With a web-based interface allowing for staffers across the institution to input information, officials at Central Methodist University, located in Fayette, Mo., figured that awarding scholarships would be a breeze. After all, admission counselors, coaches, and others could easily enter academic and extracurricular credentials for accepted students, allowing for the appropriate officials to approve scholarships and notify the recipients.
Despite the technological sophistication, problems arose. Requiring users to select from multiple scholarship forms led to confusion, and admission counselors’ travel schedules often delayed scholarship offers. Most significant, the interface wasn’t tied into Central Methodist’s enterprise resource planning operation, leading to vast inefficiencies.
“It’s hard to believe how we were doing things in the past,” marvels Chad Gaines, vice president for information services. “It was electronic, but there was a total disconnect to the ERP system. There were duplicate entries and redundant processes.”
Over seven months, from late 2008 through mid-2009, Gaines’s group developed and implemented a new interface that was closely integrated with the ERP. Now, a single, uniform scholarship submission form has greatly streamlined the process; additionally, the interface automatically pulls demographic and other data from the ERP system and populates fields with that info, reducing input time and errors.
To cite just one example of how Central Methodist’s overhaul has increased efficiency, consider its academic scholarship process. Because awards are based on ACT scores and grade-point averages, counselors in the past had to manually enter such data for each student assigned to them. Now, though, as soon as a student is marked as accepted, the ERP system calculates eligibility and submits a scholarship for the appropriate personnel to approve.
Central Methodist officials estimate that the new interface, which is based on a customized application administrators wrote to link seamlessly with its Jenzabar CX ERP system, has halved the time required to award a student a scholarship.
“I can’t say if it’ll have a positive or negative impact on enrollment, but when you seek to refine a process like we did and get from point A to point B faster, you’ve accomplished two things,” Gaines says. “First, you have maximized use of your resources. More importantly, you’ve increased your ability to service students.”
Integrating the new interface with the ERP system reduced the data-related workload on admission counselors, who often are on the road recruiting. It also made it easier to gather and analyze critical information to make projections of such things as the number of scholarships offered, the amount of time a scholarship has been on the table but not accepted, and the university’s discount rate.
“This project is a classic example of the critical role IT can play in refining business processes in an organization in a positive manner,” he says. “IT by itself isn’t necessarily strategic, but the partnerships you form with other business units within the organization can make you strategic.”