In the friendly town of Waco, Texas, sits an educational stalwart that is older than the state itself. Founded in 1845, Baylor University is an acknowledged pillar of the community and aspires to be the pre-eminent Christian research university in the nation.
Baylor’s mission is “to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.”
“We consider it an honor when a student and their family choose Baylor,” says Cheryl Gochis, chief human resources officer (CHRO). “That is a very important trust given to us by those individuals and their families.”
But these are challenging times for institutions of higher education across the United States. Student debt is at an all-time high, approaching $1.5 trillion in 2019. Educational institutions are merging or consolidating to make better use of their existing resources. Many colleges have closed altogether—a trend that is only expected to accelerate.
In this environment, Baylor has to make every dollar count. That included taking a hard look at its antiquated technology systems.
“I think it’s incredibly short sighted to try to compete in tomorrow’s economy with yesterday's technology,” points out Brett Dalton, chief business officer (CBO) and vice president of finance. “We have incredible faculty. We have incredible students. We have incredible equipment and laboratories. We have all of this potential, all of this value, but we were unnecessarily constrained with our poor IT systems and our poor approaches to how we did business.”
“You can’t expect your students to be ready for an unknown future if you’re not also making those steps as an institution,” adds Jon Allen, chief information officer (CIO) and chief information security officer (CISO).
As part of The Give Light campaign, a $1.1 billon strategic academic initiative, the Baylor team decided to rethink their business processes from the ground up.
“When I first arrived, a lot of time was spent on non-value add activities,” Gochis explains. “We would have a piece of information, that in some cases, had to literally be keyed in seven or eight times. In addition, you’d have to go from system to system just to get simple transactions done.”
Baylor was using multiple systems from different vendors for financials, HR and student information. “It was really one core system with a bunch of things bolted on,” Allen says, “like a bunch of barnacles glued onto the main system.”
In addition to being inefficient and brittle, these systems were expensive to maintain. “Every dollar we spend on back office operations and administrative systems are dollars that we are not spending in the classroom,” says Dalton. “For me it's very simple to see that math and the trade off.”
Dalton knew from the start that a SaaS (software as a service) environment would transform Baylor’s operations. “A movement to the cloud is not only an opportunity to transform how we do business, but it’s our responsibility,'' he insists. Baylor considered both Oracle and Workday, but “what really helped Oracle stand out head and shoulders above everything else is that this is their bread and butter.” Along with finance and HR in the cloud, Oracle is heavily investing in Oracle Student Cloud, a student information system built on the same platform as its other SaaS offerings. “We were able to see, long-term, how the company as a whole has been committed throughout its history to a comprehensive solution,” Allen asserts.
In total, the Baylor team is replacing more than 17 systems with their move to a unified Oracle Cloud. Allen says that, initially, Baylor staff had a hard time believing the cloud was the answer to their prayers. “What do you mean, we are going to be able to tie our financial information to what's happening with our people resources, strategically, in one report?” he chuckles. “It almost seemed like foreign concept, given where we were coming from.”
Oracle ERP Cloud, Oracle EPM Cloud, and Oracle HCM Cloud make that a very easy task, with best practices already built into the solution. “The analytic capabilities, the information, the visualizations, make it easy to engage in transformational change of how we do business,” Dalton says.
Some of the early benefits of the move include:
|“With our new systems and the transformation that’s underway, our existing staff will be able to accommodate a doubling of research activity. We have the ability to manage twice the load of research scholarships and externally funded grants than we previously could.”
— Brett Dalton, CBO and VP of finance, Baylor University
As a CIO and CISO, Jon Allen is acutely aware of the importance of security. “If I have a Harley Davison motorcycle, I don’t go to just any small shop. I take it to a Harley shop, because I want someone who is specialized, who knows how to run, operate and work on that vehicle. I think the same way about the cloud. We need to make sure we are engaging vendors who really understand how to manage the data and systems we are looking for, and with Oracle it was clear they were layering security through the entire environment.”
When it comes right down to it, education is fundamentally about finding your best so that you can contribute the most. Successful higher education institutions like Baylor University are exploring how they can leverage technology to become increasingly student-centric. The cloud is helping to automate the back office so savings can be put towards the students, to help them reach their academic goals.
“We know that most of the jobs that our students are going to have 10, 15, 20 years down the road don’t even exist today,” says university president Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D. “We certainly need to prepare our students for the first job they get out of college, but we also have to help them to be adaptable, to be critical thinkers so they can grow and develop as the world changes dramatically in the years ahead.
“My hope for our students is that they go on to have a fulfilling lives, where they are making a difference in the world, in something they're passionate about,” Livingstone concludes, “so when they look back, they know they've done something important that mattered, not just for them and their families but for their communities and the world more broadly.”