It’s not exactly news that universities are feeling the budget crunch, but what has been making headlines in recent years is the creative ways they’ve been consolidating services and administrative tasks. Whether through shared services spanning campuses or university systems, or deployment of solutions to handle invoice management, spend management, or e-procurement, higher education appears to be finding more middle ground between saving money and providing better services to students and faculty.
Just this week, the University of Texas at Austin released a statement that forecast $490 million in savings and revenue by modifying business practices. University president Bill Powers said, “Universities are not simply businesses, but in the specific ways that they are like businesses — processing applications, supporting information technology, reimbursing travel, buying outside services, turning lights on and off, printing and mailing and so forth — they ought to be following the best business practices. To do otherwise, as the recipient of both tax dollars and tuition dollars, is to betray the public trust.”
There are plenty of examples of similar projects that have met with great success in other universities across the country. In the case of the University of Georgia’s shared services project, the savings included a 40% reduction in data entry work that now gives employees extra time to handle payroll for a system that is growing at a projected rate of 100,000 new students over the next few years. Additionally, the savings accrued from leasing the software used in the shared services center is expected to be about $1.9 million per year, which means that their initial investment of $4 million will be returned in less than 3 years.
Implementing technology to streamline administrative tasks is not without its challenges. Most institutions have relied on panels to investigate how best to go about shifting from manual processes across multiple independent units to one cohesive, streamlined system. These panels generally tackle issues such as rewriting institutional culture, reallocating personnel, effectively leveraging support, managing potential resistance, and setting realistic expectations, all potential problems that need to be addressed ahead of time.
Even with all of the work and effort that goes into such a project, more and more institutions of higher education are signing on for a streamlined alternative to their current, less efficient business and administrative processes. Not exactly surprising, given the results typically show a win/win situation: massive savings and more efficient services.