Organisations are under pressure to gain efficiencies and improve services by using innovative systems that increase financial transparency, simplify reporting, streamline processes, and consolidate information, and according to Michael Nettle, manager of financial systems at the University of South Australia, education institutions are not except from such a requirement.
Previously, paper-based systems ruled the roost at the university and very little automation often resulted in missing documents and a high duplication count.
Reporting directly to the CFO, Nettle's digital vision for the university was welcomed with open arms, and he moved to get the accounts payable process into the "digital world".
Nettle explained to ZDNet that traditionally the university would receive a paper-based invoice from a vendor. It would then be sent through internal mail at the multi-campus university to various people that would be involved in the greater invoicing process.
Eventually, the invoice would need to be coded, approved, and signed off on with a physical signature before it even arrived at accounts payable for processing. The accounts payable team would then have to manually type all of the invoice information before it could actually be paid.
"Not only was it paper-based, we had no transparency, no visibility of where those documents were around the university," Nettle said. "If a vendor called and asked where their invoice was at, we didn't actually know."
The university decided to contact Queensland-based TechnologyOne in 2010 to try their luck at working with the ASX-listed company to develop a product that suited both parties.
"We became an early adopter with TechnologyOne on this process in regards to the development of the technology that allowed them to workflow the electronic information around to users," Nettle explained.
"We were able to actually influence the development of the product early on and they would develop the product and would show us mock-ups to start with about what it would look like, then it got to a point where they were developing the software as a beta release, and we were able to test versions of that and give them feedback on a regular basis."
Nettle considers his team lucky in the sense the university was able to see the feedback they gave come to fruition.
"It was definitely a partnership because TechnologyOne were relying on us to give them client feedback while we were relying on them to deliver the functionality required," he said.
"Once we implemented the process of scanning the document individually into TechnoloyOne Financials, it greatly increased the visibility for us because once it was scanned into the system, we knew exactly where it was and we workflowed that invoice around electronically."
Nettle said the immediate benefits were obvious; having the invoice coded and approved online moved mountains at the university, and all staff involved had greater transparency across the whole process.
"We knew at any one point where an invoice would sit in the workflow and at what stage it was at," he added. "We found on average it was eight copies of an invoice that was being made -- not only was that inefficient, sometimes it caused duplicates in the system."
With the university transacting at least 60,000 invoices a year, Nettle admitted that before the change, the university was not actually 100 percent certain that the person physically signing and approving the invoice was the right person to be doing so.
"We couldn't enforce segregation of duties -- we couldn't tell with the paper-based whether the person coding was also the person approving," he said.
The university piloted the product initially before taking it to the larger university community; it was then rolled out to the non-academic areas of the university before being extended to the entire university.
"The first adopter of the product was our vice chancellor, so we made sure that the vice chancellor was the first person to use it and to give his feedback. He gave it a glowing endorsement which we then used to phase it around the university," Nettle said.
They now have 900 users of TechnologyOne Financials across all of the university's campuses.
The University of South Australia has been a user of TechnologyOne since 1996, when it started using the firm's accounting package.
"We know the development work they've done ... to us it was a bit of a no-brainer to use TechnologyOne in the development of the product," Nettle said.
"We did actually look at external systems and external providers that we know other universities use, but we felt that TechnologyOne could deliver us the innovative products that we needed to deliver this solution."
It's not just the university's accounts payable and invoicing procedures that are being automated; Nettle has already begun the process to automate the approval and creation of journals and also with purchase orders and documenting goods received.
"One other project around research accounting, that is something that we're transitioning as well, it will mean that researchers, heads of schools, and our pro vice chancellors will be able to see data or reports and dashboards related to their research projects," Nettle said. "That will deliver functionality that really hasn't existed in the past."
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources signed a AU$6.2 million deal in September with TechnologyOne to provide an end-to-end enterprise system that the company said will underpin the entire department.
TechnologyOne recently signed up the federal Department of Treasury and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with both departments implementing TechnologyOne's enterprise software-as-a-service solution in a shared services arrangement, which is expected to eventually include upwards of 25 government departments.
Under the AU$5.8 million deal with Treasury, TechnologyOne will take responsibility for running the software, which replaces the ageing SAP software the department previously had in place.
TechnologyOne also recently announced it had inked a 10-year contract, worth AU$40 million, to supply TAFE Queensland with its student management solution.