Essex Shared Services Ltd was established as a joint venture in July 2014, set up by South Essex College and Chelmsford College in the South East of England. Essex Shared Services provides both further education (FE) institutions with back office services for the finance, payroll and procurement functions. South Essex College, which has circa 6500 students, provides FE and Higher Education (HE) courses to domestic and international students. Chelmsford, the smaller of the two colleges with circa 2500 students, provides traditional general FE along with short courses.
Colleges aimed to do more with less
With FE funding becoming increasingly challenging both Colleges faced considerable pressure to be more efficient; they would have to do more with less. With this in mind together they began to look for options to:
· Divert costs from back office operations to providing the very best learner experience.
· Develop more financial awareness accross both institutions.
· Make finance management and collaboration easier.
· Adapt to future sector and internal change.
Unit4’s sector specific cloud finance solution was selected
A single back-office finance, payroll, procurement function was established via the joint venture company Essex Shared Services Ltd to serve both institutions. Crucial to the function would be modern, intuitive finance ERP technology that would scale with the institutions’ needs and help optimise productivity. The colleges’ joint Finance Director spearheaded the project eventually selecting Unit4 Business World finance.
“Immediately we liked Unit4’s finance capability, FE processes were inbuilt,” said Debs Hurst, General Manager of Essex Shared Services Ltd. “The fact that it could be delivered via the cloud was also important to us, it would mean it would scale to our requirements and we would only pay for the software we used. Unit4’s considerable heritage in both the further education sector and delivering shared services was also central to our decision.”
Unit4 Business World was implemented on budget by Williams Woodward, a preferred implementation partner for Unit4 in the HE and FE markets.
Savings of £80,000 each year and a platform for better financial decisions
Through Essex shared Services Unit4 Business World has started to deliver immediate value to the colleges.
“Since go-live savings of £80,000 per year were established through more efficient deployment of resources, these savings are being redirected to frontline services and there will be more savings to come,” said Debs . “In particular the ongoing cost of ownership is proving to be of value to the shared service. As the solution is cloud based there is no underutilisation of network infrastructure or IT resources and the institutions will only pay for the services used. Additionally the flexibility of Unit4 Business World means that Essex Shared Services’ business professionals can configure the solution in-house without having to call upon expensive external consultants whenever we need to make any change like restructuring of accounts.”
One of the biggest productivity gains has been through the optimised delivery of information. Previously ‘purchase invoice packs’ were printed and then delivered by hand to individuals across various campuses spread across the region, this was inefficient and meant there was a risk of suppliers being paid late. Now this information is delivered electronically to the right people, at the right time through workflow which gives an audit trail of activity. Budget holders and key personnel can access data through a self service portal when then need it.
“Workflow means that we can control the distribution of information so that budget holders only get involved when they have to,” continued Debs. “It has meant that busy Heads of Department and teaching staff are dramatically cutting the time they spend on administration and that decisions can be made faster with more accurate information.”
With its highly intuitive interface, workflow and accurate view of financial indicators, Unit4 Business World has helped the shared services team and Colleges establish a more ‘commercially aware’ culture. Better information means staff are more mindful of the crucial impact their budgets have in delivering superb student experiences.
“We are providing better services to stakeholders and the associated costs are reducing,” said Debs. “Not only is the project helping us to do more with less, with the cloud model and flexibility of Unit4 Business World, we are looking to expand the service to other cost sharing partners so that they can realise similar benefits.”
Using the shared services model also enables costs to be shared without bearing the 20 per cent VAT charge.