Software helps university effect cultural change

The implementation of TechnologyOne software at Victoria University in Melbourne has enabled the $450 million business to effect a cultural change.

Organisational unit managers now have ownership of their budget data and can pinpoint the profitability or highlight problems of each area through a standardised reporting solution.

Victoria University is a multi-sector institution (higher education and TAFE) With over 50,000 students, including more than 2,500 international students on-shore and over 4,000 offshore, it has campuses in the Melbourne CBD and Western corridor, around 3,500 employees and $1 billion in total assets.

But despite its size and commercial success, detailed financial forecasting was not performed and monitoring of financial performance at varying levels of activity during the year was inconsistent and not undertaken in a timely manner.

Its Finance team had been using the ‘top down' budgeting approach for many years, which involved  organisational units providing budget data based on the previous year and submitting a spread sheet. Inconsistent practices between organisational units meant that the central finance team spent a vast amount of time consolidating all the spread sheets.

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO), David Colliver, realised change was required and a ‘bottom up' approach was needed.

In 2009, Victoria University decided to implement TechnologyOne Enterprise Budgeting (EB) for the 2010 Budget.  Working in collaboration with the University leadership, the central Finance team introduced a budget framework with an emphasis on accountability and transparency of data at all levels of the University.  

The University already used TechnologyOne Financials and Supply Chain, so the addition of EB seemed a natural fit.

The first phase of the system overhaul took six weeks to implement, while the second phase, which involved the rollout of TechnologyOne Business Intelligence (BI), took four months and went live at the end of 2010.

Approximately 300 people including academics and administrative staff now use the EB software and 150 use BI, and these numbers are expected to increase as the success of the project has sparked increased interest.

Victoria University Manager of Financial Systems, Michael Lapolla, said the project had enabled a cultural change because the Vice Chancellor and the CFO were driving it and had formed an advisory committee to consult with the whole organisation.

"The advisory committee included a cross-section from the University's Leadership group with whom we worked to build worksheets that met their exact needs," Mr Lapolla said.

"Managers can now view all of their organisational unit activity, how they are performing against budgets, how many employees they have and the associated costs, including payroll tax and other on-costs.

"They can forecast that grants or salaries will increase by a certain percentage and the whole system will be automatically updated, determine all travel costs including per diem rates and provide detailed reasons for the travel using simple drop down boxes.

"The software captures all the data and allows users to input a far greater level of detail - we now have 2,500 cost centres within EB - so reporting is far easier and we are able to prepare quarterly forecast models, rolling budgets and future year models looking some 24 months ahead.

"The more variance reporting we undertake, the more we understand the true cost of running different areas."

Once TechnologyOne EB was successfully rolled out, CFO Mr Colliver decided a management dashboard reporting tool was needed to extract and combine data from

Victoria University's human resources, financials and student management systems.

Members of the finance team worked for three days in Brisbane with a product specialist, after which they spent four months gathering the right data from seven different sources and building BI dashboards to meet different employees' specific needs.

TechnologyOne BI is more visual than most systems and rather than just showing lines and lines of numbers, presents data on tailored dashboards with easy-to-understand graphics to highlight areas for concern and indicate how well the user is performing against targets.

This means no time is wasted running reports or attending meetings to measure performance as users only have to log on to see exactly how they and their team are tracking. If there is an area for concern, a link will take the user to more detailed information.

Benefits from using TechnologyOne BI have already included the ability to easily assess third party payment turnover and working capital so the University can invest its funds better. Its annual 50,000 invoices can be work-flowed, approved and sent off to the correct department and data is imported from a third party credit card system.  TechnologyOne BI has provided visibility over the effectiveness of this process.

Mr Lapolla said it was now possible to see the whole University profit and loss on one dashboard in terms of actuals against forecast and access to this data could be pushed out to University managers and other employees.

"It is a huge achievement and to get it done in a few months is amazing. The outputs are positive and are still evolving, which makes the role of administering TechnologyOne BI very satisfying and motivating for my team," Mr Lapolla said.

"My advice to anyone looking to make the change from top down to bottom up budgeting and reporting using this kind of sophisticated and flexible software is to take a phased approach and ensure they have processes in place for continuous communication.

"As more employees successfully adopt the new system, we will start introducing more functions with the eventual aim of using all the tools the TechnologyOne software can offer.

"A dedicated helpdesk and training schedules have been established within the finance team and we are adding enhancements all the time."
Victoria University is already looking at implementing TechnologyOne Publisher and Performance Planning, which would complete its Corporate Performance Management (CPM) suite and help the University with strategic planning and reporting.