“If you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time.” This quote is attributed to organizational performance enhancement experts Geary Rummler and Alan Brache. I am fortunate to be participating on a workgroup formed by NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers) and EDUCAUSE on how to build a resilient university. The quote came up during our first of several conversations. This topic of a resilient university is receiving greater attention coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. For us here at UCF, the quote targets our focus on where we have been, where we are currently and where we are heading in the future with our new strategic plan —Unleashing Potential — as our guide.
Workday is now our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. It is new, different and a disruptor of how we conducted the business of the university in the past. We have good success with the conversion, a high accuracy rate in our payroll execution, and just recently closed the month of July in our financial records. We are now in a phase of triaging and understanding aspects of our university’s operations that were not readily noticeable in years past. Paying our bills and hiring our people continue to be top of mind, but with each passing week we are getting better at understanding prior gaps in processes and how we can permanently address them. We are working on a path to get to stabilization and then continuous process improvement.
Despite being only one month and a half into the new system, we are fielding calls for us to return to the “old ways” of doing things. We are hearing that the new system is a chore, and the functionalities of the old system were better. There is concern that this will not all come together as anticipated, and that it was better to have not gone to a new system.
I would like to share some insights into why the expressions of returning to the old system are understandable but not optimal for our future growth and operations. Our systems needed to be modernized such that we can manage our various components as “One UCF” versus the collection of 13 colleges, 10 Direct Support Organizations (DSOs) and several administrative departments.
What has become evident since our “go live” on July 1, 2022, is the complex nature of our operations as every college, unit or division operated by their own goals and objectives. From the way we hire faculty, to processing contracts and vendors, to tracking key purchases based on regulatory compliance, we have found instances where they are all different. Differences are not necessarily based on need, but how things matured over time in an incremental budgeting environment with allocations of revenues versus bottom-up budgets. That led us to less-than-optimal spending to meet objectives and mission. We heard how difficult it is to get financial information in a timely manner to make data-driven business decisions before, during and after a fiscal year. We knew that our policies, procedures and practices did not align with the functionality of the PeopleSoft system. The move to Workday has exposed it with data at the core, and will now allow for correction and improvements. Workday is a disruptor for us, and now we are using this opportunity to tackle all known issues in a systematic way.
The opportunity costs of not addressing the mismatch between our systems and processes are real. We are now able to quantify both the costs themselves and their consequences. Duplicative work and systems are the most evident. Those are closely followed by a system that was configured primarily to report back to the state of Florida rather than the ease of financial and operational management. We also had the differences of process maps and inconsistent treatment by each college, unit and division of transactions and needs. All three make up the “system” that we must improve.
We have already started the journey of addressing the system to make it better. It will be an iterative process for the next several months as we move to stabilization. The first major step was to implement a new ERP that will bring one source of truth in all our financial and operational data. Below are some statistics for us to consider:
- Twelve financial companies were brought under one system of operations inside Workday.
- Four financial systems are now housed in one.
- Twenty-two applications were decommissioned.
- Over 2,000 grants were converted from an integrated external system into Workday.
- Approximately 22,000 employees were converted.
- Manual steps done outside the PeopleSoft system are now required to be completed inside Workday within transaction flows.
With us moving to one source of truth for all financial-related matters, we are now focused on the policies, procedures and practices that were a part of our former way of operating. We have started creating new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for processes where gaps in processes are now being identified.
In the past, our various methodologies by college, unit or division prevented us from doing the following for several years:
- Close our financial books monthly so that we could monitor spending by colleges, units and divisions, and ensure that financial stewardship was managed with the goals and objectives at the start of a fiscal year.
- Cash flow forecasting by the “colors of money” was inadequate and led to surprises at the end of the fiscal year. Balancing cash flow to monthly budget to actuals was not possible without a manual process that would take a full quarter to reconcile. This led to hurried purchases in the last quarter of the fiscal year.
- Treasurer functions were relegated to monitoring bank accounts, while colleges, units, projects, auxiliaries and others were focused on reconciling cash at their level. An inefficient way of managing cash flow for a $2 billion-plus enterprise.
- Procurement to pay was episodic where we could not take advantage of volume discounts and other savings measures. Our process also led to multiple colleges, units and divisions working with the same vendor with different contracts on different terms.
- The lack of tracking also caused multiple versions of software and other items to be purchased when only one was needed at the university level (e.g. Salesforce).
When we refer to our “system” going forward, it will be an integrated approach of having our policies, procedures and practices align with Workday. Items that do not fit into the system because of unique needs will be managed by exception. We do not anticipate having many unique cases as most of our expenses are personnel-related, and when other fixed obligations at the university level are factored in, that leaves a small amount of discretionary funding coupled with state, local and federal grants.
Since “go live” we have been hearing excellent suggestions from various campus stakeholders, including from every level of the university. In the coming weeks, you will be hearing about ideation sessions with the campus to capture the best ideas to address some of the hurdles we must cross to get us operating as “One UCF.” For example, after several conversations around the tracking of regulated assets, we discovered that one college had the “gold standard” for compliance. We are now working on an SOP for all colleges, units and divisions. We also envision the following to keep the momentum going on our change management journey:
- Bi-weekly meetings with the Budget Directors from the colleges and units that represent each cost center on our campus.
- Monthly meetings with the CFO Council that comprises all the CFOs of our DSOs and key administrative units.
- Campuswide ideation sessions on issues that are not treated consistently. Examples of how we will work collaboratively as “One UCF” to come up with workable solutions include the hiring of faculty, faculty overseeing hourly employees, tracking of “attractive assets,” and vendor contracts and payables.
- Continue with this monthly communication in addition to the Dollars & $ense town hall meetings after each Board of Trustees meeting.
- Weekly CFO update to university leaders (i.e., vice presidents and deans) that should form discussions within colleges and units on a regular basis.
At the end of these processes, we will have a clear, cogent and transparent “system” that allows for the proper and timely recording, summarizing and reporting of financial and operating information to help drive university decisions at all levels. The “system” will work in tandem with the incredibly talented and engaged campus stakeholders we have here at UCF.
As with any new implementation or major change, we knew that “go-live” was only the start of the journey and that as we implemented these changes we would uncover gaps, challenges, as well as opportunities for additional refinements. We are asking everyone to remain engaged as we push through this phase of our improvement process. We will continue to keep the lines of communication open as we work on how to optimally utilize our new ERP software.