St. Edward’s University: making payments at the speed of now

St. Edward’s University sets itself up for the next 25 years with combined ERP and campus-wide payment solution

It takes a lot to replace a system that’s been in use for 25 years. Numerous legacy applications, customisations, and familiar processes all must go away or at least change enough to disrupt business operations.

St. Edward’s University faced this dilemma. It had its legacy ERP system tuned to accommodate different functions, and even was a pioneer in using the system to accept online tuition payments. Such a high-performance IT system represents the excellence on which the institution built its reputation, which has been validated in many ways including high academic rankings and many students who become Fulbright scholars.

However, the remarkable pace of change in technology and the costs of maintaining the older system presented compelling reasons to introduce a more capable ERP and payment system. Here is the story of St. Edward’s progression from having a disparate array of technologies to a tightly integrated setup of Banner® by Ellucian and Ellucian Payment Center by TouchNet®.

Outdated technology indicates inefficient processes

From its campus in the technology hub of Austin, Texas, St. Edward’s University employs nearly 1,000 staff and boasts a student body of approximately 5,000. That translates into more than 27,000 individual transactions every year from credit and debit cards, electronic checks, fund transfers, and international wires. Using the institution’s old payment system for these transactions presented a number of challenges to the Office of Student Financial Services.

For example, St. Edward’s used an external payment gateway for payment processing, so making deposits was a separate activity and required additional resources to maintain Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance for data security. And while most payments occurred online, about 10 percent of the time staff had to accept credit card information over the telephone or process paper checks that could not be converted into electronic ones.

“We used to get 20 calls a day to facilitate a payment from grandparents who could not get online or from 3rdparty payers like 529 plan administrators,” says Bursar Peter Beilharz.

Another complication of the old system was the limited reporting capability. Staff had to use multiple databases and work through a difficult process to identify the accounts that had been paid, how they were paid, or those that were delinquent.

Operational excellence demands no compromise in technology

With its aging ERP nearing the end of its product lifespan, St. Edward’s took the long view and assessed its overall requirements. The institution recognised that it needed convenient, modern payment processing, and that there were other strategic and critical needs for a new administrative system. The strategy holding the most promise was to replace its ERP system with the combination of Banner® by Ellucian and Ellucian Payment Center by TouchNet®. With its cloud-based approach, the plan incorporates a number of benefits including updates ranging from basic software maintenance to critical encryption modifications that are part of the PCI standard.

More activities online means less standing in line

The 90 percent of online payments that St. Edward’s processed under the old system has improved to 99 percent using Ellucian Payment Center by TouchNet, but behind that figure lies other outcomes that prove operational success. For example, students have more control with the ability to:

  • Access to their payment profile
  • Sign up for payment plans
  • Authorise other users such as parents
  • Make payments and receive receipts via email
  • Collect e-refunds
  • Make direct deposits into their bank account
“We now work with two Ellucian systems that are in compliance with PCI, and operations are simpler because of the functionality and there’s a lot less ad hoc report writing.”
Bursar Peter Beilharz, St. Edward’s University

Enabling these user friendly features is the integration with Banner, the ERP system that automatically collects application fee payments, deposits for enrollment or study abroad programs, and room and board deposits.

According to Beilharz, there is a direct financial benefit too: “We can now pass along to students and other payers the more than $200,000 a year in credit card convenience fees as part of tuition or other charges.”

Cultivating continuous improvement in efficiency

For St. Edward’s, Banner and Ellucian Payment Center by TouchNet represent the right combination to unify payment systems with the necessary efficiency, performance, and return on investment needed for ERP. The compatibility of the two means data is immediately accessible from a variety of sources via a Unified Commerce Platform. Departmental users can see trends and generate a consolidated view of activity without additional SQL tools or training. Moreover, staff members are aware of a payment’s status or profile changes through automated alerts.

Adds Beilharz, “With Ellucian Payment Center by TouchNet there is much less time involved in identifying issues such as misapplied payments, students who are on the wrong plans, and who paid with a check vs. credit card.”

And what about all that time saved? The department has taken on additional responsibility by essentially absorbing a new department. The Office of Student Financial Services now manages the meal plans and sets those rates, as well as handling car permitting, door access, and other functions as part of the One Card system. Under this structure, Banner charges the plans and Ellucian Payment Center by TouchNet pays for it.

The benefits are worth the implementation effort, concludes Beilharz: “We don’t have to worry about our systems. We now work with two systems that are in compliance with PCI, and operations are simpler because of the functionality and there’s a lot less ad hoc report writing.”

It takes the team to get the technology right

In most cases implementing just one system is a significant accomplishment, but the dual deployment called for at St. Edward’s required more that just the technology to integrate well.

“It’s unusual to have a dual deployment at the same time, especially as the first project between Ellucian and TouchNet,” says Barb Scheid, product implementation consultant. “But the weekly meetings with Ellucian team members and St. Edward’s staff helped us anticipate and resolve many potential barriers during the implementation of the bill payment client and Banner.”