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

from  October 3, 2019 | 5 min read

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, the higher education industry is increasingly high-tech. Especially in academic and learning spaces, where access to tablet and mobile technology, and learning management systems software is ubiquitous. But behind the curtain we can see 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. They are not using them to their full potential to streamline admin workflows, remove pressure from academic staff, and effectively manage the needs and progress of their students. Either that, or the systems they’re using are simply behind the curve, as the latest joint report from Unit4 and the Education Dive Brand Studio reveals.

Higher Education ERP: How 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 worse than that, 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) to carry out essential processes.
  • Do not believe their technology provides them with the necessary data to make strategic decisions.
  • Cannot streamline important business processes or remove inefficiencies with their current system.

ERP Systems: Shifting industry demands

There’s a temptation to dismiss these statistics as unfortunate but unimportant. Admin is simply an unfortunate fact of life in the higher education institution, and one which we’ll always be burdened with to some extent.

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. All of which can lead to unacceptable impacts on both staff retention and student performance. (Indeed, a single member of academic staff leaving can have a huge impact on individual students’ chances of graduating.)

ERP Transformation: Creating 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.

Simply by unifying all back office systems into a single platform and thereby unifying all institutional data can go a long way to resolving many of the perennial issues that absorb time that can be better put towards higher value work. Without multiple systems, data entry and re-entry ceases to be a concern – as does the inevitable occurrence of errors and discrepancies across data stored in different warehouses and platforms. It also significantly decreases compliance overhead by allowing responsible staff to easily account for all data, all funds, and how each student’s experience and affairs are being handled by the institution.

But many are failing to take advantage of even this basic improvement – let alone the capacity of more modern ERP and SIS systems to automate routine workflows to free up large amounts of time to both faculty and administrative staff. And to deliver improved student experiences by creating a more intuitive connection between each individual student and the institution by giving them a single point of contact with minimal exceptions and confusions or roadblocks between them and what they need.

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. More than anything else, these improvements don’t just modernize and rationalize back office systems and create efficiencies that reduce costs and boost performance, they create an experience for your people – staff, academics, and students – that is significantly more engaging and intuitive. Reducing turnover, boosting student and educational outcomes, and preparing your institution with the robust foundations it will need to face an increasingly turbulent future.

To learn more about how modern ERP and SIS systems can transform the higher education industry’s approach to operations and create a whole new people experience for staff and students alike, 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.

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