Top tips for choosing the right school finance system

Untitled design 19 | Top tips for choosing the right school finance system
By Toby Lester | 12th February 2019 | 9 min read

Financial management systems (FMS) are notably a key investment for schools, especially in 2019 where reporting and intelligence is high on the agenda. We are often approached by schools and academies who have either outgrown their current system or are thinking about their future as an institution and how improvements can be made. With this in mind, we’re here to give you our top tips on making the important decision of which school finance system is right for you.

So where should you start?

1. Review your finance function

To begin with, you should review how your finance function currently works. This includes looking at processes and systems that are currently in place – which work, which don’t, and what needs improving. You should also consider the distribution of your resource as part of this – where is your resource most focused and what tasks could use more attention? What is likely to come to light carrying out this review is where there are bottlenecks in your current processes and where continuous errors are made.  This first step enables you to identify specific problems and subsequently find the solution for them.

2. Start with the must-haves, first and foremost

To combat the issues you have identified above, you should make a list of must-haves to ensure your new system encompasses these needs, then as you discover other tools which could prove useful, add them.

Essential requirements for most academies and MATs include being able to produce in-depth reports and automation of manual processes. Having these two needs on your list as necessary requirements from your new systems enables you to reduce, and potentially eliminate, future problems from the start.

Technology these days often encompasses functionality where pre-defined reports can be created, with the required data automatically feeding into the system, enabling this process to happen quickly and seamlessly. Two other important elements you should consider as must-haves are real-time data syncing and regulatory compliancy. When your data automatically updates in real-time, you can be confident that all figures in the system are accurate and reports being generated using these figures are reliable. This paired with a system which is continually checking and updating sector-specific legislative requirements ensures you stay on top of your school’s compliancy.

3. What’s ideal for Education?

With many different options available in the market, you will be faced with choosing a system tailored for your sector, or generic financial management software which can be used by a range of industries. You must consider what is best for your academy or trust, and whether things that may not be an issue now, could become problematic without certain functionality in the future. By choosing software which understands the Education sector and its requirements, you can alleviate many pressures within your finance function. This often focuses around reporting and ensuring any current and potential future reporting requirements from the EFA are adhered to, as well as Government and Statutory reporting. This saves you large amounts of time and is one less thing to worry about when ensuring you’re up to date on compliancy with these requirements.

4. Go Cloud

A point that should be carefully considered on its own is the use of a Cloud-based system. If you are a multi-academy trust with academies across different locations, you can reap the benefits of Cloud technology. With a system that is Cloud-based, all data is stored in one place and is highly secure, as well as being fully supported and accessible from any location. This results in hardware and maintenance fees being kept to a minimum as it’s simply not required on the same scale as traditional storage methods. What’s more, server and in-house IT support is no longer needed due to the Cloud platform being fully supported by its provider, giving you peace of mind.

5. Invest for the future

As a large investment it’s important you are not committing to something which will not meet all your future needs. Being under strict budgets may mean you have a maximum amount your school can afford to spend on a new system, however by choosing an option which is cheaper and seems like a better deal, it may leave you paying double in the long run. Alternatively, you may find yourself being told you need extra features which you previously hadn’t considered. Ensure the functionality is exactly what you had initially identified and confirm the total price you’ve been quoted covers this, without extra charges being incurred at a later date.

IRIS Financials encompasses all the functionality and features discussed above, bringing your reporting, analysis and security needs into one place. Find out more about our Education-specific financial management software today.