It’s an annual ritual at colleges and universities around the world: Planners in the Office of Budget and Finance toil for months as they try to develop forecasts, plans and budgets for the coming year. It’s hard work to track funds by use and source, to develop accurate endowment plans, personnel budgets, capital plans and revenue forecasts. And because most planning platforms prevent administrators from collaborating meaningfully with faculty and other stakeholders, the process is longer and more painful than it needs to be, and budget owners across the institution don’t have access to data that could reveal variances between forecasts and actuals while they still have time to change course.

Brown University recently replaced its legacy planning and budgeting system with Tidemark. Its experience is detailed in a new research report from Harvard Business Review. The free report, “Transformational Journeys: Modern Business Planning,” is the product of extensive independent research and numerous detailed interviews.  (We partnered with HBR to help their researchers gain access to a representative sample of our customers who are undergoing their own transformation.)

Here’s the Brown University story as told by HBR:

When Brown University finally replaced its 1970s-era financial system with a cloud-based system in 2013, it discovered that the budgeting software it had been using for four years couldn’t work with the new system’s data structure. The school quickly chose to install a cloud-based financial planning and software application that could communicate with its new cloud-based financial and HR systems. The results were revelatory.

“Getting reports out of our 40-year-old system had been pretty hard,” confesses Susan Howitt, the Ivy League university’s associate vice president for budget and planning. “You couldn’t just look at data and slice and dice it in the budgeting system. All our multiyear planning was basi­cally done in Excel spreadsheets, which you can never quite keep in sync.” 

With its core systems now integrated, managers and decision-makers at the university have a single source of data to work with, eliminating time-intensive manual processes and enabling more collaborative planning that drives better decisions. This also gives university management a much better view into the nooks and crannies of the school’s finances. “If somebody comes to the provost and says, ‘I need $10 million for a new initiative,’ our provost can say, ‘That’s great, but I see your department has $2 million of unused funds. What’s the plan for those funds and how are you going to use them toward this initiative?’” Howitt says. “This gives us more opportu­nities to talk about how to best use our resources to advance our academic and research mission.”

Roberta Gordon, a former Brown employee who oversaw the implementation of the new finan­cial system before taking a job with an IT services firm, adds that virtually all of Brown’s core data systems are now cloud-based, befitting an institution of its stature. “Brown’s administra­tive systems are support systems and should not drive what the school does,” Gordon says. “But they should be at least reflective of its role as a premier institution—and now they are. That wasn’t the case with its legacy technology, and it wasn’t what the university wanted to provide for the faculty members who teach and conduct research there. We didn’t want them to be submitting expense reports on paper, for example. We wanted them to be focused on their value-added work.”

In short, the new systems reflect a new way of thinking about how the university operates. “There has been a big push from our president, who has been here just over two years, and our new provost, to have data drive decisions,” Howitt says. “They recognize that we work with a certain set of resources and they want to be able to decide how best to invest those resources. Knowing where the money is, and what people you have, helps you make those decisions.”

The HBR report also documents the transformational journey of other Tidemark customers, including Hubspot, Reddy Ice, Eventbrite, Acxiom, Shelter Insurance, Blackstone Group and Cerner.   Download the free Harvard Business Review report here.

Complimentary Live Demonstration of Tidemark for Higher Education

And if you’re wondering how easy it can be for you to realize a similar transformation at your own institution, I invite you to attend our 30-minute online demonstration: “Simplify Student, Faculty, and Endowment Planning with Tidemark EPM for Higher Education,” from 10:00 to 10:30 a.m. PT on Wednesday, Dec. 3. Register for this enlightening webinar today. It’s free, and I promise it will be an educating.