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Cloud Computing

Educated Disruption

Organizations adopt cloud ERP and other new tools as they emphasize innovation over maintenance.

by Alison Weiss

August 2015

Institutions and technology companies focused on education and learning are seizing on a range of technology advances, from new smartphone apps and website tools to massive open online courses and cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, to improve their services and rein in costs. Their goal: spend more of their tech dollars on innovations that delight and retain students and customers and less on operational maintenance.

Mobile tools are proving to be particularly powerful, as traditional students and lifelong learners alike—accustomed to using smartphones and tablets—want options for learning anytime, anywhere, says Catalina Ruiz-Healy, CEO at GradGuru, a free app that helps community college students stay on track and graduate.

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“Many people don’t understand the real cost of education. Even for community college, which is relatively affordable, what you pay in tuition doesn’t come close to covering the complete cost,” Ruiz-Healy says. “Almost half of all undergrads in the US go to community college, but nearly 70 percent drop out. That’s a huge drain on the economy.”

GradGuru helps students keep up with deadlines by texting reminders, offers them tips for graduating in less time, and gives students information to have more-productive conversations with their advisers. The app also makes it easy for students to ask questions about financial aid and request tutoring, “actions students may be reluctant to discuss publicly,” Ruiz-Healy says—adding that it’s “also a way for college administrators and staff to communicate with students.”

But before any educational organization can think about innovating with technology, it needs to get its core ERP applications—financial, procurement, and project management—in order. An increasingly popular choice is cloud-based ERP, which customers can deploy and scale quickly at a predictable cost.

Selim Burduroglu, a global innovation evangelist-architect within Oracle’s Education and Research Global Industry Solutions Group, says it’s no surprise that education-focused organizations are investing in cloud-based ERP solutions such as Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning Cloud (Oracle ERP Cloud).

“Modernizing with Oracle ERP Cloud improves transparency. This helps reduce operational costs and naturally leads to better decision-making and streamlined processes,” Burduroglu says. “So organizations can have better alignment of their resources to effectively support the core mission: education, research, and public service.”

Modernizing to Meet Innovation Goals

Administrators and technology executives at Boise State University (BSU), a public research institution serving more than 22,000 students in Boise, Idaho, are keenly aware of affordability issues. Recently, campus decision-makers decided to move BSU’s on-premises implementation of Oracle’s PeopleSoft software to Oracle ERP Cloud in order to reduce maintenance costs so that it could reallocate funds to technology innovation and overall university expansion.

BSU has experienced phenomenal growth over the past decade in both the number of students it serves and the degrees it offers. Its focus used to be on undergraduate and associate degrees, but today it also offers graduate degrees in fields such as education technology and engineering, and it has built a reputation for research in geoscience, biomolecular science, materials science, public policy, and other fields.

“These programs and degrees are great for the university, but they are complex and expensive,” says Jo Ellen Dinucci, associate vice president for finance and administration at BSU. “Couple that with reduced state funding and limits on how much tuition can be raised, and all of a sudden you have a real stress on your infrastructure to figure out how to deliver services more effectively.”

Managing IT at the university is challenging not because its needs are unique, says BSU CIO Max Davis-Johnson, but because so many diverse departments must buy and use different types of software and hardware—for everything from administration, classroom instruction, and research labs to procurement, athletics programs, and health services.

BSU technology executives were happy with the features, extensive footprint, and reliability of the university’s PeopleSoft software. But when it came time for an upgrade last year, Davis-Johnson and team decided to evaluate cloud alternatives as a way to lower BSU’s ERP infrastructure costs. They determined that Oracle ERP Cloud provided the new features they were after while adding more flexibility and scalability.

BSU will deploy Oracle ERP Cloud in stages. In the first phase, expected to go live in early 2016, it will roll out the service to administrators, academic staff, and finance team members. Dinucci expects to take advantage of a redesigned chart of accounts so that the financial book of record for BSU will maintain information in a more streamlined way. It will also provide flexibility for improved financial reporting, allowing departments to make better decisions when managing their budgets.

