Blessed by rising enrollments and increased faculty hiring but burdened by flat IT staffing, Old Dominion University (Va.) officials took a hard look at both its ERP system and itself in hopes of addressing a simple but hugely significant issue. “We framed the basic question as, Is it Banner or is it us?” recalls Bob Fenning, vice president for administration and finance. “We were wondering whether or not we were utilizing Banner in the most efficient way, that we were maxing out all the functionality that existed there, or was the issue how we did business.”
The answer turned out to be “both.”
While Old Dominion had been successful in applying technology solutions to enhance efficiencies, the rate of improvement was proving slow. The university’s internal investigation led it to adopt Banner provider Ellucian’s Business Process Management (BPM) initiative, which the company had launched at other institutions, though never as comprehensively as it did at ODU, according to Fenning.
BPM seeks to align people, process, and technology as tightly as possible to increase effectiveness and efficiencies. It comprises five areas—enterprise discovery and planning, business process modeling, process improvement, key performance indicators, and implementation training—which Old Dominion will apply in two phases. The first, for accounts receivable, human resources/payroll, and student accounts receivable, is ongoing; the second will focus on recruitment/admissions, student financial aid, and student records/registration.
Using complex flowcharts to identify both the most and least efficient and critical functions, ODU and Ellucian could pinpoint with precision where the pain points were.
“We saw where the barriers were, and we were able to address it as a process flow and fit the people and technology where we needed to,” says Deb Swiecinski, associate vice president and university budget officer.
In addition to his own team and Ellucian’s subject matter experts, Fenning thought an additional viewpoint would help, so he hired an efficiency auditor to help with what Fenning describes as a Sisyphean task.
“You make it better, but you don’t ever take it to the top of the hill,” he says, referencing the punishment of Greek mythology’s King Sisyphus. “We needed this kind of independent third party that would participate in the process and would hear all of the information, and then press us to make sure we took those last two or three steps that really positioned us well to implement the best practice.”
The process has led to more than 200 recommendations and many measurable improvements. Customer service satisfaction with the finance office, a survey found, increased by 7 percent in under a year; payment to vendors is 9 percent quicker; and a new call center format led to 48 percent more phone calls being answered at the start of the semester.
Increasing electronic W-2 sign-ups and e-refund enrollments has saved more than $40,000 on mailing and distribution. Document imaging usage rose by two thirds. The daily check run process cost decreased 80 percent. And staff savings of almost 15 percent were realized. “It’s amazing how the culture has changed over in the area of finance,” says Swiecinski.