Carlson Thought Leadership in Finance & Technology

University Budgeting, Forecasting and Planning with Adaptive Insights

July 10, 2014 / by Dave Phillips

carlson-adaptive-insights-solutions-higher-educationInstitutions of higher education have long experienced the challenges and complexities of budgeting, forecasting, and planning.  The many revenue and expense lines including enrollment, financial aid, endowments and grants make effective financial planning and analysis a daunting task.  Universities may have to track unrestricted, temporary and permanent funds that will require alternate reporting to provide multiple views of their financial statements.  Larger universities may have multiple campuses, scores of departments, and hundreds of business units, all with budget and reporting responsibility.  If the university has a decentralized budgeting process, it can be even more difficult to manage and consolidate budgets across the entire institution.  While some university CFOs presume the expense of alternatives to spreadsheets and legacy enterprise planning software to be too high, many more are realizing the financial, operational, and cost benefits of moving to a Cloud-based performance management solution such as Adaptive Insights.

Some of the key advantages of Adaptive Insights for higher education are as follows:

Process Optimization - due to the number of stakeholders in university budgeting, the process is often cumbersome, time-consuming, and prone to error.  With Adaptive, "best practices" processes such as driver-based budgeting, rolling forecasts, self-service reporting, and streamlined workflows can add new insights and efficiencies.  Costs can be automatically allocated across schools, departments and other overhead locations.  Integration with ERP and other systems automates the population of actuals data into the budget and forecast for variance analysis.

Agility - many universities are using on-premise technology that is 20 or more years old.  In many cases, the need to customize the software has made upgrading to new versions prohibitive.  Also, changes to models require significant IT assistance.  With Adaptive, turnaround times for reports and re-forecasts are dramatically reduced.  Cloud-based solutions are designed to be easy-to-use and new features are continuously rolled out without any IT involvement.  Thus institutions are always assured of working with the latest and greatest new features.

Collaboration - for universities that continue to use spreadsheets for part or all of the planning process, collaboration becomes onerous as people share spreadsheets via email or on shared drives.  Version control, inadvertent introduction of errors, and other spreadsheet issues impede the ability of people to work from the "same sheet of music".  With Adaptive Insights, in contrast, stakeholders access their parts of the model on a web browser.  Security and permissions are enforced through user roles.  All data is centralized in a single database rather than residing on desktops scattered throughout the various campuses.  Collaboration becomes the new norm as information flows freely through the organization.

Long Term Perspective - most institutions need to plan out many years, particularly for capital budgeting.  Adaptive allows budgets to align and roll up into the strategic plan.  What if scenario analysis provides insight into the effect of specific variables across time.  Changes due to unforeseen events can be readily incorporated into the model and strategy and tactical plans updated as necessary.

Jeff Dubois, Budget Director at Babson College stated “Adaptive Planning has been a game-changer for us. It has helped to streamline processes and increase the accuracy of our forecasting, while being extremely accessible and easy to use."

Of course, technology is just one important aspect of transforming higher education finance.  It's equally important to select an experienced implementation partner to ensure a successful project and support moving forward.  Dubois further stated "Carlson was particularly instrumental in guiding us through the implementation, providing expert and timely knowledge at all stages of the process.”  In our experience at Carlson, backed by analyst research, implementations of Adaptive Insights require significantly fewer resources than their legacy counterparts - saving time, money, and effort.

Carlson Management Consulting is the premier Adaptive Insights partner for Higher Education.  Our growing list of customers include Bentley University, Vassar College, Pratt Institute, Merrimack College, Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professionals, College of the Holy Cross, and Babson College.  Contact us today to request a demo and learn how we can help you improve budgeting, forecasting, and planning at your institution.

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“Carlson was particularly instrumental in guiding us through the implementation, providing expert and timely knowledge at all stages of the process.” —Jeff Dubois, Babson College

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