According to Peter Kingston, a higher education institution’s duty is to provide students and staff with the tools to learn and teach.
However, if a college doesn’t have an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, that learning and teaching slows to a crawl.
Kingston says the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) faced a similar problem with its old ERP system, which dispersed information to separate internal systems.
“We’d been using systems that have not been directly connected,” says Kingston, Vice President of Finance and Administration at JIBC. “We had a separate financial system, we had a separate student information system. The student information system in particular was getting to the end of its life, so we wanted to do the best thing for our students and staff by implementing a system that would be a combined enterprise resource planning system.”
Colleague, a software-based ERP system that keeps data in a single “warehouse,” enables students and staff to access their college’s information easily and from any device.
Colleague was designed specifically for the realm of higher education. Paul Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Customer Relationships at Ellucian, says Colleague was built from the bottom up to satisfy colleges’ wants and needs.
“It gives us a leg up on understanding the higher ed process,” he says. “What does registration need? What does the director need?”
Colleague also does not require the help of an integrator.
“We provide all the training ourselves,” Cunningham says. “We work out of the box to configure solutions. We provide all the expertise [colleges] need. We take responsibility so colleges get the most value in our product.”
Kingston says one of the reasons why Colleague was the right choice for JIBC is because of its cost-effectiveness.
“We undertook a comprehensive review of what was out there on the market place a number of years ago, but weren’t able to find the solution that could deliver what we were looking for within a reasonable price range,” he says. “Colleague allows us to be cost effective. When we’re using government dollars and tuition dollars we have to be conscious of doing the best we can with the least amount of resources, so this happened to be perfect timing for us.”
Kingston also says that Colleage provides adequate security for JIBC, and enables the institution to connect to other schools utilizing Colleague in a consortium for support. The consortium features institutions that have been using Colleague for the past eight to ten years.
“From a JIBC organizational point of view, this is a much easier decision,” Kingston says. “It’s a less risky decision because we have confidence in the product. The product is used widely in other institutions and…we know it runs well in other institutions.”
Within the consortium, one of the eight preexisting institutions will serve as the Colleague and hardware host, which means JIBC will save on future hardware purchases. Plus, the consortium will provide JIBC with support experts if an emergency arises.
“Our chances of success here are excellent,” Kingston says. “We think this is really a win-win, and we think it’s a good indication within British Columbia to have a desire by the post-secondary sector to share services. Shared services initiatives is a key ingredient to maximize delivery without increasing costs.”
Cunningham says JIBC’s consortium support structure was a huge selling point for Ellucian.
“JIBC saw the benefit of tapping into the consortium,” he says. “The crown jewels of higher education are the ERP systems. It’s where an institution spends money, and it’s important to have a powerful system.”
JIBC is in its “first innings” of installing and implementing Colleague; Kinston says he thinks it will take two and half years before it is completely integrated.
Kingston also says the institution is confident the software will help achieve its goal of equipping students and staff with tools they need to succeed.
“We expect it to be challenge, but looking at the end result, we are committed to providing our students with tools which they can use no matter where they are,” he says. “We believe the Colleague product will allow us to do that, while remaining accountable to government and people who are paying us tuition fees that we’re using those dollars as wisely as possible.”
Tips To Obtaining a Top-Notch ERP System
1) Make sure you “got the goods”
Before replacing on old ERP system or implementing new one, Cunningham says colleges should make sure they have the necessary functionalities that they need. That way, everything can be incorporated in the system and that information is accessible in one place.
“This includes financial aid, finances, anything the college needs,” he says.
Kingston says the best way to help colleges with their ERP systems is for institutions to share their own experiences. Doing so will strengthen an ERP system’s support outlets. Plus, a college that offers support and advice will earn back support and advice down the road.
“This consortium approach for us was the tipping point because it enabled us to be a player amongst a group rather than doing it individually,” Kingston says. “I think it’s always a smart idea if you can join with others and put your resources together.”
3) Do your own research
Kingston says colleges should do as much reviewing, investigating and discovering as possible when it comes to ERP systems.
“Talk to other people who’ve used it,” he says. “In our case, we did an extensive check with other current users to make sure [Colleague] was going to meet our needs.”
4) Keep your end users in mind
Kingston says that ERP systems are all about support, and should be accessible to the important parties thriving within a college community, especially students and staff.
“It’s really about providing students with the most positive learning experience. We know they want access to information…24/7 and they want it wherever they are,” he says. “At the same time, we want to enable our staff to do their work as efficiently and productively as they can, and we need to give them the tools to do that by giving them an integrated ERP system.”