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Baylor is working to make sure tuition money goes toward enriching its students’ educational experience.
By Margaret Lindquist | September 2020
For Jon Allen, Baylor’s interim CIO and chief information security officer, the decision to move Baylor University’s finance and human resources applications to the cloud was about much more than just a technology upgrade. “You can’t expect your students to be ready for an unknown future if you aren’t also moving forward,” Allen says.
Controlling costs, providing students with great research opportunities, and attracting top faculty members are three things that Brett Dalton, Baylor’s chief business officer, cites as top priorities for Baylor—and the move to modernize their back-office processes and systems creates a foundation for achieving those goals.
“Every dollar that we spend on back-office operations—those are dollars that we're not spending in the classroom. Those are dollars that we're not spending in the lab,” says Dalton. That simple equation has been the driving force behind Baylor University’s full-scale cloud ERP implementation that went live on June 1, 2020.
Located in Waco, Texas, Baylor is one of the nation’s oldest schools west of the Mississippi, a Christian university with more than 19,000 students devoted to excellence in education and athletics as well as service.
“We believe that our impact on the world really matters,” says Baylor President Linda Livingstone. “We integrate our faith-based mission with transformational undergraduate education and impactful research. At the same time, we're doing world-class athletics and the arts that make a difference. When you combine those things together, there's really no other institution that does it quite like Baylor does.”
Baylor’s path to the cloud started in 2017. The initial focus was on HR modernization, and Workday seemed to have the edge. But by the time the project was ready to get off the ground, it was clear to both the IT and business people that Oracle Human Capital Management (HCM) was as good as Workday, and Oracle’s cloud financial applications were more advanced. Throughout the selection process, the Baylor team saw new features move from the six-month roadmap and into the live Oracle Cloud apps.
“We could see how the features and customizations that we needed were getting into the product,” says Allen.
“It used to take 26 steps to hire an employee. We got that down to six to seven steps—that’s dramatic.”
Oracle’s focus on security was one factor contributing to making Oracle Cloud Baylor’s choice. So was Oracle’s vision for the future, since multiple cloud updates each year mean Baylor gets new features much more frequently than on-premises systems. Most compelling to Allen, though, was the strides Oracle made in its applications’ user interfaces.
“I’ve been in IT for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a company’s products advance as quickly in a year as the Oracle Cloud product advanced,” Allen says. “That investment is what really excited us, the commitment to making sure that the products are advancing quickly, and that the quality is there.”
Baylor is already seeing its investment pay off. “We’ve achieved a $37 million increase in online education revenue in just one year because we’ve become more nimble, more agile,” says Dalton. Baylor is now running just two payroll cycles each month (down from 11), and it has reduced by two-thirds the processing times in some key finance areas.
Looking ahead, Baylor’s analysis indicates that it can double research activity without having to add staff for research support, since finance staff can now complete routine transactions in significantly less time. “That was not even within anybody's imagination prior to this transformational activity,” Dalton says.
With a successful implementation now live and achieving results, Baylor leaders have advice for others who are in the planning phases of a cloud migration.
1. Really rethink your processes. It’s tempting to let an old process stand, even if it was created to solve old problems and it doesn’t make sense anymore. “It used to take 26 steps to hire an employee,” Allen says. “We got that down to six to seven steps—that’s dramatic.” That's time saved that Baylor can use in more valuable ways.
2. Build security in from the start. “With Oracle, it was clear that security features were built in at every layer of the environment, starting all the way down at the data level and moving up through the cloud platform,” Allen says. “That was something unique, that I wasn't seeing elsewhere in the marketplace.”
Baylor is one of the nation’s oldest schools west of the Mississippi and a Christian university devoted to excellence in education and athletics as well as service.
3. Blur your teams so collaboration is natural. In the classroom, professors build in ways to make sure diverse ideas get discussed and new ideas tested. It’s the same with the collaboration between the IT, finance, and HR teams. “In the past, the technical team would install some software, turn it on, configure it. And the functional team would come in and look at it, maybe give some feedback,” Allen says. “This project wasn’t like that. We had functional team members and technical team members working side by side, dependent on each other in a way that really transformed how everyone works.”
4. Insist on a true partner, not a vendor. “With the cloud, we have a partner that is running our systems day-to-day,” Dalton says. “We have a partner ensuring that our system is secure. We have a partner that is ensuring that I have backup, that I have redundancy, that I have business continuity. That company—in our case, Oracle—and we have the same goals. If they’re successful, we're successful. If we're not successful, they're not successful.”
Photography: Courtesy of Baylor University