Data management in higher education financial reporting presents significant challenges for Finance teams to navigate. And while some of these challenges resemble those shared by other types of organizations, higher education Finance teams must contend with many data challenges specific to their domain. More specifically, data management challenges within higher-education institutions arise from various causes, including multiple funding sources, diverse revenue streams and complex regulations.
What are some of the complexities in data management that higher education Finance teams face?
One of the primary complexities for financial reporting is that higher education institutions must manage and report on multiple funding sources. Such sources can include government grants, private donations, tuition and fees, and endowment income. For each funding source, Finance teams must then follow a corresponding and unique set of regulations and reporting requirements. That variability makes it difficult for Finance teams to ensure compliance and accurate reporting.
Another complexity in data management is accommodating for diverse revenue streams common in higher education institutions. These streams can include student housing, dining services, bookstore sales and other auxiliary services. Because each revenue stream has its own set of financial transactions and reporting requirements, Finance teams face challenges when aiming to consolidate and report on the overall financial performance of the institution.
In addition to funding and revenue data, higher education financial reporting, budgeting and planning all draw on a variety of other data sources. Some of those sources include human resource data, including staff/faculty salaries and benefits, and facility data such as physical assets.
Additionally, complexities in data management for higher education financial reporting include the following:
Many higher education Finance teams struggle with the complexities above and find it difficult to accurately report on the financial performance of the institution and ensure compliance with regulations. Why? The struggles mainly occur because many higher education Finance teams rely on a mix of tools, such as siloed spreadsheets, legacy corporate performance management (CPM) software and BI applications. Doing so means Finance must invest an inordinate amount of time and manual effort to manage data instead of focusing on building decision insights that benefit the institutions.
How can Finance teams overcome these challenges?
Many higher education Finance teams have answered that question with a modern CPM Finance solution. OneStream (see Figure 1), for example, enables Finance teams to conquer data complexity in higher education financial reporting by providing the following capabilities:
Want to learn more about how OneStream can empower your higher education Finance team? Download our Higher Education solution brief, or contact us for a demonstration.
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Finance teams in most organizations often interact with non-Finance groups and individuals when planning, budgeting and forecasting. At higher education institutions, these interactions typically include multiple rounds of input from department heads, research leaders and medical administrators. Unique higher-ed planning requirements – such as position planning, program profitability, tuition planning and grant planning – further complicate the processes. Under those conditions, many institutions struggle to achieve adequate collaboration using outdated tools, such as disparate spreadsheets.
Why is using spreadsheets a problem? Well, using them for planning, budgeting and forecasting places a heavy burden on higher education Finance teams. Instead of investing time in valuable analysis and sharing insights, teams must devote hours to data wrangling and managing manual processes. That means wasting a ton of time on non-productive tasks, such as keeping track of individual spreadsheets, managing divergent versions, correcting errors and keeping track of each end-user’s progress.
Since most users are familiar with using Excel® to manage data, many higher education Finance teams rely on spreadsheets as the path of least resistance for planning, budgeting and forecasting processes. Why? By working within Excel® – in which users already know how to build formulas, apply formatting and interact with data – non-Finance users can quickly complete relevant tasks while staying focused on their respective roles.
In short, end users don’t want to learn a new tool for a simple reason. Doing so will take time away from users’ daily responsibilities.
But here’s the conundrum: Non-Finance groups require an intuitive interface that allows for accomplishing tasks without distracting from core responsibilities. At the same time, Finance teams need a unified solution that provides them with governance, control, and, most importantly, time for developing high-value analysis and strategic insights.
Many higher education institutions have found a best-of-both-worlds solution to the above challenges with the OneStream Intelligent Finance platform. With OneStream, these institutions empower BOTH Finance and non-Finance users with a solution that streamlines processes and reduces learning curves. How are these benefits achieved? By providing users with engagement options, including OneStream’s accessible interface, embedded spreadsheets and OneStream’s Excel® Add-In.
The Excel® Add-In provides users with the capability to perform all their planning, budgeting and forecasting tasks directly within the familiar Excel® environment. In addition, since these spreadsheets are unified with the OneStream platform, users can enter and update data, view interactive reports, perform data analysis, and more. Users can also access OneStream Cube Views and Data Grids across dimensions while leveraging the complete analysis capabilities of Excel®.
The Excel® Add-In provides the following benefits:
Cube Views, a central component of the OneStream platform, can be used for reports, data entry templates and the monitoring of Finance processes. Within the Excel® Add-In, data is pulled directly from OneStream rather than a simple data dump that requires a pivot table or formulas to retrieve the information.
The unification of spreadsheets with OneStream means they are fully bi-directional in their data flow. For in-depth ad-hoc analysis, users can drill all the way down to transaction-level details. To enable data entry and updates, users can also work within Excel® forms that help guide users and streamline their tasks. Users also have full access to the formatting and reporting capabilities of Excel®, including charts and graphs (see Figure 1).
Because the Add-In is unified with OneStream, users are entering their data directly into the platform when updating spreadsheets. What does that mean for Finance teams? It means all those late nights spent keeping track of divergent spreadsheets and manually transferring information become bad memories of the past.
Beyond the benefits highlighted above, Finance teams gain greater process insight and control. Whether users are using the OneStream interface or Excel®, Finance maintains complete control of data and can designate what information each user can view and update. OneStream also maintains complete audit trails, platform security and user-defined access levels no matter which interface is used. Plus, the solution provides Finance teams with deep insight into the human side of the process via the ability to plan process steps, assign task owners and track dependencies – all while maintaining real-time visibility into process progression and gaining insight into process bottlenecks.
The Excel® Add-In is one of several capabilities OneStream provides to enable higher education institution Finance teams to effectively collaborate across their organizations and optimize planning, budgeting and forecasting processes.
At OneStream, we call this Intelligent Finance.
Want to learn more about how the OneStream Intelligent Finance platform and the Excel® Add-In can empower your higher education institution? Download our Excel® Add-In Solution brief, or contact us for a demonstration.
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In higher education institutions, Budget and Finance leaders have a key responsibility: reporting of financial, operational and compliance numbers. Producing an accurate book of record, income statement and balance sheet to represent an institution’s financial position is critical to that reporting. It’s equally important to empower decision-makers with insights from ad-hoc and periodic reports. Those insights support faster and more informed decision-making for financial planning, forecasting, and operational decisions.
Beyond the internal aspects, higher education institutions also have significant financial reporting requirements to external stakeholders. A few examples are regulatory agencies, boards of trustees/governors, grant providers, and lenders in support of debt covenants.
Errors, inconsistencies, or omissions in any reports, internal or external, can have wide-reaching, negative effects on the health of the institution and strategic decisions. In today’s dynamic economic climate, accurate reporting is more critical than ever, but many higher education institutions are still hampered by a lack of confidence in their own reporting.
Why are so many institutions struggling to meet stakeholder financial reporting needs with full confidence? The primary reason is the complexity of building a single source of truth from multiple data sources across the institution. Institutional entities – such as different schools, research centers, athletics, and housing – each have different purposes, funding sources, and operational requirements. Typically, each of these entities maintains their financial and operational data in separate systems using a variety of solutions and siloed spreadsheets, a process that’s drowning in complexity. Plus, Finance teams often waste tremendous time simply managing and moving data instead of focusing on what really matters: providing insightful reporting and strategic decision guidance. What’s the result?
Unfortunately, Finance teams all too often simply lose trust and confidence in their own financial reporting and planning processes. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
To answer the challenges in financial reporting, Finance leaders at higher education institutions need to have good reporting capabilities while addressing a variety of stakeholder reporting needs. And at the heart of those capabilities, Finance leaders must have confidence in the timeliness and accuracy of their data.
The key to this confidence is 100% visibility from reports to sources. All financial and operational data must be clearly visible and easily accessible through a single interface with full integration to all source systems, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tools and other systems.
Achieving this requires a modern Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution – one with financial data quality at its core. That data then gracefully integrates with a myriad of source systems while providing powerful, yet easy-to-use reporting and financial planning & analysis capabilities.
OneStream’s Intelligent Finance platform (see Figure 1) integrates with any open GL/ERP system, including those dedicated to higher education. As part of OneStream’s unified solution for financial consolidation, budgeting, planning, forecasting, reporting, analytics, and financial data quality, the built-in advanced reporting and analytic capabilities in the platform empower higher education institutions.
OneStream provides both a user-friendly interface and the option for users to accomplish data entry, analysis, and reporting all entirely through an Excel® interface. In addition to Excel®, the platform tightly integrates with Microsoft Word® and PowerPoint® to enable the creation of accessible pixel-perfect reports, ready right out of the box.
