Queensland University of Technology Consolidates Budgets Within a Day, Instead of a Week, Overhauls Budgeting Practices
 
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Queensland University of Technology Consolidates Budgets Within a Day, Instead of a Week, Overhauls Budgeting Practices

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is a selectively research-focused Australian university, catering to 45,000 students, including 7,000 international students. The university employs more than 4,000 permanent staff and over 7,000 casual staff, and consists of six faculties, six divisions, and a number of research institutes spread across two Brisbane city campuses, as well as Caboolture to the north.

To support a decentralized budgeting process, QUT implemented Oracle Hyperion products to standardize and streamline budgeting practices across the university. QUT can now consolidate budget submissions developed by the university’s faculties, divisions, and institutes in less than a day, rather than taking at least a week. The management accounting team (MAT) can also address financial queries from senior managers, and QUT’s planning and resources committee, with confidence, knowing that budgeting data is accurate, up to date, and contains enough detail to respond to a range of queries.

 
Streamlining and Standardizing Budgeting Practices

A word from Queensland University of Technology

  • “Thanks to Oracle’s Hyperion products, it now takes less than a day to consolidate budget submissions, compared to previously, when it took at least a week of collating data from spreadsheets. We can also answer senior management’s financial queries with confidence, knowing that we are drawing on the most accurate and up-to-date data from across the university.” – Patricia Alner, Director, Planning and Budget, Queensland University of Technology

QUT relies on a decentralized budgeting process, providing university faculties, divisions, and institutes with a high level of input into, and control over, how their allocated funds are spent. This allows these organizational areas to spend funds where they need them most, such as on employing academic staff and supporting student learning and teaching priorities.

However, this decentralized budgeting process created difficulties for the university’s MAT, as compiling a universitywide budget required input from numerous staff throughout the institution. In addition, the process was made even more complex by a lack of standard budgeting tools across the university, as well as limited access to detailed workforce expenditure.

“We could respond to high-level decision-making requests, but we couldn’t see the fine detail that underpinned the budgeting process,” said Patricia Alner, director of planning and budget, Queensland University of Technology. “This meant I found it difficult to provide detailed answers to some complicated financial questions in a timely fashion.

“Employment costs are a major part of our expenditure, so we really needed a detailed picture of our workforce, and a system that allowed us to plan budgets down to the individual employee level,” she said. “Independent consultants had also recommended to our governance committee that we needed to address the automation of our budgetary process and accelerate our decision-making.”

 
Moving to a Unified Budgeting Platform

 
Delivering Accurate Results Faster

 
 

 
 

Challenges

  • Streamline the budgeting process to allow the MAT to draw together universitywide budgets faster, using more up-to-date data
  • Ensure more than 100 financial staff across the university apply the same budgeting practices, while retaining a decentralized budgeting model that grants faculties, divisions, and institutes control over their budgets
  • Meet end user requirements for a familiar Excel-style interface, while offering greater back-end flexibility to the financial team
  • Provide greater visibility into the budget to offer the management team greater decision-making support

Solutions

  • Reduced the time taken to consolidate budgets across the university, from at least one week to less than a day, without taking budgeting control away from individual faculties, institutes, and divisions
  • Standardized budgeting practices by moving to a single budgeting system and applying the same rates and cost increments across the university
  • Addressed financial queries from the university’s management team and planning and resources committee with confidence, by accurately capturing the budgeting figures of each organizational area
  • Improved financial management by allowing the MAT to analyze, investigate, and follow up on issues, rather than just simply reporting
  • Retained an Excel-style interface to assist with change management, offering a smooth migration to Oracle Hyperion

Why Oracle

QUT was already using Oracle products such as Oracle Financials, which meant it had a high level of in-house Oracle experience and expertise. When it came to choosing a new budgeting platform, Alner said it was the Oracle Hyperion product’s flexibility, robustness, and ability to integrate with Oracle Financials that was appealing.

“Oracle’s Hyperion solutions  granted end users the interface they desired while meeting the financial team’s back-end requirements,” she said. “Hyperion’s proven track record in the budgeting and financial management space was also a key factor in our decision.

“There are often a lot of hyperbolic statements made about technology products, but I want to see it working. When we saw how the Oracle Hyperion system was performing in other organizations, we were very impressed.”

Implementation Process

QUT opted for a soft launch of the Oracle Hyperion products, running the new system side by side with the previous budgeting approach during 2011 to allow MAT to meet its compliance and governance requirements, which involved updating the budget during the year.

“We had to stage the implementation around those budget reviews so we could comply with our requirements to submit a budget on time,” Alner said.

“The soft launch meant end users could prepare an Excel version of their budgets as usual at the start of the year, but they were required to do all the preparations for the midyear budget review in Hyperion.

“There is usually some resistance to change, but the fact that the Vice-Chancellor was a champion of this project greatly helped with the implementation process,” added Alner. “In fact, he was adamant that all the financial staff would use the new system for budgeting.”

The Oracle Hyperion system went fully live in July 2011.

Partner

After an open tender process, QUT engaged Oracle Specialized Partner M-Power Solutions to implement the Oracle Hyperion Planning and Oracle Essbase solution across the university.

QUT was implementing a new student administration system at the same time as the Oracle Hyperion budgeting system, so access to internal resources was limited. This made the choice of M-Power Solutions as an implementation partner a significant factor in the project’s success.

“We needed a partner that specialized in Oracle and Hyperion, and who could accommodate the complexities of the university’s requirements,” said Alner. “M-Power Solutions has the large-scale implementation experience to tackle a project like this. We didn’t just take the company at face value; we went to some of its implementation sites, so we could ask the hard questions about the tools and M-Power’s work.

“Our confidence in M-Power Solutions was well-founded, and we’d still be struggling with the deployment without the team onboard. It would have taken significantly longer to develop the solution in house,” she said.