Tambellini Takeaways: 2022 Syntellis Summit

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Top of Mind: Tambellini Takeaways 2022 Syntellis Summit
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Syntellis Performance Solutions offers financial planning solutions across several verticals, including healthcare, financial institutions, and higher education. The company held its annual Syntellis Summit in mid-May 2022. An entirely virtual event, Summit 2022 included several panels for higher education users.

As higher education institutions face funding challenges and enrollment pressures, financial planning and the tools that assist in the process remain a core focus for administrators. Several key takeaways emerged over the course of the Syntellis event:

Greater Focus on Long-Range Planning

While some institutions have created long-range financial planning processes over the past decade, many lack the staffing, expertise, or toolsets to create and execute these processes in a repeatable way. COVID-19 accelerated the need for institutions to have a more comprehensive and agile financial outlook. Additionally, the pandemic highlighted the necessity of programmatic or initiative-based long-range planning. Institutions need deep and broad analysis and visual representations of long-range financial health and expectations in order to pivot quickly.

Several sessions from the Summit highlighted this increasing focus on long-range planning, and a few standard practices surfaced, including

  • Creating a variety of long-range plans, including plans for three-, five-, and 10-year horizons
  • Using institutional financial statements as the foundation for long-range planning
  • Utilizing a current-state long-range plan and an initiative/programmatic long-range plan to compare outcomes against goals
  • Collaborating with non-finance and business teams to include multiple perspectives in the planning process

Institutional practitioners also emphasized the need for specialized technology to support this process. Read more about considerations for leadership when selecting a budget and planning tool here.

Building on Best Practices

One of the core components of industry conferences is the opportunity to share, learn, and build upon best practice knowledge and application. This year’s Summit highlighted several best practices institutions should consider as they mature financial planning processes:

  • Integrated planning. For many institutions, financial planning in functional units is siloed. Financial plans or budgets are created in a vacuum, without input from outside departments. Examples include capital budget planning or grant planning. Institutions should break down these silos and integrate their planning processes in order to develop the most robust financial plans and budgets. Though difficult and complex, this inclusion allows for insight into all university financial functions rather than a piecemeal picture.
  • Starting points. As institutions move away from traditional financial planning using only spreadsheets, they typically begin with budget processes. This can provide the quickest and most significant impact. Starting with budgeting is also a strategic way to introduce new technology to campus users; they can learn a new tool without also learning extensive new processes. As campuses move past budget transformation, their toolsets must also grow. The next logical steps are analyzing budget to actual, planning revenue, or tracking commitments with the toolset.
  • Mature integrations. As institutions create more robust financial plans and reports, more integration between the financial planning system and other campus platforms is necessary to improve accuracy and efficiency. Generally, institutions begin with finance, HCM, and student system integrations and later include advancement platforms, grants management, and capital budgets and planning.

Data Is Key

Financial planning tools are embracing robust data analytics and reporting functions to take full advantage of the data being consolidated in one place. During the Summit, Syntellis highlighted Axiom’s reporting capabilities. It is worth noting that Axiom’s reporting and analytics functionality, referred to as Axiom Intelligence, is grouped into three core types:

  • Visualization reporting. These functions focus heavily on creating visualizations for specific insights. Based on pre-configured views, these reports are helpful for primary users, senior leadership, executive leadership, and boards/governing bodies.
  • Web reporting. Web reporting functions are targeted toward system administrators and primary users. Users can utilize preconfigured queries and standard reports and create ad hoc reports.
  • Spreadsheet reporting. These functions allow users to utilize a full spreadsheet calculation engine. Spreadsheet reporting is primarily targeted at advanced system administrators and system users.

These three core function groups highlight the diverse reporting needs of higher education financial planning. Providing a diverse set of tools such as these allows institutions to offer user-friendly financial planning tools by role and support complex reporting needs for unique users and situations.

As evidenced in the Summit sessions, higher education institutions continue to progress in their understanding of and ability to use modern financial planning tools to better align institutional strategy to the increasingly complex environment in which they must operate. Vendors in the space, such as Syntellis, continue to focus on helping institutions meet those complex goals.

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Tambellini Group
The Tambellini Group is the leading independent technology research and advisory firm dedicated exclusively to higher education. Tambellini Group is a trusted market advisor who helps bring credible resources and strategic advising to IT leaders through direct interaction with the top industry analysts and market-leading research.

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