spending, take advantage of supplier discounts across departments, and process invoices and supplier payments more effectively.

Enabling a seamless purchasing process requires a modern, consumer-grade buying experience that includes workflow approvals, an automated payables process, social networks integrated with supplier portals and real-time analytics. Cloud-based procurement solutions enable a truly seamless purchasing environment—from negotiations, to product selection, to the purchase order, to invoice receipt and payment. 

In a cloud procurement model, you’re able to begin the purchasing process using automated, step-by-step guided navigation to create bidding documents. For example, in the “request for quote” cover page, you can define negotiation terms to drive supplier competition, and search for and invite suppliers based on pre-defined criteria. You also receive automated reports that allow you to analyze the bids based on various factors. The system allows you to complete the process faster while ensuring that you base your purchasing decisions on the most accurate information available. 

The Path to Painless Expense Policy Compliance

Expense reporting is another major source of inefficiencies. If you’ve ever had to fill out and process a travel expense report using a spreadsheet, you know how frustrating and time consuming it can be. Tracking such expenses to ensure compliance can be even more cumbersome. Professors attending a conference, for instance, on the latest medical innovations don’t have time to log each receipt or record distances driven. 

Cloud-based expense reporting allows your staff to capture expenses using their mobile devices—it’s as easy as using a mileage tracking app, or snapping photos of your receipts. These systems help you create and enforce enterprise-wide standards for travel expenses with metrics, automated audits, and analysis of expense trends.


Planning and Budgeting: Why Visibility Matters

Similarly, you need visibility across your research, project-delivery and accounting processes to ensure compliance and drive strategic decisions. Project delivery becomes a challenge when you’re overseeing several projects simultaneously. Cloud-based portfolio project management (PPM) has several advantages, including real-time visibility into four major areas: 

  • Budgets and forecasts with modern graphical analyses
  • Cost control, with automation features to simplify and streamline project costing
  • Billing and revenue, to bill for both capital and contract project costs
  • Grant management, to proactively manage awards from funding to closeout

Why is an effective PPM system becoming increasingly important? For effective grant management alone, the benefit to universities is significant. Consider the value that quality research plays in your institution’s ability to remain competitive; quality research can not only position a college or department as a leader in a particular field, but also enhance regional and national economies

But many academics find themselves preoccupied with the grant-management process. Research-intensive universities need complete transparency to monitor compliance with funders and monitor award status and performance. With cloud-based PPM, a centralized award dashboard can track and graphically display fund status. For example, you might see a chart representing the amount of money allocated to a sleep study, with the amount spent represented by either a green line if it’s within budget or a red line if it’s over budget. This helps you efficiently track funds and how they’re being spent, while providing an automated audit trail for reporting requirements. 

Configurable ERP for Future Needs

At Oracle, one of the most important attributes of our cloud ERP system is configurability. We know that educational institutions are evolving and need solutions that are adaptable. You’re not going to differentiate yourselves by spending time on customizing and maintaining your ERP system; what you need is a system built on modern best practices that helps you work efficiently, seamlessly and effortlessly across multiple departments and functions. 

This means you should have the ability to amend workflows or change color schemes, but you shouldn’t be mired in endless customizations that are not protected during upgrades. Oracle ERP Cloud has been natively built using mobile, consumer-friendly technology with an integrated, secure social network and built-in analytics—all of which provides actionable watch and work lists. 

The result: you significantly reduce the learning curve upon implementation. Users spend less time figuring out the system or forgetting how to use it. In turn, you have fewer calls to the IT help desk and more time spent on core departmental functions. 

You’ve become better, faster and smarter in your ability to deliver an exceptional learning experience. 

In other words, you’re doing things right. 

For a more in-depth look at how to optimize efficiency in higher education, I encourage you to visit our resource center.

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