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Unleashing the potential of higher education ERP systems [industry report]

Posted by  Austin Laird

With the release of a new report into ERP systems for higher education, Austin Laird, Unit4’s product director of higher education, looks at how institutions can revitalize their back office to streamline workflows, update data management and improve student support services.

From the outside, higher education is increasingly high-tech, especially in academic and learning spaces, with ubiquitous access to tablet and mobile technology, and learning management systems software. But, behind the curtain, there’s a different story, and it centers around the effectiveness of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and student information systems (SISs).

To put it bluntly, many academic institutions are not making the most out of their core, back-office administration systems. Either that, or the systems they’re using are simply behind the curve, as the latest joint report from Unit4 and the Brand Studio of analyst, Education Dive, reveals.

The back-office has been left behind

According to the report, Empowering People and Departments, the majority of staff members in financial, IT, HR and student services departments do not believe the current way their institutions manage back-office functions is effective. And most believe it may even be preventing them from achieving their full potential.​

Approximately half* of the higher-ed staff members we surveyed say they:

  • still use multiple admin systems (as opposed to a single system)
  • do not believe their technology provides the necessary data to make strategic decisions
  • cannot streamline important business processes or remove inefficiencies with their current system

Shifting industry demands

There’s a temptation to dismiss these statistics as unfortunate but unimportant. But if administrative teams rely on error-prone process workarounds that slow the collection and transfer of information and create time-consuming workflow bottlenecks, their institutions cannot adapt to shifting industry demands. And this has a ripple effect in every department.

As I say in the report, many institutions don’t get the full benefit of an ERP system, whether that’s because their system is too antiquated and brittle to support upgrades and business change, or because they are stuck with silos of data that can’t effectively work together.

Ultimately, this puts them at risk for poor organizational visibility on compliance and financial issues, which frustrates their staff and makes it difficult to make sound decisions that will positively impact student success.

The results of this are: subpar student experiences, lower levels of staff engagement and retention, ineffective data management and a lack of flexibility and innovation.

A positive ripple effect

Rather than doing things the way they’ve always been done, when newer technology is in place, academic institutions need to focus on the true transformative potential of modern ERP systems. The right platform, utilized in the right way, has the power to positively impact the entire staff and student community, by enabling the following:

  • More effective use of employee time
  • Improved department engagement and productivity
  • Higher quality student support services
  • More strategic, data-driven decision-making
  • Enhanced ability to meet the student needs of the future

As our research shows, while an increasing number of higher education institutions are using ERP and SIS systems, in many cases, they are simply not unleashing their full potential. And, despite the fact that most institutions realize that they fall short of the mark, administrative processes are still a compromise between tradition and transformation. 

The report lists three ways higher education institutions can tap into the full potential of modern ERP and better steward their resources: aligning ERP with real needs, automating

the most essential business processes and bringing data management to the forefront.

To learn more, download the report from Education Dive and Unit4: EMPOWERING PEOPLE AND DEPARTMENTS: unleashing the full potential of modern higher education ERP.

* please see report for exact percentages.

Austin Laird

Austin has been a part of the higher education industry for over 20 years, in a wide range of roles from a university registrar assistant to product manager and industry technology strategist. Prior to Unit4, he held multiple pre-sales, product and leadership roles at Oracle, including Global Director, Education & Research Technology. Austin joined Unit4’s Higher Education team in 2018 as product director for Unit4 Student Management.