Here are some other key reporting and analytics capabilities for higher-ed teams:
Interactive Dashboards: Finance and other users are empowered by self-service, interactive dashboards (see Figure 2) that combine tables, charts, graphs, and other visualizations to provide unparalleled, immediate access to current financial and operational insights
Built-In Financial Data Quality: Financial data quality (see Figure 3) is a core part of the platform and provides direct integrations to source data, financial intelligence, and strict controls to deliver confidence and reliability in data quality.
Guided Reporting: Both Finance and end-users are empowered to create and manage their own powerful analytic reports with the ability to drill down on any dimension in graphs, charts, reports, and grids to get answers quickly. This capability includes a built-in report library of pre-formatted row or column sets and can instantly export reports to Excel, PDF, or any other standard format.
Excel® Integration: Users are enabled to enter and update data, quickly create reports, and conduct powerful ad-hoc analysis entirely within the Excel® interface they already know. For end, users who prefer the agility of using spreadsheets across the financial close, planning, reporting, and analysis processes OneStream’s Excel® Integration maximizes ease of use and control.
Production Reporting: Financial and operational data are unified from across the institution into a governed, flexible solution – without copying information between fragmented sources and tools. The platform also delivers key insights with detailed and pixel-perfect reports for financial, statutory, and management reporting at speed to capitalize on opportunities and mitigate risk. Users can even access 50+ pre-built web reports.
Microsoft Office Blend: OneStream’s integration with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel enables users to combine content with OneStream reports, charts, and data content to deliver rich, visually stunning reports. Users can also automate board book and executive report creation and streamline updates with immediate data refresh capabilities for required analysis without re-work.
It is critical for Finance teams at higher education institutions to strengthen their ability to provide strategic guidance and insightful reporting. However, they must build trust in their data to succeed in this effort. By unifying data sources across planning and reporting processes, Finance leaders can finally move beyond manual spreadsheets and processes while setting a new foundation for collaboration and confidence in the data analyltics required to support the institution’s mission for years to come.
Interested in learning more about how OneStream unleashes higher education Finance teams and enables trust in data and confidence in financial reporting? Download our Higher Education solution brief, or contact us for a demonstration.
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Making the right financial decisions in higher education begins with trust. Why trust? Because success in higher education is a team effort. Plus, too many things are simply out of your individual control since today’s environment is one of constant change. Politics, public health, revenue disruptions, and workforce challenges all play a part in your daily operations. As a leader in a complex organization who wants to get things done, you must have confidence in your team’s character and ability. That confidence is the very definition of trust. And it’s also why financial forecasting software is mission critical – it gives you trust in your numbers.
The benefits of trust can be easily seen in how your team is affected:
Yet all those benefits don’t automatically transfer to other areas. Trusting your team is one thing – but what if you don’t trust your numbers?
Accuracy in your numbers is necessary, but relevance is what shapes future financial decisions. Your team spends a lot of time and effort pulling and combining data to produce financial plans, budgets, reports, and presentations that communicate where you are and where you’re going. But financial documents delivered on a set schedule are no longer good enough. Those documents must also be relevant.
One of the hurdles to effective planning and budgeting, and the biggest obstacle to numeric relevance, is ensuring that today’s challenges are considered as you move forward through the rest of the year and into long-range plans. Is your information stale by the time it reaches the board/committee? After all, it’s hard to charge forward when you’re always waiting. And if you spend too much time looking backward, it may be time to look at how budgeting and forecasting software can push you forward.
What’s the bug in this system? Well, it’s time. Keeping your numbers relevant simply takes too much time.
How, then, do you add relevance to the equation? How do you ensure you’re tying current activity to future plans? Rolling forecasts are the perfect solution. Agile, iterative, and consistent forecasting is the cornerstone for building a foundation of relevance and trust in your numbers within financial forecasting software.
Static budgets built within legacy financial forecasting software aren’t flexible enough to react to what’s happening in real-time. Meanwhile, rolling forecasts are designed to change and adapt throughout the year, providing more value if large and/or sudden changes negatively affect your institution.
Rolling forecasts (see Figure 1) are dynamic, just like your daily operations, and continually adapt and update your planning processes against actual performance and trends. How? Rolling forecasts allow for more accurate and multifaceted forecasting by re-calibrating the forecast based on changes in both internal variables (e.g., mergers and tuition changes) and external factors (e.g., changing state contributions, public health, and demographic changes).
Rolling forecasts are a management tool that enables institutions to continuously plan (i.e., forecast) over a set time horizon vs. a calendar or fiscal year. For example, in a 12-month forecast period, as each month ends, another month will be added. In other words, you’re always forecasting 12 months into the future.
