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Anwen Robinson

Higher Education finance takes shape in the cloud

For those in the business of higher education, keeping on top of a shifting landscape of funding squeezes, increased competition and added regulatory changes from the newly appointed Office for Students (OfS), while still delivering uncompromised teaching and excellence in research, is particularly challenging.

Unlike the US, where many universities are funded by huge pots of endowment, the UK higher education sector is feeling the pinch. Finance professionals at the heart of universities are facing the challenge of efficiently running their organisations, despite funding cuts.

Like many businesses that are rapidly adopting SaaS, Higher Education (HE) institutions are also seeking better and more cost-effective ways to implement IT services – without the required maintenance and upgrade costs. Large numbers of disparate legacy systems often require regular and time-consuming upkeep, and it’s not uncommon for an upgrade on one system to have a knock-on effect on other systems. However, as the finance department moves away from simply providing transactions and legislative compliance and focuses more on supporting strategic decision making, a review of existing systems and processes is also needed.

By centralising data in the cloud, HE organisations can also reduce the need to back-up through secondary systems. This allows HE organisations to focus more on the delivery of education, rather than the complexity of running or revisioning their software and infrastructure.

Removing the paper chain

With the finance department playing an increasingly larger role in collating business information and supporting decision making, it’s more important for finance professionals to have access to real-time data. By deploying SaaS applications specifically designed for financial services, HE organisations can harness a common platform which enables the movement of financial data from other departments – seamlessly capturing it in one place. This removes the need for CFOs to carry out manual processes, authorisations and analyse data which is spread across various spreadsheets, disparate systems and departments. Instead the technology provides a powerful tool for dynamic reporting and real-time decision making, introducing an automated workflow that allows the finance function to support the strategic aims of the organisation, while also safe-guarding the bottom line.

Additionally, enterprise SaaS applications can help HE organisations make informed financial and fundraising decisions. Capturing financial data across departments allows the finance function to efficiently respond to trends and requests as they develop. For instance, tracking changes in enrolment, spikes in course demand, fundraising efforts and approval of research grants can allow organisations to make data-informed decisions. By simplifying the capture and retrieval of financial information through accounts, ledger and reporting capabilities, the finance function can enhance decision making with instant access to easily understood, real-time information.

Harnessing SaaS

HE organisations are increasingly turning to SaaS because it offers all of those functions in a simpler, faster and more flexible solution, with improved layers of security and support. Universities such as the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) have embraced SaaS as a way to implement modern ways of working and free staff to pursue more value-added activities. Enterprise SaaS solutions offer a consistent user experience and ensure that data is available any time, anywhere and on any device. The adoption of emerging technologies and working practises affords an increased level of mobility and the opportunity for staff to work in various locations. With the right SaaS solution, financial data can be accessed within the traditional office walls or on the move – enabling HE organisations to reduce costs, keep employees connected and increase business agility.

Ultimately, financial and accounting enterprise SaaS solutions can help finance professionals transform and streamline their workflows and operations, improve overall organisational performance and reduce back-office costs. By capturing all financial information in a single place, enterprise SaaS provides powerful dynamic reporting and a platform for real-time decision making.

Simplicity is the key

Looking ahead, HE organisations that invest in this technology and lead the paperless charge will pull ahead of the competition, in terms of productivity, revenue and reputation. Implementing a robust, end-to-end solution will be a key component in remaining agile. As a result, enterprise SaaS solutions will be at the heart of the higher education finance function – harnessing real-time data and supporting business decisions.

For HE organisations looking to implement financial ERP systems, it’s important that the key stakeholders are open to change and able to push through key initiatives. Proven-practice configurations can offer significant cost savings when it comes to implementing software; however, the institution must put a level of trust in the vendor to deliver on this approach.

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