Disconnected to dynamic planning: Charting a course for finance transformation in higher education



The platform for orchestrating performance.

Financial planning is not just a necessity in higher education; it's a strategic imperative that mirrors the demands of any other sector. Yet, the landscape of academia presents unique challenges: a labyrinth of revenue streams, a multitude of stakeholders, and ambitious growth targets. These complexities cannot be navigated with disjointed platforms, processes and planning.

Within higher education, financial records, data and reporting mechanisms live across disparate systems - whether that be different campuses, departments, residences, academic programs and administrative units. And each has their own unique requirements and data definitions, causing major inconsistencies. For example, for universities, one major issue is enrollment size. Are you defining enrollment as fall or spring? Does that include online enrolment? This fragmentation undermines financial oversight which inhibits informed decision-making. Compounding this issue are the entrenched legacy systems and manual processes that many departments rely on, tying up valuable staffing resources and hindering agility to change.

The absence of a cohesive financial planning system deprives college leadership of holistic insights into financial performance, impeding their ability to steer the institution toward its goals. To address this gap, higher education institutions are turning to connected planning which offers the promise of integrating financial data and fostering agility—a critical need in today's rapidly changing academic landscape.

In this blog, we delve into best practices for implementing a connected system that empowers finance teams in higher education to operate with the efficiency and foresight of their corporate counterparts. These tips draw from real-world experiences and insights, offering a roadmap for success in navigating the complexities of financial planning within academia.

Underscore the importance of prioritizing people and processes over the technology itself.

It’s crucial to capture the requirements of stakeholders from across academic and administrative departments early and often during the implementation process so you can ensure that the implemented system meets the diverse needs of its users. Asking people to “dream big” and describe their ideal functionality gives you the best chance of delivering a comprehensive solution that addresses the institution's unique challenges. And, by crafting the system to meet these challenges, you get a tool that not only meets the needs of the user community but one that they willingly use. This approach fosters buy-in and ensures that the solution is not just adopted, but embraced by the user community.

Champion the cultural shift required to implement a connected planning platform.

Effective change management is essential, especially in higher education institutions with diverse stakeholders. Overcoming inertia and convincing stakeholders to abandon familiar workflows in favor of new technologies isn’t always easy. Each group may have different priorities, interests, and levels of comfort with change. Aligning these diverse stakeholders around a common vision can be difficult but it must be done. A common vision demands clear communication and early engagement. By proactively addressing resistance and facilitating understanding, institutions can pave the way for successful adoption.

Advocate for adopting a phased approach to implementation, allowing institutions to prioritize features and adapt to evolving needs.

By distinguishing between must-have and nice-to-have features and building a roadmap for future updates, institutions can ensure the relevance and adaptability of the system over time. It's also important to keep a close eye on priorities. What might be a priority now might not be a priority in two months, so you need to keep reviewing what’s relevant and what isn’t. This iterative approach fosters continual improvement and prevents your institution from being boxed in by your own processes.

Embrace imperfection and focus on continual improvement.

Perfectionism can be a roadblock to progress, especially in complex environments that require a phased approach to implementation. By leveraging existing processes and systems, institutions can expedite implementation and refine functionality over time based on feedback and real-world experience. Create milestones, celebrate the ‘quick wins’ and adapt as your organization needs it.

Prioritize strategic, value-add activities.

By integrating finance and planning processes across departments, institutions can streamline operations, improve decision-making, and foster growth in alignment with key priorities. Through effective cross-functional communication, senior leaders can harness the collective expertise of their teams to craft robust and impactful financial strategies. Embracing data-driven decision-making not only optimizes resource utilization but also empowers institutions to concentrate on strategic initiatives and value-added endeavors.

Successful transformation in financial planning within higher education requires more than just deploying a tool—it demands a holistic approach that prioritizes people, processes, and adaptability. By embracing connected planning platforms like Anaplan and implementing best practices, institutions can navigate the complexities of academia with agility and foresight, ensuring their long-term success and sustainability.

To learn how leading universities achieved business-like efficiency with Anaplan Connected Planning, watch Finance Revolution 201: Higher education, the model of excellence for a modern finance team.