Best practice is to ensure rolling forecasts can extend (e.g., roll) beyond the current calendar or fiscal year-end. Most commonly, rolling forecasts contain a minimum of 12 forecast periods but can also include 18, 24, or more periods depending on the needs and complexity of the organization.
The ability to quickly make decisions and implement them with financial forecasting software in near real-time is critical for any institution to survive and thrive into the future. As discussed above, accuracy and relevancy, as it relates to the context of time, are both important. And rolling forecasts enhance both. You’ll see improvements in accuracy, and you’ll deliver faster – improving relevancy.
Need some proof? Figure 2, a chart from Aberdeen’s “You Can’t Afford to be Static: Rolling with the Punches in Forecasting” report is full of some pretty amazing results. Here are the 3 that stand out the most:
So how do you do it? How do you get started or move faster toward the adoption of effective rolling forecasts? How do you unify the past while looking to the future? Well, the multi-level approach that lets you do all of that is exactly what OneStream was designed to do.
Our Intelligent Finance Platform consolidates and pre-populates rolling forecasts with actuals the moment that the actuals have been certified. And there you go – you’ve now got a simultaneous view of the past that’s in the moment while looking to the future. OneStream even dynamically updates standard reports using the most current forecast. This functionality drastically cuts down the time and energy that your FP&A team will need to spend generating reports, making it much easier to iteratively forecast.
As your team begins its rolling forecast journey toward organizational agility, data relevance, and trust, download our Unify Connected Planning Whitepaper to learn more. And if you’re ready to make the leap from static planning to agile forecasting, contact OneStream today!
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The health of any multifaceted organization depends on multiple teams working in unison, with several sources of data in real-time. In this post, we’ll take a quick look at how the right technology can boost your team’s ability to collaborate quickly and accurately – all through the lens of higher ed budgeting and planning software.
There’s nothing simple about budgeting and planning in higher education. It’s a matrix. How, exactly? Well, simply put, there are just too many moving parts, too many external variables, and too many stakeholders for these two foundational activities to be linear. As today’s increasing pace of change places ever more pressure on Finance teams, many are taking steps to modernize their static budgeting and planning cycles.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a regent, president, provost, dean, or any other higher-ed leader who didn’t list collaboration as a core value. Educational institutions have an inherent interdependence and must have all their organizational units in sync, working together, to accomplish large goals (see Figure 1). For that reason, access to and collaboration with quality data is imperative at every level of the organization.
Figure 1: The Importance of Data Sharing and Collaboration Source: HBR Analytic Services, 2020
The collaboration gap in budgeting and planning often begins and ends with the segregated nature of internal systems and, more importantly, how those systems share data and edits. Any team emailing around versions of spreadsheets and documents with edits and notes knows this pain all too well.
If those teams are printing hard copies and editing with sticky notes – a practice that’s still surprisingly common – then that pain may even be worse. Essentially, working separately and consolidating along the way creates openings for errors and destroys any hope for a quick, accurate turnaround.
Spreadsheets aren’t equipped to handle the multiple layers of work happening within the flurry of activity known as budgeting and planning in higher ed.
Figure 2: Problems Caused by Spreadsheet Collaboration Reach Far and Wide Source: MarketWatch, “88% of spreadsheets have errors”
In fact, budgeting and planning teams are expected to turn edits, integrate new data and structures, keep up to date, and communicate more clearly than ever before. Here are just a few of the top challenges that bog down budgeting and planning efforts when they’re rooted in manual updates through spreadsheets:
The hidden costs of spreadsheets are created by duplication of effort, errors, and rework. All this wasted time moves your team’s focus away from the true value of analysis and communication that supports strong decision-making across the institution and keeps everyone stuck in busywork.
As the pace of change continues to increase, higher ed Finance teams need to shift focus away from data gathering, reconciling, and managing key integration points and into collaborating with decision-makers and providing better, faster insights.
At OneStream, we understand that complexity is the inevitable by-product of change, especially in higher ed. Accordingly, we believe that your success will not be realized by eliminating complexity but will instead be achieved by effectively steering your institution through it.
How do we do it? Our unified Intelligent Finance platform (see Figure 3) allows us to deliver our many capabilities within a single, extensible, cloud-based application built to scale along with your organization. That’s why hundreds of organizations, including many higher ed institutions, have chosen OneStream – and they’ve never looked back.
Why is unification important? Well, it eliminates openings for errors created by manual work and separate, connected financial reporting tools. If you re-type data or are dependent on technical connection points for updates, you have opened the door for potential problems.
