With the publication of Tambellini’s 2020 Financial Management and Human Capital Management Systems US Higher Education Market Share, Trends, and Leaders Report, many institutions can benefit from the in-depth view of the finance and HCM technology selections across the higher education landscape. However, community colleges can draw specific insights from the report’s information and help guide their technology strategies moving forward.
While not mutually exclusive to community colleges, let’s look at some trends that may be affecting this segment of the market and their technology selections.
Collaboration and Consolidation
As budgets constrict and institutions look for ways to gain additional value, more are collaborating around their strategic technology decisions. Opportunities to simplify the enterprise landscape are happening at both the institution and system levels. And there are efforts across unrelated institutions as well, with likely new models arising due to the pandemic.
Institutions are identifying ways to support their core administrative functionality and add-on technology to address their unique needs. At a public community college, the guidelines for finance and HCM are often driven by the state, and consolidation may be necessary as a cost-cutting measure. In some instances, community colleges are combined with other types of institutions and state agencies to simplify administrative systems and consolidation across a state.
Regardless of the view, all institutions are trying to answer the question “how can we do more with less” by considering how to simplify their technology environments, eliminate duplicative products, and potentially consolidate ERP systems, to maximize resources for student learning and engagement.
ERP Vendor Platform or Best of Breed
Many types of institutions wrestle with the decision of a single vendor platform for their ERP or a best-of-breed strategy. Community colleges have unique challenges around this decision due to their often-limited resources and funding, as well as the breadth of their diverse program offerings.
- The advantages of vendor platforms include the management of integrations and delivering new features and functionality, fully tested, and integrated into the platform. The new cloud solutions also help streamline and automate business processes across the organization and the vendor platform. The management and coordination of the ongoing enhancements saves functional and IT departments time and eliminates significant testing that would be required for a best-of-breed approach. Some vendors also provide integration solutions for common third-party systems, giving the institution the ability to integrate third-party solutions with out-of-the box functionality. With the right data strategy in place, a vendor platform approach typically makes it easier to manage an ongoing enterprise environment minimal support.
- The challenges with vendor platforms are that some areas of the platform may be weaker than others, leaving departments, at times, to settle for a less desirable solution. In these instances, departments may find themselves reliant on the product roadmap timing for the full support they need and desire.
- Best-of-breed advantages focus on the best operational enablement by area, with the cross-collaboration and integration of the enterprise environment being the responsibility of the institution. The best-of-breed strategy allows institutions to create the experience they want and sometimes leave individual business units feeling more satisfied with the selection. Best-of-breed solutions often provide autonomy and an easier decision-making process within institutions or their respective systems.
- Best-of-breed strategies have their challenges. Different environments can fracture the user experience and leave the integration and seamless experiences of constituents up to the institution to create, support, and manage. Vendor management is also an increased burden for the IT team, working with competing versus complimenting vendors.
As higher education continues to measure the impact of COVID-19, community colleges cite an increasing concern with the health, safety, and progress of their students.
- Lower income students are impacted at a higher rate, including risks to hourly workers, and those with positions on the front-line.
- Students enrolled in dual enrollment programs in K-12 are being disrupted with the move to online learning. Enrollment efforts for these programs and the loss of summer camps for middle school students are top of mind for community college leaders.
- Community colleges are tasked with re-thinking delivery as they consider their part-time and transient populations. Many decisions, like the move to pass-fail grading, must be weighed differently due to articulation agreements and transfer credit acceptance at other institutions. In addition, as employers begin to ease back into operation, new needs and skills are yet to be identified in the workforce. Most community colleges will continue their summer programs, likely in an online format, because not doing so will negatively impact their students and their ability to thrive in the marketplace.
What the Future May Hold
While many of us will be operating in new environments, the future will likely increase the need for managed services and consortium type approaches to technology at small institutions. As the new landscape continues to evolve, high-valued human engagement will be required for students who are navigating through a new way to learn, a new way to become certified, and a new way to measure progress. Technology and specifically administrative technology will need to operate effectively, efficiently, preserving human capital and resources to focus on enabling student success.