Enterprise resource planning the future

ERP systems are vital to the long term future of higher education institutions says IT professional Martine Carassik

Since the beginning of the 21st century the rate of change within the world of higher education has been rapidly accelerating.

Agile and responsive technology capabilities that were first offered to large corporate organisations have been tailored specifically for universities and colleges and, to a greater or lesser extent, this technology is being adopted. With such sophisticated technology it is possible to address the most important issue of the day: putting the needs of increasingly demanding students at the forefront of the HE experience.

The foundation for delivering student-centered services is an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

These solutions can positively impact the front end services that are most visible to students as well as the back office processes that also contribute to creating a better overall university experience. For example, today’s ERPs give students anytime, anywhere online access from any device to the resources they need, like registering and paying for classes, and to important information like their grades, course timetable and tutor. HEIs also can leverage the data within their ERPS to build stronger and more seamless relationships with students and other constituents from recruitment and retention through to employability, alumni relationships and large scale fund raising.

ERPs also automate and streamline the unseen administrative processes, which in turn help staff deliver much improved service to students and free them up to spend more personal time with those who need it. For example, higher-education-specific forms and automated workflows reduce the amount of data entry and steps required to process applications. This allows staff to respond more quickly to applicants. Also, counsellors have easier access to student records so that they can provide more helpful guidance to students. ERPs, like Banner by Ellucian, are built on best practices that can require considerable internal re-organisation of an HEI’s business processes; however when adopted, they support new operational efficiencies and help institutions deliver a much improved service to students and other members of their education community.

Comprehensive and modern ERP systems also provide an institution with tools for more personalised advising and more effective assessment, so that staff can help more students be successful. For example, staff can relay information on individual performances, and send alerts about those who might be falling behind. Students, in turn, can have personalised and direct contact with their tutors, and easy, intuitive access to information and services that can help them improve their course work.

In the post graduate environment, an ERP system which provides the capacity for personalised reporting and inter-departmental communication is a significant asset. A well-run department is instrumental in attracting high calibre research students and staff and equally crucial in retaining them.   The establishment of good quality research departments in turn helps with undergraduate student recruitment and, perhaps even more importantly, research departments often attract prospective donors.

For financial and fund raising decisions, the data within ERPs can help institutions make informed decisions and respond more quickly to changes in trends and requirements as they develop. For example, institution leaders can monitor changes in enrolment and demand for different degree courses, the effectiveness of recruitment activities, and the success of fund raising efforts. These data-informed decisions ultimately make the institution stronger and better able to support its students.

Web-based ERP platforms also provide the foundation for HEIs to bring on new and extended capabilities like linking to UCAS, leveraging mobile technology and enabling distance learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), if they choose these paths. Not all HEIs have understood the opportunity ERP systems provide, perhaps imagining that with bolt on applications so readily available they do not need to invest heavily in a large central system. These institutions prefer to run several different systems in parallel thanks to the ingenuity of their IT departments.

Admittedly, the investment in both finance and energy to implement ERP software is significant. However, most institutions find that, in addition to the improvement in mission-critical processes, a modern ERP requires less maintenance, freeing up IT staff to focus on bringing on new technologies and providing better support to students and staff. Also, the ability to deploy ERPs and their related technologies on-premise or in the cloud gives institutions the flexibility to choose the model that best suits their IT resources.

The institutions that still resist the change will be likely to find that, over time, the lack of an integrated ERP built on a modern technology platform will limit them from embracing new capabilities and make it difficult for them to keep abreast of the competition that is delivering higher levels of student experience. The right ERP can ultimately make for a much better institution: one that is lean, agile and responsive to today’s students.


Martine Carassik is a forward-thinking IT professional with over twenty years’ higher education and commercial experience. She has provided strategic and operational management to large organisations and higher education institutions (HEIs.) She currently provides consulting services to Ellucian®, a global technology and services company. Martine organised the international dinner for Women of Influence in Higher Education, hosted by Ellucian on 24th October.