Sunday, 27th September 2020

Universities: Unlocking innovation through their finance function

By Debbie Green, Vice President of Applications, Oracle UK.

Universities are where innovation begins. They produce research that moves us forward scientifically, technologically and socially. Some of our best and brightest reside within their walls. However, while researchers and students on the ground have some of the best facilities and personnel to support them, the same often can’t be said of university administrators. Essential back-room functions – HR, finance, payroll – that keep everything running are often based on legacy systems, operated and maintained manually at considerable cost.


Fortunately, with the widespread adoption of cloud computing and cloud-based resource planning tools, university administrators are starting to catch up with the rest of the campus. The same can be said of the public sector in general. More public sector organisations are turning to the cloud to transform their HR, payroll and finance functions.


For universities, one of the driving factors behind this move to the cloud is the constant desire to do more with less. Driving operational efficiency, integrating processes, and generally reducing costs; these give back the time and resources that allow educators to focus on what’s most important –

educating the next generation.


Transformation Catalyst


One of the biggest benefits of integrated cloud technologies is that they are the real enabler of digital transformation. Most of the backend systems for HR, payroll and finance functions were designed more than 30 years ago and many universities have been using the same systems for more than a decade.


However, times have changed and the cloud now gives these institutions the opportunity to ameliorate these systems while unlocking the door for further enhancement. Cloud applications enable organisations to become more agile, allowing them to adopt new innovations through short, regular release cycles that become an ingrained part of the infrastructure.


Innovation breeds more innovation, so not only will this be a focus for research departments, but also the university as a whole. From this innovation, universities can start to have better user experience for students, professors and staff, drive self-service initiatives, and take advantage of predictive analytics.


Leading by Example


The University of Edinburgh recently announced moving its core finance and HR functions to Oracle Cloud Applications. The aim was to deliver smarter ways of working, taking advantage of data driven insights to enhance decision-making and quickly and easily access new innovations. Bringing together finance and HR in the cloud will enhance the University of Edinburgh’s business processes, security and overall efficiency, ultimately helping improve the experiences of both students and staff.


We’ve also seen examples of digital transformation across the globe, with the University of California San Diego, University of Pittsburgh and the University of Worcester all switching to the cloud to transform their services.


By utilising the cloud, staff are also able to take advantage of the latest AI and IoT tools, as well as better user experience and predictive analytics. These technologies enable universities to move from overnight and weekend batch data processing to leveraging real-time business insights that, for example, significantly speed up month-end and year-end closing for the finance team. In addition, more joined-up systems in the cloud help teams embrace best practices and more easily adopt emerging technologies to support the changing demands of the university.


In essence, now is the time for universities to take full advantage of the cloud. Delivering world-class education requires an insatiable curiosity for innovation beyond the lecture theatre, and that must extend to the backend functions that keep our centres of learning running.

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