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.
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.”
QUT deployed Oracle Hyperion Planning and Oracle Essbase across the university. It used Oracle Data Integrator to integrate the Hyperion system with Oracle Financials and the university’s ALESCO v12 human resources system.
The move to Oracle Hyperion provides a central portal to integrate financial data from all faculties, divisions, and institutes, making it easier for the MAT to bring together the decentralized budgeting process and standardize budgeting practices across the university. The project involved an extended consultation with end users from various organizational areas, resulting in comprehensive business and technical requirement statements, which contain user expectations for functionality and technical capabilities that best fit the university’s IT environment.
“The staff that was developing the budgets in the faculties, divisions, and institutes already had their own, very established systems—many of them Excel-based—so the move to Hyperion wasn’t just a technical project but also a change-management exercise,” said Alner.
“As our financial staff was comfortable using these Excel spreadsheets, Hyperion was a good fit because it could offer end users an Excel-style experience while still giving us the flexibility and strength we needed at the back end,” she said. “Thanks to Hyperion, we could make sure everyone is budgeting for their organizational areas using the same standards and applying the same rates and cost increments, rather than using different calculations in separate spreadsheets. We’ve prescribed these set rates in the Hyperion system and they can’t be overridden, so we’re all on the same page.”
Oracle Hyperion allows QUT to draw budgets from across the university much faster, significantly reducing the time required to produce a consolidated budget report. MAT also has much greater assurance in the accuracy of the data, giving the team more confidence in helping the university to make better informed decisions.
“In the past it took a significant amount of time and effort to prepare the budget,” said Alner. “We can now produce a consolidated budget in less than a day, whereas it previously took at least a week of trawling through spreadsheets to produce, balance, and check figures. Oracle Hyperion has helped transform us into a more efficient and effective management accounting team, because it frees up time to analyze, investigate, and follow up on issues rather than just simply reporting.
“After implementing Oracle Hyperion, the focus has changed to analyzing outputs, rather than the process of data collection, and that in itself is an immeasurable benefit,” added Alner. “I can also answer financial queries from senior managers and the planning and resources committee with confidence, knowing that I’m drawing on the most accurate and up-to-date budget data from across the university.”
The productivity gains from moving to Hyperion allow QUT to consider deploying rolling forecasts and monthly reporting, as well as expanding the university’s financial planning using Hyperion costing modules.
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.”
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.
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.