You have to understand the decisions you’re making to keep your entity financially sound, while at the same time offering a wide variety of educational choices for society.”–Jo Ellen Dinucci, Associate Vice President for Finance and Administration, Boise State University

Dinucci also plans to automate all the university’s purchasing and payables transactions to alleviate the paper involved with procurement to pay and to speed up manual processes using automated workflow approvals and attachments.

“As we start the transition to the cloud, the IT staff will be freed up from traditional software maintenance tasks to focus on integrating on-premises systems with the cloud,” Davis-Johnson says. “And since they won’t be spending so much time supporting administrative transactional systems, more resources will be available to create innovative applications for other campus systems.”

One such innovation already generating excitement is a new cloud application for post-awards grants management. The application will help university research program administrators streamline administrative tasks and ensure that funds provided by grants are allocated correctly. The new application will provide precision and transparency to the grants management process, as well as more-sophisticated reporting about project expenditures and financial transactions.

BSU had not taken advantage of a delivered grants management application before, but managing grants is an essential and increasingly important task due to the growth of the university’s research and graduate programs. Dinucci is looking forward to the increased visibility offered by Oracle ERP Cloud’s enhanced budgeting, cost-allocation, and cost-reporting tools.

“For universities, it’s perfectly fine to offer a program that loses money, but they can’t all lose money,” she says. “You have to understand the decisions you’re making to keep your entity financially sound, while at the same time offering a wide variety of educational choices for society.”

Moving to Oracle ERP Cloud is just the first step. In the next year, BSU will migrate to Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud (Oracle HCM Cloud) to streamline HCM tasks such as recruiting and learning management.

Brainy Decision for Lumosity

Like BSU, San Francisco, California–based Lumos Labs is turning to Oracle ERP Cloud to improve its financial reporting, transparency, and oversight. Lumos Labs, which was founded in 2005 and launched the Lumosity online “brain-training” site in 2007, likes the cloud approach to ensure that it has the flexible infrastructure to support business growth.

Lumosity features more than 40 engaging brain games, available on the web and via iOS and Android apps. With membership growing quickly—including rapid international expansion—and the continual launch of new services, the time is right for Lumos Labs to implement a full-featured ERP system, says Tyler Chapman, director of finance and accounting. There was no internal debate, he says, about whether the cloud is the way to go.

“We offer our training services through the cloud, so cloud ERP makes sense for us,” Chapman says. “It’s accessible, it’s highly efficient from a cost and resource standpoint because we’re not buying and deploying a system ourselves, and it’s always up to date.” Why Oracle? For one thing, “we like the fact that Oracle supports many of the largest technology companies in the world,” he says.

Initially, Lumos Labs is implementing Oracle ERP Cloud’s financial module, which will go live this summer. Chapman expects the cloud software to make the company’s financial close process more efficient and scalable, compared with the QuickBooks software it used previously.

“The most important thing the finance group does is provide accurate numbers to people in a timely way so they can make educated decisions about the business,” he says. “Oracle ERP Cloud will enable us to do this.”

Leaders at Lumos Labs plan to use Oracle ERP Cloud’s extensive international capabilities, such as the ability to manage transactional taxes and do local statutory accounting, to accommodate Lumosity’s recent entry into the Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean markets. As the company continues to expand and automate, it is also considering taking advantage of Oracle’s planning, procurement, and HCM solutions and the mobile functionality provided by the applications.

Also like BSU, the Lumos Labs team thinks the cloud service will let it reallocate IT resources to other areas of the company that are “more customer-facing and have more value-add,” Chapman says. He adds, “We have the infrastructure we need, and we can be nimble—easily scale up or down to follow the business.”

Oracle’s Burduroglu emphasizes that efforts to modernize core financial systems must lead to competitive advantage—whether an institution offers conventional education services or lifelong learning. Says Burduroglu, “Having a modern, reliable, and configurable cloud-based system of record for financial systems provides a solid foundation from which educational organizations can launch better and new ideas more sustainably.”

Action Items
  • Eyes on the Higher-Education Prize: Making College More Affordable
  • Information Drives Student Success at Boise State
  • Photography by Shutterstock