The Evolving ERP: Bringing Flexibility to the Higher Education IT Core

ERP in higher education

Today’s IT infrastructure in Higher Education has become brittle and inflexible. This issue is most evident when looking at the traditional ERP. Many institutions have aging on-premise monolithic ERPs with single vendors who utilize scare tactics and require excessive support costs. Higher Education is facing more and more difficult budget issues as well as difficulty in acquiring and keeping talented technology employees, which only exacerbates this issue. Just this week, NACUBO, the National Organization of College and University Business Officers, will testify before congress on the rising cost of higher education, outlining the troubling trends in state funding in an ever more competitive environment.

To overcome these challenges, technical leaders must evolve their ERPs. This does not mean moving them to new providers in the cloud with complete reimplementation, but instead a strategic review of these environments and the development of a plan for moving those capabilities that differentiate the institution to more flexible environments. Traditional ERPs and the vendors that support them have long pushed the idea of a single monolithic system for all data. However, on the other end of the spectrum is the thought that “Best of Breed” systems should be the strategy. Each of these strategies, however, come with cost to the institution and should be considered carefully.

“Higher education will continue to face increased financial pressure, and the elephant in the IT room is the ERP.”
 Traditional ERPBest of BreedERP of the Future
StrategySingle VendorBest solution for functionCentral core with specialized add-ons
ArchitectureMonolithicFramentedCentralized and integrated
IntegrationSiloedComplexLoosely coupled and federated
GovernanceControlledFragmentedBusiness change based

In-depth review and analysis of an ERP application is fundamental to the success of many institutions in this competitive environment, but should be done by adopting a strategic perspective, positioning this evolution in the context of business value. Following the Gartner’s Pace Layering methodology, which emphasizes Systems of Innovation, Systems of Differentiation, and Systems of Record, schools must take a hard look at these large systems and which data sets and functionality fall within each layer. For example, payroll data is part of a system of record that requires few users, but does require increased security. No competitive advantage is apparent when considering this data and access, therefore, it can and should be kept to the traditional secured ERP. However, data and systems which support recruitment can contribute to the competitive advantage of a university, and therefore, are candidates for more specialized and lightly coupled solutions, such as cloud solutions.

When developing your strategy and future plan, keep the following considerations central to the process.

  1. Systems must be agile to leverage business opportunities.
  2. They must be able to scale to support growth.
  3. They must support new business and complex interrelationships.
  4. They must provide a backbone for analytics and new data types and the “Internet of Things”.

Higher education will continue to face increased financial pressure, and the elephant in the IT room is the ERP. Evolution of this monolithic system will not be optional to those institutions that will weather this storm and take their campuses to the next level.


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