What can a platform approach do for you and your team? Here are a few of the key benefits you get with OneStream’s budgeting and planning software:
Need some proof? How about a great example from one of the nation’s top 10 public research universities? This case study details how OneStream has helped reduce the time needed to complete budgets and has detailed ROIs, including how a regular existing 3.5 hour-process was reduced to just 5 minutes.
Want to continue the discussion? Have any questions? Contact us, and one of our experts will reach out to you ASAP.
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Budgeting, Accounting, and Finance teams in higher education, just like in other fields, must adapt and thrive in the face of rapid change. In this blog series, we’ll uncover the key value drivers that modern budgeting and planning software has to offer higher-ed leaders. We’ll also map out how these leaders can begin or accelerate the journey to conquering complexity and empowering their teams to lead at speed.
While accuracy, transparency, and consistency are the backbone of accounting and financial operations, adding speed and agility is what ultimately separates the institutions that deliver consistent value from those that struggle.
And as the two-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic flies by, speed and agility have never been more important for leaders in higher education.
These leaders have been repeatedly forced to adjust daily operations. But they now face another obstacle: reconciling visions, plans, and budgets with a historic disruption that has created dips in enrollment, leading to a critical loss in revenue (see Figure 1).
Chart: Natalie Schwartz/Higher Ed Drive, Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center
Those revenue losses naturally put pressure on the Finance team. And while pressure is nothing new to financial leaders in higher ed, COVID-19 and its complexities have undermined many institutions to the point where they’re no longer trying to balance budgets through cuts and efficiencies. Instead, schools must rethink and restructure their business models.
Board members, presidents, and deans – all of whom carry huge responsibilities – are thus demanding more consistent and timely data inform their decisions.
Accounting and Finance teams must therefore modernize to streamline processes, unify outputs and empower leadership with the information needed to not only make key decisions but also pivot when necessary. After all, the total economic and operational impacts of the pandemic are not yet known, but one thing is certain: complexity and the rapid pace of change are the new normal.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be laying out why higher-ed leaders need a modern, platform-based approach to planning, budgeting, and forecasting. We’ll also cover how to speed reporting and analysis cycles – and we’ll lay out the roadmap to show you how to make that a reality.
OneStream has empowered hundreds of organizations (including dozens in the public sector) to unleash the power of Accounting and Finance by unifying planning, budgeting, forecasting, reporting, and analytics through a single, extensible solution (see Figure 2). This solution is delivered via a cloud platform designed to evolve and scale with your institution.
Why should you care? Well, here are just a few of the key benefits you get with OneStream’s budgeting and planning software:
While you may not yet be a customer, we appreciate your work in the public sector and value your opinion – and we’d love to explore opportunities where we can move forward together. At OneStream, our mission is simple: “Every customer is a reference, one success at a time.”
For more information, download the Higher Education Solution Brief. Want to continue the discussion? Have any questions? Contact us, and one of our experts will reach out to you ASAP.
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COVID-19 is impacting almost every individual and organization across the globe. And while we are several months into the pandemic, there are still so many unanswered questions. Will our largest population zones revert back to shelter-in-place restrictions? Should we really anticipate up to three-fold increases in remote work as Hackett’s Finance 2020 research suggests? And when will consumer demand and supply chain activity return to pre-COVID levels, if ever?
State and local government and education (SLED) and public higher education face the same questions as their private sector brethren. How so? Because existing annual or biennial budgets no longer reflect the economic environment under COVID. The impact and uncertainty from COVID are bringing many questions about these organizations’ funding sources considering the variability in macroeconomic conditions. Why? Because public higher education operating budgets receive anywhere from 15%-40% of their funding from state and federal funds. And with uncertainty permeating across federal, state and local agencies, the challenge for leaders within higher education to focus on structural classroom changes is becoming increasingly difficult. State and local governments face similar pressures too, as 50-60% of their tax receipts (e.g. sales and property tax) are typically generated from the retail and other tax generating industries which have been decimated throughout the pandemic.
Finance leaders must increasingly navigate the interconnected challenges of organizational complexity. To drive performance, they must execute critical processes with efficiency and support decision-making across the enterprise with timely access to financial and operating results.
And now, suddenly, Finance teams must also adapt and respond to the unprecedented increase in the demand for remote operation spurred by COVID-19. It’s now more critical than ever for them to drive efficiency in financial processes. But success in this complex environment hinges on having sophisticated collaboration and process management capabilities.