Bridging the gap between planning and outcome delivery in Higher Education: Part One

24 May 2023
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Five reasons every university needs Enterprise Performance Management

By Jennifer Tavano-Gallacher
VP Higher Education at Inoapps

Universities love Excel.

I appreciate this is primarily based on anecdotal evidence gathered during my 20 years’ experience working in the Higher Education sector… but I absolutely believe it to be true.  

Whether it’s used as a research tool, to track student attendance, set admissions targets, create annual budgets, or prepare statutory returns like TRAC, there’s not a nail at a university that can’t be addressed by using the Excel hammer.  

That said, Excel has its problems. A 2016 study on genomics research papers identified errors in 20% of the Excel spreadsheets that looked at that data. On top of that, you have challenges with tracking changes, version control, approvals, merging data from multiple files into a single source, and tracking whether or not you have all the data back from the persons you requested it from…  It's enough to make you wonder if you’re using the wrong kind of hammer for some of these nails. 

This is where Oracle Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) can give us a better tool for some of these key activities. And it can address many of those issues through a user interface that feels comfortably similar to the spreadsheets we all know and love. 

Here are five reasons to consider tearing yourself away from your spreadsheets:

Reason 1: Remove the pain of manually merging data from various systems

Did your university, like so many, go best of breed on your back-office systems? So Kinetix for accommodation, SITS for student, Dynamics for CRM, Oracle for ERP etc. etc.

But now, while the functionality within those systems meets your organization’s requirements, you’re struggling to marry the data in different systems to give a complete view of the organization. 

Because EPM is source system agnostic, you can pull data from any number of systems. For example, you can pull data from the Accommodation system, your Student system and CRM to forecast accommodation revenue for the upcoming year without having to manually ‘marry’ anything up on a spreadsheet.

Reason 2: Centrally manage your Master Data

So, hands up if you use a form (or set of forms) in Excel to track the set up and maintenance of Master Data such as HR departments, chart of accounts, or course and program data. Often Excel- or Word-based forms are used to request or amend a value and get it approved. It then gets tracked on a spreadsheet as it goes through the process of adding it to each of the systems that uses that Master Data. The tracking is vital as this process can take days, sometimes even weeks, to get all the systems updated. 

If you use Oracle Enterprise Master Data Management, your EPM system can manage those forms and trackers for you. You can use the EPM tool to request changes and allow others in the organization to collaborate on those changes.  Finally,  EPM automates the changes to downstream systems using APIs.   

By automating these processes, the university both saves time and effort on Master Data administration and removes the need to troubleshoot and correct integrations that rely on that data being in sync. 

Reason 3: TRAC—get time back to actually analyze the data      

The Transparent Approach to Costing return… you need to submit it every year and it’s time consuming and fiddly. Especially if you’re using spreadsheets, with the calculations in one sheet pulling through to the calculations on another. And as so often happens with spreadsheet-based processes, issues with the calculations creep in that then need to be identified and resolved before the numbers can be finalized and approved. 

This often takes universities right up to the submission deadline, leaving little to no time to review the data for strategic insights. Then the spreadsheets are filed away for another year and the university gets no added value from the effort. 

With EPM, you can use workflows that trigger reminders to increase the speed of data collection and there’s no risk of formulas becoming corrupted by user error. You can produce your return a lot faster and use the extra time to make sure you understand the story the data is telling. And even better, the data gets stored in a way that enables other pieces of analysis, and with it additional value and a consistent view of your Teaching, Research and Other (TRO) expenditures. 

Reason 4: Understand your profits and costs to drive informed curriculum planning

As a university, you’re continually making decisions about establishing new courses and modules, along with looking critically at your current offerings. But decisions that inform the business case are often based on high level figures, and the robustness of the inputs can vary from department to department. There’s often a lack of consistency in how to derive costs, especially related to overheads, and it only gets more complicated if a course is offered collaboratively across multiple departments, schools or institutions.  

Although curriculum decisions aren’t purely about profitability, these are challenging economic times, and a clear understanding of a course’s financial impact is critical. EPM gives you the tools to drive this understanding and provide a standardized approach to shared cost allocation, along with the ability to model ‘what if’ scenarios around student recruitment and retention.     

Reason 5: You can still love your spreadsheets!

“OK , this is great,” you may think to yourself, “but we still love our spreadsheets around here.”  

EPM is great for that too.  It provides a look and feel that’s familiar to staff already comfortable with spreadsheets. You can also import existing, on-premises Essbase cubes and Excel models into EPM and use them as they are. Or take the opportunity to enhance the models with the additional functionality in EPM, all without needing much support from your IT team. You can also access that data in EPM using Oracle Smart View, an Excel-based reporting tool suitable for skilled end users, giving you the benefits of EPM without having to give up your spreadsheets. 

In Part Two of this series, we will take a deep dive into how you can make your life easier with master data management and how to get started with creating a data strategy.

If reading this has tempted you to step away from Excel, drop us a line at to arrange a short free call and let us tell you a bit more about how EPM can make your life easier and keep you better informed.

And if you're already thinking about what goes into an EPM implementation, have a look at our whitepaper: Things to consider when implementing EPM for Higher Education

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