Let’s face it: today’s schools, colleges and other educational establishments are now businesses. At least, they have to confront many of the challenges of businesses, even if they don’t exist primarily for profit. Key among these is administration, especially paperwork and the need to progress, record and store all manner of data, from purchase orders through to employee exit documentation.
Increased regulation piles on the administrative pressure, and the demands are growing for more openness around what data is held, by whom and for what purpose. Dare I mention GDPR..?
Larger businesses have known for some time that key business processes can be usefully put online – into the cloud. Enterprise-wide migration to cloud-based services is commonplace and, while the benefits are clear, so is the need for considerable IT support and management internally to make the migration, and manage it for security and resilience. However, many education establishments – and, for that matter, local authorities and public sector bodies generally – don’t have the resource to dedicate to such large scale commitments.
An alternative to a full-scale cloud approach is the use of cloud products that can be accessed from users’ computers, or even from tablets and smartphones. There is no need for software to be installed; access is via a user interface that is placed on the desktop. This negates the need for special server hardware, and support from an in-house IT team. The same benefits of putting business processes online with 24/7 access and appropriate security are available, but at a fraction of the cost and time to implement.
An enterprise-wide approach may be best for an organisation with the commitment and resources to demand that departments follow set procedures at all times, and gain the benefit of the consistency that this brings. Adopting a product approach means that several products will be required, though these can be introduced as needed.
To ensure a common look and feel with separate applications, a family approach to cloud products can be taken, accelerating acceptance and reducing training time for users. Let’s look at how this could work for two functions: Purchasing and HR.
Purchasing is a requirement for pretty much all organisations, but how many can say that the purchasing process has full visibility and accountability? Often, the process is event-led, with purchasing being reactive and sometimes stepping outside of controls, due to urgent requirements. A paper-based system will mean requisitions sitting waiting for authorisation – frustrating when the signatory is out of office.
Some companies use spreadsheets to control purchasing, but who’s responsible for keeping them up to date and reminding people to do it? There is also the issue of allocating purchases to the right departments, cost centres, and nominal codes – how good are PO creators in dealing with the detail?
An onscreen system, accessible from any connected location, removes much of the delay. It will also provide the audit trail essential for proper accounting.
Personal data relates not only to the contents of HR records, but also includes IP addresses and financial information which may be found in documents such as client files. Employees’ new rights to see what information is held about them (‘subject access requests’) place greater demands on staff for prompt responses.
Again, online document management systems allow organisations to manage employee and candidate records efficiently, and to implement the correct processes to comply with new regulations. A robust document retention and disposal policy is another essential part of an efficient and compliant records management system.
Eliminating paper records wherever possible makes sense to ensure they are secure from unauthorised access, providing a record of file access and who has viewed, printed or amended files. Importantly, one of the requirements of GDPR is to have control over the length of time documents containing personal data are kept. A cloud-based system will allocate dates for documents to be destroyed or reviewed, and users can be alerted automatically at the relevant time.
The Colleges’ Partnership is a well-established (1998) and respected training provider, specialising in the provision of vocational training solutions, apprenticeship management and professional learning and development opportunities – delivered directly into the workplace for clients such as the Armed Forces. When the organisation saw the need for tighter controls on their purchasing process, they commissioned a full Purchase Order and Supplier Invoice system from Cloud B2B solutions, with customised approval workflows and reports. They have become a good example of how admin can be controlled, and efficiency increased, through a cloud approach.
“Increased regulation piles on the administrative pressure, and the demands are growing for more openness around what data is held, by whom and for what purpose.”
Cloud-based products can suit even the smallest organisations, and those preferring a stepwise approach. Starting with a simple application, further functionality can be added with other modules from the family of products available. Modules can be expanded and developed if bespoke features are required.
For larger organisations, a staged roll-out may make sense, with one or two departments selected to pilot the new system. Once a trial has proved successful, the pilot teams can then become internal champions of the new methodology, helping the adoption by other sections of the business. A pilot scheme also allows for adjustments in system workflows and functionality, which inevitably come with the need to match business needs.
As digital natives replace their forebears, online systems will seem the natural choice, and even smaller education establishments will turn to the cloud for business efficiency gains.
Graham Light is MD of Cloud B2B Solutions, (the trading name of Documents OnLine Ltd) based in Cambridgeshire: www.cloudb2bsolutions.co.uk