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Modernizing administrative workflows in higher education: strategies for making business processes more efficient.

A University Business Web Seminar Digest * Originally presented on July 12, 2016

While faced with state and federal regulations, an increasingly competitive recruitment environment and intense pressure to contain costs, many colleges and universities have been unable to modernize critical business processes, which could help address key challenges in admissions, finance and fundraising. Siloed data, manual processes and inefficient workflows can be costly, create security vulnerabilities and prevent institution leaders from understanding the true costs of doing business.

This web seminar presented the results of a recent University Business survey of higher ed executive leaders relating to these common challenges, and included a discussion with an expert from Ricoh about ways to address these challenges by digitizing information and automating workflows.

Eisele-Dyrli: University Business and Ricoh partnered to develop this survey to explore some of the challenges related to administrative workflows and business processes in higher ed. The survey was deployed to a segment of the UB audience with leadership responsibilities in executive management, business/finance and IT departments.

We received responses from a good mix of four-year public, four-year private and two-year institutions, and we focused on medium- to large-size colleges and universities. Each question provided a statement and asked if the respondent agreed or disagreed.

Here is the first statement: "Our existing document workflows provide sufficient security to safeguard student and employee personal and financial information." Security is very important to a lot of institutions, so it's not much of a surprise to see a pretty overwhelming majority saying they agree, more than 80 percent. But about 15 percent said they disagree.

Ben Ruch: I think the challenge with security is that in the admissions process, a lot of this information coming into the organization is seasonal. For this vast amount of content, in either paper or electronic form, often the admissions departments have to bring in temporary employees, maybe other university staff, or even student labor to help process this information, extract it and input into the admissions line-of-business applications. It's more difficult to secure that environment when you don't have consistency of staff.

Eisele-Dyrli: Next statement: "My institution has concerns about PCI compliance due to our manual processes." The results are almost evenly split, with a slim majority saying they disagree, that they do not have concerns.

Ruch: We're seeing trends to ensure that there are adequate processes in place to lock down this information--it's becoming a bigger and bigger concern for most colleges and universities. In particular, when you are talking about advancement and you are handling donor information, obviously it is imperative that is not compromised. We've even seen in some advancement departments that people are keying in information off of these checks, and incoming financial records on screen can't be seen by a person standing next to the computer.

Eisele-Dyrli: Next statement: "Our accounts payable processing is centralized and does not require employees to manually enter data and route invoices." A significant majority disagree, at just over 60 percent, so their AP processing is not centralized and does require manual data entry.

Ruch: Depending on the institution, there may be different strategies for processing invoices. In some cases, the invoices are ultimately entered into some type of financial line-of-business application in a central fashion. In the larger institutions it could be hundreds and hundreds of remit-to addresses where those invoices ultimately are handled and keyed.

But the challenge is not only keying those invoices correctly, but that these invoices also have to be approved. So if the university has adopted some type of purchase order process where the vendor puts the PO on the invoice, there are ways that those invoices could be quickly scanned, POs extracted, matched in the purchasing system, and then quickly paid. But many universities don't have that technology. So those invoices have to be routed, maybe manually, by the mail or courier staff. Then individuals have to sign off--in some cases you may see a physical stamp with the date the department received the invoice, a signature, and maybe a handwritten general ledger code.

The time to route those invoices and get them approved and ultimately get keyed in can be excessive. The result ultimately is vendors get paid later, which can result in late fees.

Eisele-Dyrli: The next statement in our survey was: "My institution leverages seasonal or student labor to meet the demands of fundraising." You alluded to this earlier, talking about how security can sometimes be a concern when you are leveraging seasonal or student labor. The answers were almost evenly split--about 48 percent said they do leverage seasonal labor, and then just over 50 percent said they do not.

Ruch: Whether that labor force needs to increase is largely based on the success and size of that university's fundraising. Obviously a smaller university that doesn't have as big of a donor base may not be getting massive quantities of donations and checks and financial documents to process. So this may be a non-issue for them.

But in many institutions where the fundraising campaigns can be significant, there's a plethora of incoming financial documents that need to be opened, data extracted and keyed in. To rely on temporary or student labor to do this is not the best idea. With temporary labor, it's hard to lock down the security. And it's probably not the best idea to have students viewing checks and other sensitive information coming in from the donor base.

Eisele-Dyrli: Getting back to true costs, the next statement was: "My institution has a clear understanding of the true cost to collect advancement funds." This was our only statement with an exactly even split--50/50 saying they agree or disagree.

Ruch: The cost to manage advancement is clearly largely in the staff that is managing that operation. And there are also investment costs and things of that nature. But the one question that we're hearing from senior leadership in various organizations is: What tactical costs that are not strategic can be mitigated out of these processes? That's when we look at the notion of manually keying information into a CRM. Those are areas of opportunity for costs to be reduced and to get money deployed back to the fundraising efforts.

Eisele-Dyrli: And finally we asked if they agreed or disagreed: "My university is analyzing fundraising data in relationship to accounts receivable to improve the success of future campaigns." Almost 70 percent said they agree. That shows that people are certainly taking this seriously, but it seems like there is also opportunity here for some institutions that aren't.

Ruch: We've seen a trend over the last few years of bolt-on analytics tools. Some of them are inherent to the CRM technologies that universities are investing in. But to be able to data-mine and find more information in the donor base allows you to create more targeted marketing and fundraising campaigns that ultimately will lead to more success. Those that have not implemented these types of technology, probably will very soon.

The challenge for the institutions is that while many of these tools are very robust, they are only as robust as the information that you can get into the data analytics engine. So how is that metadata captured and input into the system? That's an important component.

To tie this all together, Ricoh works with institutions to address the challenges outlined in this survey, by integrating AP and AR data into core systems and workflows, providing the right information to help uncover the true cost to process financial transactions and identifying ways to reduce those costs.

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Author:Eisele-Dyrli, Kurt; Ruch, Ben
Publication:University Business
Article Type:Survey
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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