Don’t Let Lack of Integration Sink Your Next Big ERP Implementation

Don’t Let Lack of Integration Sink Your Next Big ERP Implementation

By Mike Wallesen on Wednesday, September 17, 2014

With all the talk about transparency and accountability in higher education, one might think the decision to invest in a comprehensive ERP system — a system that streamlines efficiencies and enables administrators to track all manner of data from one end of the institution to the other — would be a no-brainer.

For college and university administrators, that decision is more complicated than it appears. For starters, the software isn’t cheap: A fully integrated system can cost millions. And presidents and CEOs can bet that board members and other stakeholders will want to see a demonstrable return on that investment.

When integrated effectively, a good ERP system provides valuable insight into institutional performance, streamlines business processes and efficiencies across the campus and enables educators to focus on improving student achievement.

On the flip side, a poorly planned integration will cost the institution time and money, fail to yield positive results and put administrators in the unenviable position of having to explain to the board, and often the press, how and where it all went wrong.

So how can you ensure that your institution gets the most of its next ERP investment? What steps can you take to guarantee that your stakeholders look beyond the risks to realize the benefits of the software, and what does success look like in the eyes of administrators who have been through the process?

Here is what you need to know:

It Starts With Planning

In the case of a large-scale ERP, you can’t just flip a switch and turn on the results. To maximize the benefit, you have to think about the different ways the system works, how it integrates with your current processes and departments and, perhaps most important, how its resources and capabilities sync with the broader goals of the institution.

Different departments within the institution will use the software in different ways. How financial aid uses the technology will differ from how academic advising uses it, and differ from admissions, and so on.

Each department has to understand how the others rely on the technology. As a whole, it’s important to know how the different processes, taken together, affect the goals of the college or university.

Culture Change Is Important

Often, it takes an expert who knows the dynamics of the institution to come in and coordinate change. At Ellucian, we team our customers with professional management consultants who work across the administration and the different departments within the institution to ensure the goals of the technology are the same at every level — and to ensure that everyone who has a stake in the system has bought into the approach, from presidents and CEOs to program managers.

Part of that process is about coordinating the message. The other is about making people feel safe — training employees to use the technology and ensuring them that the administration appreciates their efforts and the challenges they face.

“The goal is to create an army of people supporting forward movement,” says Connie Atchley, who recently worked with the Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) to integrate Ellucian’s Banner product and other components of its ERP system.

Success Looks Like This

Atchley worked with administrators to integrate a shared application that allows data to freely flow from one area of the college to the next. That means that registration information can now be shared with financial aid, and billing information can be shared with accounts receivable, and so on across the institution.

Rather than capturing and rekeying that data at each stop along the chain, the technology enables the different departments to seamlessly share that information, cutting down on duplicative data entry and freeing up time for staff to engage in other important tasks. In at least two cases at CNM, staff working overtime were able to take much-needed time off, Atchley says.

In addition to creating efficiencies, the technology has streamlined communication at the institution, helping students and parents receive consistent access to more accurate information. Rather than going to three different departments for answers to three separate questions about billing or financial aid or registration, answers to each question can be retrieved online or through a single point of contact.

When looking for more information to inform your next ERP or CRM integration, consider these five questions

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