Higher education requires expert resource planning. To gain greater insight into effective long-term strategies, London South Bank University (LSBU) equipped its financial planning department with IBM Planning Analytics, helping to foster student success with more effective forecasting and budgeting.
University funding fluctuates with student enrolment and many other factors. How could LSBU gain the insight it needs to optimize resource planning and make prudent long-term investments?
LSBU enhanced its planning capabilities with IBM Planning Analytics — empowering the finance team with more efficient forecasting processes.
Business challenge story
Keeping track of student numbers
For many universities, a significant proportion of their budget is determined by the number of students enrolled on their courses during the academic year. Each year, the number of applicants for each course fluctuates, and student attrition rates can vary too, which poses a significant challenge for business planning. How can you ensure that you offer the right portfolio of courses to meet student demand? Are you employing the right number of academic staff to teach each course? What kind of facilities, equipment and other resources should you invest in? And how can you not only meet today’s needs, but also secure a stable and successful future for the business?
The financial planning department at London South Bank University (LSBU) faced precisely this challenge: it wanted to find a smarter way to design and execute sustainable long-term financial strategies.
Keith Would, Head of Financial Planning and Reporting at LSBU, explains: “Efficient, effective financial reporting and forecasting is fundamental to LSBU’s ability to make the best investments in its students, staff, and facilities. To help LSBU direct its resources, we use financial planning tools to track every aspect of university finance, including student numbers, staff payroll and CAPEX, as well as all of the University’s additional costs.”
Over time, LSBU found that the legacy forecasting systems it was using to track its key financial data no longer offered the flexibility, efficiency, capacity and functionality required.
Keith Would says: “When completing our budgeting cycle, we had to manually update around 20 different tools to ensure we produced student numbers and fee income information for different programs of study, including undergraduate or postgraduate courses and domestic and overseas students. This created a significant amount of time-consuming, manual effort for our team, and increased the scope for human error. As our needs grew, it was clear that the financial planning tool we were using didn’t have the capacity to handle the amount of data we needed to build one consolidated budgeting model.
“While our legacy forecasting application allowed us to build individual tools for some systems such as the staff payroll, these tools were disparate and required us to extract and import information into different systems—a process which could sometimes take up to two days.”
LSBU found that the labor-intensive, manual effort needed to support its financial planning systems took valuable time away from the finance team, affecting the team’s ability to build more long term financial strategies.
Graduating to a new level of planning and forecasting
To transform its planning capabilities, LSBU implemented IBM Planning Analytics, running in the Cloud.
“LSBU’s financial planning and reporting team believes that systems skills and knowledge should be built into the business, to ensure flexibility. We need to be able to make changes to our forecasting tools as required. And we need to know that the business is not tied into relying on consultants to update our systems, with all the costs that would entail.
“The beauty of IBM Planning Analytics is that it is relatively easy to learn and you don’t need to be an IT expert to build tools with it.
“Within just six months of implementing IBM Planning Analytics, we had built a comprehensive planning tool to help us forecast student numbers, staffing costs, and CAPEX. The solution also gives us an easy way to import and export data easily between IBM Planning Analytics and our Agresso accounting system, which saves significant amounts of time.”
By choosing the cloud deployment option for IBM Planning Analytics, LSBU doesn’t have to worry about installing, maintaining or upgrading the software. This helps to reduce total cost of ownership and increase flexibility.
“Our IT department recommended that we adopt the IBM solution as a cloud service,” explains Keith Would. “It means that our team can work with IBM directly, and it reduces maintenance workload for our internal IT team. Throughout the implementation process and beyond, support from IBM has been good and they always quickly address our queries.”
To help the financial planning team transfer data between different systems more easily, LSBU also utilizes the IBM Planning Analytics for Microsoft Excel extension—enabling it to load budgets and forecasts from the IBM platform into its accounting solution seamlessly.