Achieving Operational Excellence through Innovative IT Strategies

Becoming more efficient and focusing on your constituents with ERP
By: | Issue: June, 2014
February 4, 2015

Institutions are under increasing pressure to provide more services, despite reduced operating budgets and elusive funding, and amid calls to hold down tuition. To meet these challenges, leading institutions are combining innovative approaches to technology and strategy by moving to the cloud, adopting managed services and focusing on strategic planning. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on April 8, 2014, two higher ed IT leaders shared how technology strategy is positively impacting operational efficiency and effectiveness across campus departments by moving the ERP to the cloud, improving intra- and interdepartmental efficiencies, and bringing technology leadership to strategic planning. Topics include how technology leaders can impact operational efficiency, the benefits of moving an ERP to the cloud, and keys to effectively utilizing online education.

Jacqui Spicer 
Baker College (Mich.)

IT is certainly in a unique position to influence operational effectiveness. It’s generally the only department that has a holistic view of the entire organization. IT not only supports the business, but it’s also instrumental in shaping the overall strategy. At Baker College, we’ve transformed IT into being more of a pull organization instead of a push. We’ve managed to really engage our constituents and to propose solutions that help gain efficiencies. We’re more proactive as an IT organization. We’re always involved in the business strategy and we make sure our strategies are aligned to the business environment so that we’re agile and can move fast. To help facilitate this, we’ve created and championed many cross-functional user groups to maximize our investment. We collaborate here to innovate and, ultimately, we deliver what our constituents want because at the end of the day it’s about that engagement. We’ve also established key vendor relationships, such our relationship with Jenzabar. Instead of having that vendor/customer relationship, it’s now a true business partnership for us. With all of our vendors, we try to encourage and engage them in helping to find solutions. We understand internally that we don’t have all the answers, but we know to ask the right strategic questions to help the organization grow and mature. Additionally, we’ve really focused on cloud services. We’ve modified our IT budget structure and it’s allowed us to focus on service, not servers.

Don Davis 
Vice President, COO
Azusa Pacific Online University (Calif.)

In IT, it’s difficult to have conversations about moving an organization forward or improving current operations when your own systems aren’t running properly. Leveraging existing partnerships and engaging with them is really critical. Time spent with colleagues to discuss their needs is critical. We’ve streamlined our processes and changed our mindset to be proactive. This helps our ability to have our processes championed throughout the whole organization. One of our roles as leaders is to make sure we don’t hide behind our processes and to make sure our colleagues achieve their goals and strategies. At time, I think there’s a disconnect between what leaders share with each other and what lower level staff share with each other. Closing this gap can lead to improved processes. Another way to listen is to see if a theme emerges with your problem tickets. It could lead to potential improvements.

When we started out as a new school, our strategy was to cut costs. We found we could do this by having all servers, services and systems in the cloud. The need for a quick implementation was a driving factor for choosing this strategy. We began our implementation in February 2011 and we started enrolling students that May. We started with 40 students in the first class and today we have about 700. I realize this is a unique situation starting from scratch as a new university, however the principles are the same for moving existing systems to the cloud. The idea behind strategic sourcing is focusing internal staff on projects, while external partners maintain the systems.This has helped us to maintain high levels of reliability and to add services while maintaining a limited staff. By having our services hosted, we have a single point of contact for system administration and database administration. By shifting the support of managing the technology, we can focus our efforts on providing tools and information needed by our users to accomplish the goals and mission of the institution.

Spicer: Technology doesn’t make your organization strategic. It’s truly about the data that you can obtain from those systems. Here at Baker, we sat down to discuss moving our ERP to the cloud, as well as all of our products and services. The goal was to really reduce costs, to be more strategic and to be more competitive. Ultimately it resulted in us thinking differently and thinking outside the server box. Now we’re able to give more attention to our constituents. Across the institution we have a strategy for when things will be deployed and how they’ll be deployed and adopted. Things need to just work—and our users shouldn’t have to worry about system issues and neither should we. Stability is really important and it’s about the engagement with the community that’s improved the end-user delivery.

Davis: As we’ve grown, we’ve needed the ERP system to grow with us, whether it’s been users, accounts, additional products, or space and memory. So an advantage with this solution is it’s been able to grow as we grow. As far as adjustments, we did something we call “close the loop.” Our classes start every eight weeks. As an organization, we meet every fourth week of every term to go over any issues from the past start to fix for the following starts. This collaborative process has helped us improve our efficiencies, especially retention, which results in us closing the gap. We are also intentional about removing manual processes. The solution may be different as we grow, but from a process point of view we’ve tried to automate it as much as possible.

Spicer: Our ERP selection process was the catalyst for our organization to think differently. At Baker, we originally had a homegrown system. The majority of our faculty and staff have been here for several years and knew only that system. So it was important to engage the entire user community and not just the super users. The IT department facilitated the entire process. We invited all of our faculty and staff to what we called “ERP Discovery Days” and called the process our “ERP Expedition Project.” That got everyone thinking about the possibilities of what they could do within a system and how they could be more efficient and effective in their roles.

John Beahm
Executive Director
Jenzabar Foundation

Over the last 15 years, higher education has gone through tremendous change, from student demographics, technology, the way we teach, how we award completion, how we think about retention graduation and government support. Technology has changed how we communicate, how we offer services, what services we offer, and how we teach and learn. At Jenzabar, we’ve been working with institutions for more than 40 years and have gone through these changes with the higher education community. Our advice to improve operational efficiency and to gain operational excellence consists of a few things.

First, work with your IT team as a leader in change management. So often the IT department is the center of everything that happens on a campus. Since they are at the center of everything, turn to that team for guidance. Second, look at technology alternatives, such as the cloud and management services. In many cases, the cloud is a more secure option than what you have on campus. It relieves your team of maintenance responsibilities so they can offer better services to your constituents and focus on more strategic issues at hand. Finally, you don’t need to do it alone. Work with a trusted vendor to do an assessment or audit to identify improvements. It doesn’t need to be your ERP vendor—it could be a different vendor or third-party consultant.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: