Higher Ed: Optimize Resource Allocation for Financial Sustainability
In the past year, business, government, and civic and cultural institutions faced enormous challenges that forced them to re-evaluate and change how they operate in order to survive. This was especially the case in the higher education sector, which was already under pressure to adapt its business model to keep up with changing demographics and greater scrutiny from the public to demonstrate the value added by their products and services.
But now we see that some higher education institutions have successfully prepared themselves for “the new normal” by transforming the way they allocate resources to better manage uncertain revenue streams and control costs. They were able to optimize resource allocation in order to be financially sustainable and meet their long-term strategic objectives, through the adoption of next-generation enabling technology for preparing budgets, forecasts, and long-range plans.
More importantly, they were able to connect people, data, and plans in a seamless and efficient manner that gave their executive leadership teams (senior administration and governing board members) the right information at the right time to make the decisions required to stay ahead of the curve. This is not an easy task in an “industry” where there is a norm of shared governance. In that environment, although the board of trustees has primary fiduciary responsibilities, it delegates primary management responsibility to the president and senior administration and primary responsibility for academic programs to the faculty. The responsibility of the board is to provide advice and counsel but leave operational decisions to the administration. Therefore, it becomes critically important that there be a “single source of truth” that provides timely, accurate, and easily accessible information for critical decisions.
When there is not alignment among all the stakeholders about the validity of financial information, there can be serious obstacles to making the best resource allocation decisions.
So, what did some of these higher education institutions do to more efficiently and effectively gather and analyze and present the information and insights required to meet these challenges and thrive financially? They are among the first in the higher education sector to adopt Anaplan's Connected Planning software and models!
Anaplan’s core strength lies in its capability to provide a unified cloud platform to create connected planning processes across an organization to make decisions better and faster. This is of significant value to higher education institutions that are comprised of very siloed functional departments. The Anaplan platform collects and analyzes data from across an organization in a single location, enabling both high-level and granular analyses and facilitating data-sharing with all stakeholders. Anaplan's Connected Planning software tools, models, and methodologies enable organizations to transform their planning and decision-making capabilities and allow leaders to make decisions faster and with greater confidence.
Like many for-profit business organizations, colleges and universities typically rely on a combination of Excel worksheets and proprietary point solutions to manage their planning and budgeting tasks. Excel is a leading platform for most planning activities because it is easy to use and can be owned by the individual business units, without much involvement from central IT departments. It is also very flexible and can be adapted to most planning needs.
However, Excel has some important shortcomings (as highlighted in a recent white paper from Anaplan partner Twelve Consulting Group) that limit its ability to serve as the backbone for planning and budgeting in complex organizations like colleges and universities:
- Scalability: Spreadsheets are limited in the volume of data they can handle, a problem that is particularly acute for large and complex institutions like colleges and universities that contain multiple departments and schools and perhaps even multiple locations, in the case of state university systems.
- Security and consistency: Spreadsheets are easily changed and shared internally and externally so that there can be inconsistencies and the “single version of truth” is often lost.
- Auditability: Spreadsheet data are easily changed and cannot always be traced to their origin, which can lead to a lack of shared trust in plans and models, particularly in the case of organizations with a culture of shared governance, as noted in the story cited above.
Although proprietary point solutions can overcome many of these flaws, they also have a weakness in that they are focused on a single business function and usually cannot be integrated with other software solutions, and which often require extensive support and resources from a centralized IT department. Therein lies the beauty of Anaplan cloud-based software, which makes it the ideal platform for college and university financial managers and executive leaders who need to gather and analyze data and compare alternative scenarios that can serve as the basis for sound and trusted resources allocation decisions quickly and easily.
Anaplan partner firm, truED Consulting, specializes in financial planning and data analysis services to colleges and universities of all sizes and mission (i.e., community college, private liberal arts, research university, multi-campus state system) types. As an Anaplan partner with a sole focus on the higher education industry, truED Consulting provides institutions with the ability to build unified planning, budgeting, and forecasting platform across the institution, eliminating the reliance on Excel worksheets and point solutions still used by most colleges and universities.
How Anaplan helps
In the past year, truED Consulting has helped a variety of colleges and universities to implement Anaplan and achieve a radical improvement in the way budgets and forecasts are created, and especially in meeting the information needs of the executive leaders who must make difficult decisions under conditions of urgency and great uncertainty.
A medium-sized private faith-based university in the northeast US started on its Connected Planning journey to replace the static spreadsheets used in its distributed budgeting and planning processes with a cloud-based platform that integrated with its Banner Enterprise System. This was needed to facilitate multiple real-time scenario modeling, reduce administrative inefficiencies, and increase transparency, as well as increase stakeholder accountability and engagement. The financial managers of the university were tasked by the board of trustees to implement new planning systems and reports that were also completely integrated with the audited financial statements.
A world-class private research university in the southeast U.S. embarked on its Connected Planning journey to help the school ensure financial sustainability through robust scenario analysis and modeling of a Responsibility Center Management (RCM) framework. The RCM model can be highly effective in the allocation of resources in times of great financial uncertainty and instability, but it is often seen as too controversial or complex by the different stakeholder groups within a university. Therefore, it is highly dependent for its success on the ability to rapidly and reliably test multiple allocation formulas and produce scenarios that have the complete trust and confidence of all the parties affected.
These are just a few of many examples of universities and colleges that were helped by truED. As more higher education organizations discover the many benefits of implementing Anaplan to handle their financial planning needs, there is a growing awareness within the sector of the advantages of moving to an integrated cloud-based platform, and resistance (or inertia) to moving away from spreadsheets and point solutions is growing rapidly.
In this blog post, we have examined how colleges and universities that implement Anaplan have been able to speed up the delivery of critical financial and operational data to the executive leadership and improve the quality of resource allocation decisions crucial to the ongoing success of the institution. The next blog post will take a deeper dive into the before and after of legacy financial planning systems and processes versus the superior performance of Anaplan's Connected Planning software for cloud-based planning, budgeting, and forecasting (PB&F) solutions.