Higher Education—Managing Forecasts in Uncertain Times


quandrangle-lawn-at-the-university-of-washington-picture-id157505397 (1).jpgRecent changes to all sectors of business and society in the U.S. have been swift and sometimes devastating. Colleges and universities, in particular, are experiencing a total collapse of their business models, rendering first quarter financial forecasts virtually useless. But institutions that use Anaplan Connected Planning software and models have the ability to quickly and easily adjust their budget and planning scenarios and to expand their Anaplan usage to departments and functions beyond the finance office.

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 like academic instruction, admissions, auxiliary services (campus housing and dining, bookstore, parking, etc.), treasury (endowment management and cash forecasting), development (communications and fundraising), research and athletics, which typically have different cost and revenue drivers and widely varying reporting requirements.

young-latin-american-students-leaving-the-university-campus-after-a-picture-id1165150779.jpgAs an Anaplan partner with a sole focus on the higher education industry, truED Consulting provides institutions with the ability to build a unified budgeting and planning platform across the institution.

A current example is a branch campus of a large private research university that recently adopted Anaplan for budgeting and long-range planning. Anaplan provides the platform to not only meet the central budget office’s data submission and reporting needs, but also the capability to address needs at the local level by allowing unique requirements for performing driver-based planning, analysis, and reporting across all the academic and administrative units.

The university expanded their Anaplan budget and planning use by incorporating driver-based budget templates at the department level subsequent to the initial deployment. The university was able to enhance the model on their own through truED’s focused training and enablement provided during the implementation.

Departments across academic and administrative units manage, plan, and track their business differently. The University incorporated driver-based budget templates for units such as academic research, housing, faculty recruitment, information technology, etc. to allow units to not only budget dollar amounts, but to also calculate their output with metrics unique to their operation, in order to clearly demonstrate how their requested budgets are derived.

By tailoring the planning process specifically to how individual units conduct business, Anaplan adds value to the overall institution planning process and also leads to more satisfied and happy end users. In addition, it provides more transparency into unit-level budgets for the central budget office. Units desire to budget and plan based on how they think about their business, which varies across departments. And, the central budget office desires to have transparency into how units derive their budgets and what are the key drivers at the unit level. This helps institutions improve resource allocation and achieve their strategic goals. 

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The very existence of many colleges and universities has recently been in jeopardy. Students are being sent home while institutions try to figure out how to put all their instruction online, resulting in refunds for housing and dining services and uncertainty about tuition revenue from future enrollment, particularly from international students. The collapse of global equity markets has done major damage to the endowment portfolios of even the wealthiest institutions. And research revenue is slowing as all but essential work focused on health and life sciences is shut down.

Thus, it is more important than ever that the budgets and forecasts for all academic and administrative departments be in complete alignment when it comes to assumptions about how the future will unfold. This is the ultimate advantage of the Anaplan platform, enabling the central budget office to collaborate with all of the departments across the university to align objectives with individual operational tactics and financial plans.

Picture1.pngRobert Knight, Higher Education Advisor at truED Consulting, has over 30 years’ experience in senior administration and finance roles at academic institutions in the US and Canada. Robert recently retired after serving as VP-Finance and Business Operations at the University of Northern British Columbia. At UNBC, Robert’s portfolio included finance and budget, human resources, facilities management, and information technology. Robert previously served as the principal administrative and financial officer for the Steinhardt School at New York University. He has also served as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Financial Planning and Budget Director at Oberlin College.