Founded in 1899, San Francisco State University (SFSU) has earned a reputation as a key recruiting school for employers such as Oracle, Google, Apple, Kaiser Permanente, and Wells Fargo.
Serving more than 28,000 students plus 3,500 faculty and staff, SFSU faced challenges in its business operations. The university relied on spreadsheets and out-of-date systems to manage the budget, resulting in tedious manual processes for staff and incomplete information for the budget office team to work with—making it tough to run accurate and timely forecasts.
The university needed a finance system that would provide real-time business insights and allow for strategic modeling by examining deficits, reserves, enrollment, tuition costs, buyout packages for employees, and other factors. The university ultimately selected Oracle Fusion Cloud EPM for planning, budgeting, and scenario modeling and worked with implementation partner Performance Architects to help roll it out.
Even before the onset of the global pandemic, a number of hurdles made it difficult to take a proactive, strategic approach to long-term planning. These included:
Manual, offline processes. While the statewide California State University system already provided access to a well-known software system for university budgeting, SFSU leaders didn’t believe it offered the robust budgeting and planning capabilities or flexibility they needed. Instead, the university handled planning by loading data into spreadsheets.
Not only was this slow and inefficient, but it also kept SFSU in a “day-to-day survival mentality,” says Tyler Feddersen, EPM Director at Performance Architects.
“It really limits the ability to be strategic. Any time there were changes to consider, the budget office had to collect all the data manually and turn it into a report. It’s a very time-consuming process.”
A lack of data transparency and data integrity. Because there was no reporting standard, each of the university’s departments submitted financial and payroll information differently. Some gave detail down to the employee level, while others just offered summary information.
This meant that the budget office could never analyze payroll down to the employee level across the university. Without these numbers, the budget office couldn’t derive any significant insight about payroll costs.
Accelerating change and uncertainty. For many years, multiyear forecasting was not a priority for SFSU, which could count on steady tuition and state funding growth to meet its budget. That all changed with the onset of the global pandemic.
With enrollment down, the growth of remote learning, and uncertainty about future state appropriations, the university needed to peer around corners with greater accuracy in order to make informed investment decisions.
Moving SFSU’s financial reporting, analytics, budgeting, and forecasting to Oracle Cloud EPM has helped the finance team improve insights and enhance decision-making. They now have flexibility in modeling financial scenarios and handling new challenges that could potentially arise in the future.
Performance Architects guided SFSU through a phased implementation, made easier by Oracle Cloud EPM’s extensibility. Implementation began with improving the precision and timeliness of reporting, then focused on HR planning. Most recently, the university adopted multiyear scenario planning.
Beneficial changes include:
Online planning that eliminates manual tasks. Oracle Cloud EPM replaced the budget office’s tedious manual processes with simpler and more useful reporting and analytics about changing economic conditions. Eliminating manual processes and embracing standardized budgeting formats saves time for the budget office, giving finance staffers the opportunity to analyze and think strategically about their data.
Deeper visibility informs forward-looking decisions. Because Oracle Cloud EPM accesses data directly from source systems, the finance team can be sure they’re working with the most current data while reducing reporting errors. Oracle Cloud EPM’s reporting capabilities give them the ability to slice and dice data in ways they simply couldn’t before.
Previously, SFSU did not have complete information or insights due to the limited resources. Oracle Cloud EPM lets the university use scenario modeling to model most likely responses to various situations and construct a 10-year strategic plan.
More accurate forecasts to anticipate and respond to change. The arrival of COVID-19 made it more urgent to anticipate rapidly shifting circumstances and pivot the implementation roadmap.
“We did not have strategic modeling on our roadmap prior to the pandemic,” Fedderson says. “All of a sudden, that became the priority.”
Oracle’s strategic modeling capability meant that the team could respond quickly to the situation, weighing the options around compensation, hiring, and tuition. This was particularly crucial for the university’s self-funding units, such as athletics, parking, dining, and housing.
With Oracle Cloud EPM now in place, SFSU can look forward to facing an increasingly uncertain environment with greater confidence.
“The foundation we’ve built with Oracle Cloud EPM for our budget processes has enabled us to quickly adapt to unexpected conditions, especially when building budgets and financial plans for the coming years,” says Bernice Yeh, Senior Budget Analyst at SFSU. “We have been able to model scenarios to increase efficiency, reduce risk, and provide our school leaders with the correct information to allow them to make informed decisions.”