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La Trobe University Moves Its Finance System to the Cloud

As part of its strategic plan, La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia has moved its finance system to the cloud, while reducing its paper-based processes and providing faster, simpler reports and self-service functionality for staff and researchers.

Re-evaluating the University's Finance System

The university had been using the SAP ERP Central Component (ECC) on-premise system since 1999, including SAP's Financial Accounting and Controlling (FICO) system. Over the 16-year period the university was using the system, it developed a significant number of customizations and workarounds, which ultimately resulted in unnecessary bureaucracy and inefficiencies, according to Peter Nikoletatos, executive director and chief information officer of La Trobe.

Eighteen months ago, the university implemented its "Future-Ready Strategic Plan," which is based on four pillars. Nikoletatos defines the first pillar, called "Brilliant Basics," as "simplifying the end-to-end processes of the everyday life of an end user at La Trobe university." The other three pillars are Student Employability, Student Experience and Research Excellence. As part of the strategic plan, the university consolidated seven faculties down to a two-college model and re-evaluated some of its core systems, including its finance system.

Selecting and Implementing a New Finance System

The university was already heavily invested in the SAP ecosystem, both in terms of experience and architecture, so the administrators wanted to take that investment to the next level while implementing initiatives that would support its strategic plan. "We wanted to choose a solution that would be largely integrated rather than interoperable, and by integrated I meant that it would be seamless engagement with the product and the ecosystem," said Nikoletatos. That decision-making process led the university to select SAP Simple Finance running in the cloud on the SAP HANA in-memory computing platform, making it the first organization to globally deploy SAP Simple Finance in the cloud.

While La Trobe University is located in Melbourne, in southern Australia, the system was hosted 600 miles away in Sydney. The university was concerned about introducing latency issues by switching from an on-premise system to the cloud, but according to Nikoletatos, "the performance is just as quick as if it's on premise, in fact it's actually quicker," and he credits the speed of the HANA platform for that low-latency.

Supporting the Future-Ready Strategic Plan

In support of the "Brilliant Basics" pillar, the university streamlined numerous processes. It reduced the number of coding blocks in its financial system to reflect the consolidation of its seven faculties to a two-college model, which simplified the process of coding expenses and reporting. It also consolidated hundreds of customized reports down to five standard business intelligence (BI) reports. And the university made the decision to use SAP Simple Finance's processes without any customizations or workarounds. "By saying, 'let's use the processes straight out of the box,' we simplified a lot of the ways that we actually use the finance system," said Nikoletatos.

Although the new system did a great job supporting the pillar of Brilliant Basics on many fronts, the pillar started to crumble when it came to reporting. The university's initial implementation of Simple Finance relied on SAP's BusinessObjects Web Intelligence, or Webi for short, as the primary reporting tool. "Webi's a fantastic tool if you like comprehensive, almost like pivot-table-on-steroids reporting that provides a lot of detail," said Nikoletatos. "But for a group of our key researchers, they just wanted a very simple, graphical report which basically said, against their grants or research projects, actual budget variance and forecasts. So we overprovided in the reporting space."

To solve this problem, the university implemented two simplified reporting tools to compliment Webi. One was Lumira, SAP's self-service data visualization tool, which La Trobe staff can access from the Web interface, and the other was Fiori, which staff can access on their mobile device. "We're still interfacing with the same data source, but the presentation layer is enormously different with Lumira and with Fiori," said Nikoletatos. "Lumira is probably best described as a staff portal of key functions, so you have simple point-click to everything, and Fiori gives you the highly mobile, easy to use, quick-information type of interface. With Webi you've got a much more detailed reporting tool. It's great if you want to see full detailed month-end reports, but not a tool that you want to definitely use on a day to day basis."

Future Plans

Going forward, Nikoletatos wants to take greater advantage of the predictive analytics capabilities of the new system. "While I'm happy with where we are today, I still think there's much to do in the more predictive analysis reporting tools," he said. "That's where I think our investment in the HANA suite in the HCI [HANA Cloud Interface] early adoption program is going to draw some really huge dividends for us over the next six to 12 months."

He also plans to do more work in support of the Student Employability and Student Experience pillars of the strategic plan by embedding the SAP HANA database into the university's curriculum. "We think the market in Australia will be quite keen to deploy HANA-based solutions in the next few years," said Nikoletatos. "We've got a strategic partner that's basically helping us embed those technologies to give our students a competitive advantage, particularly our students around engineering and mathematical sciences that come with that kind of thought leadership."

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