Universities investing in back-office IT systems

Increased competition and the need to cut costs are driving universities to replace archaic processes in the back office with software that automates key processes.

Increased competition and the need to cut costs are driving universities to replace archaic processes in the back-office with software that automates key processes.

Universities are also investing in the latest technologies in the front office to enable students to connect to everything they need, but workforce reductions are driving through back-office reform.

The introduction of student fees has increased competition for students amongst higher education institutions, so giving the IT-savvy generation access to the technology they want is vital. Wi-Fi, voice over IP (VoIP), and smartcards are just some of the technologies making students’ university lives and studies easier.

But in the back office, where there is significant work required, there is an opportunity to make substantial savings and make institutions more effective at attracting, processing and retaining students.

The vast majority of higher education establishments still rely on paper-based processes to manage students from application to graduation and even beyond.  As a result it is estimated that up to 70% of a university's costs are human resources.

Universities across the UK have been making hundreds of redundancies with back offices being hit particularly hard.

Institutions are now beginning to move away from these processes and systems with software to automate processes. This reduces costs and mistakes and saves significant time. They also provide the universities with vital business intelligence which will help them with future business strategies.

The University of Southampton, which like other univertsities had to make redundancies, has embarked on a journey to automate administrative processes through a system from SunGard Higher Education. The system which has CRM (customer relationship management) at its core is known as Banner Relationship Management (BRM).

Dr Gillian Holf, assistant director, student academic administration, and section head for student information and records at the university, says BRM will automate processes that were previously manual and paper based.

The first process being automated is the one used to ensure all students have completed enrolment. She says it is common for students to be attending lectures without having fully  enrolled. It is vital for university funding that students complete that process.

“We need all the information about students to get funding from the government,” said Holf.

She said all the information related to enrolment will feed into other systems automatically, such as the one that administers library use.

The process to ensure students enrol previously involved e-mails, phone calls and letters with about six people dedicated to it.

But it is not just about cost savings. The BRM system has several component parts including analytics modules, which provide staff with specific dashboards depending on their role within the institution.

“Our desire is to put the student at the heart of the process,” said Holf. Part of this is creating a single view of a student across the university, which is diverse in terms of locations, services and departments: “We can ensure that if the student has contacted one part of the university they will not have to repeat this at another.”

Holf said that student fees and the resulting competition will force universities to “improve and professionalise” administrative services.

The SunGard Higher Education user group in the UK is made up of about 40 universities.

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