By Nicole Oeser, Senior Director, Huron Consulting
Two years ago, Baylor University announced an ambitious campaign to pursue classification as a Research 1 (R1) institution, placing the Waco, Texas, school among the nation’s top research institutions. But the universities’ legacy HR and financial systems were cumbersome and hardly up to the task. They had a host of systems that they had bolted on to their core HR architecture that the CHRO likened to “barnacles."
It was clear that these disparate processes and systems couldn’t sustain Baylor as it launched into its R1 growth curve. This is where we were able to help, by implementing Oracle Cloud applications to modernize Baylor’s HR and finance functions, and put it in a position to scale easily as needs grow.
I’ve worked in higher education for 20 years—18 of them at a university (Vanderbilt)—and I know that Baylor’s challenges are common to many universities aspiring to R1 classification. These operations need more efficient procurement, HR, and payroll enterprises, which all feed into the research enterprise as your sponsored program portfolio grows.
Baylor’s old applications limited the university’s ability to scale to the speed and processing needs of a university with R1 status, but it wasn’t just the technology that needed reimagining. Processes suffered from outmoded and unnecessary complexity, so the migration to Oracle Cloud offered a unique opportunity to rebuild administrative processes from scratch.
Just one example: Baylor used 7 payroll cycles to process employee pay, which they were able to consolidate to just two on Oracle Cloud. Process redundancies like these are common at large organizations such as universities; they’ve had so many employees over so many years that practices are taught, retaught, and stay entrenched—even when they’ve become outdated.
Implementing Oracle Cloud, with built-in best practices, encouraged Baylor’s back office professionals to rethink legacy processes. The results? Fewer hands touching each transaction, a smoother approval process, and reduced labor costs. The difference was noticeable to end users. One employee told me, “This is the way we should do business.”
I love this quote because in the implementation game, if, we can't prove to the campus how this improves their lives, then we're losing the battle before we begin. With Baylor, we're several months past go-live, and we're still working very hard to make sure that the campus understands the benefits. But so far, this feels like a win because everyone appreciates the benefits of a modern system and modern technology.
Certainly, adoption was a key metric of success for the university, but there were others as well. One huge improvement has been the increased volume of vendor purchases taking place through Oracle Cloud Procurement. Centralizing the procure-to-pay process has helped Baylor take advantage of negotiated terms and discounts, reducing procurement costs and providing a more accurate view of procurement spend.
Another benefit has been reducing the time needed for complex transactions such as processing grants, setting up new vendors, and running payroll. Improving these metrics was really important to Baylor, and it’s a great lesson for other institutions: Get very specific about what you're trying to achieve, and then give your team the space to do it.
My most important advice for other higher-ed institutions seeking technology upgrades, whether to achieve a higher research classification or be more efficient with processes and costs, is to look beyond implementation.
It is so much more than just migrating data. Stay focused on what you want to achieve and be crystal clear on why you're doing it. Then, stick to those guiding principles throughout your implementation. The more focused you are on the metrics and the outcomes, the faster you achieve them.