Setting a Path for Greater Student Success Using Oracle Cloud in Higher Education

By Tim Oberschlake, Vice President, Navigator Management Partners

Higher education is undergoing a period of significant disruption and change.  The mission of higher education institutions remain the same – teaching and learning.  Institutions serve their communities through ongoing research and equipping students with commercially relevant knowledge and skills.  The disruption that is forcing fundamental change in higher education is an increasing number of students and their families are not able to afford the price of a college education.  Student debt is growing at an alarming rate, forcing educational institutions to compete for a decreasing number of traditional students and an increasing number of students seeking education through other modalities.  This is also expanding the emphasis on student retention, success, and fiscal responsibility within higher education institutions. 
When other industries are confronted with similar market disruptions, organizations are forced to identify the strategic and the tactical items within their business.  Strategic items are those that differentiate a business from their competitors.  Tactical items include day-to-day tasks that are required for operational success but are not differentiating.  How an organization pays their employees or invoices their clients is typically considered tactical; but how an organization differentiates themselves from their competitors is where they want to spend their time and money.  In order to stay in business, organizations have to streamline their tactical / operational processes in order to have enough money and time to focus on the strategic.
In higher education, what differentiates institutions are their teaching and learning programs.  Do you have a degree program, certification program, or competency-based education program that meets a student’s needs?  Further, does that program meet a student’s educational, financial, and scheduling needs?  These are the questions that are strategic for an educational institution.  As mentioned above, the tactical or operational side of higher education is everything else that must be done to support your educational mission but doesn’t differentiate you from any other institution.  This could include how you structure your chart of accounts, how you pay your vendors, how you pay your employees, how you manage your employee benefits, etc.  As is the case with other industries, the goal in these operational areas must be to make these business processes as efficient and effective as possible in order to maximize the time and money you are able to spend on the strategic.
So how do institutions start focusing on the strategic while making the tactical operations as efficient and effective as possible?  The answer is to commoditize your tactical operations, which can be done by moving your tactical operations to the cloud.  Oracle Cloud is Software as a Service (SaaS), meaning the same software used at University A is the same software used at University B.  Clients using a Software as a Service (SaaS) applications are completing their business processes using the same exact software as each other.  While many SaaS applications are configurable, the base code can’t be customized.  Oracle offers something called Platform as a Service (PaaS) which can extend functionality beyond the core SaaS application for unique business requirements.  However, the base SaaS code still remains unchanged even in situations with clients decide to extend their functionality using PaaS. 
The beauty of a SaaS application is that all updates are received by all clients at the same time.  The days of being behind on the latest release no longer applies.  The days of high dollar multi-release implementations are also a thing of the past.  New functionality is applied by Oracle every quarter, giving clients the flexibility to implement what they need now and other innovative solutions in the future using the same base software.  Another benefit is that the technology infrastructure is managed by Oracle in the cloud which eliminates costly infrastructure upgrades every 3 to 5 years. 
In exchange for these conveniences, organizations must agree to move to best practice business processes. Organizations that want to re-implement their current software functionality into a SaaS application find their implementations frustrating, time consuming, and many times unsuccessful.  Oracle Cloud is highly configurable, but there are limitations.  Successful clients understand that moving to a SaaS model means that they must be willing to change to a common set of business processes.  No longer can a consultant ask “what are you doing today?” and attempt to replicate functionality.  This is a recipe for disaster and establishes expectations that are often unrealistic.  An implementation of Oracle Cloud is an exercise in business transformation.  Institutions must help their staff navigate the move from current state to cloud state with organizational change management.  Change is hard.  Living with ineffective and inefficient processes that distract you from your primary mission may be catastrophic in the current state of higher education. 
Institutions that have moved to Oracle Cloud have dramatically increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the administrative processes.   Some examples are outlined below
  • Shawnee State University put students first with their Oracle Cloud implementation – click here.  The ROI for their Oracle Cloud HCM solution was 132% with an 8 month payback and an average annual benefit of over $1.4 million – click here.
  • Lorain County Community College’s motto is “student success is everyone’s business.”  They are focused on staying nimble through their adoption of Oracle Cloud – click here.
  • Eastern Gateway Community College is transforming their administrative processes with Oracle Cloud by moving to a modern, agile, and unified Enterprise Resource Planning solution – click here
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 77% of institution board chairs and presidents say that the financial stability of higher education is moving in the wrong direction.  As many as half of American universities will close or go bankrupt within 10 to 15 years, according to Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovative University.  With this environment as a backdrop, it is vital that educational institutions streamline their tactical operations so they can focus their attention on teaching and learning strategies that will ensure their survival in an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace.