In April 2013 Walsall College was the first general Further Education College in the UK to achieve outstanding grade one under the new Ofsted inspection framework, this was followed by an Investors in People Gold Standard Award (2013), Association of Colleges Beacon Award for Leadership and Management (2013) and Times Education Supplement Provider of the Year (2014).
These recent honours have strengthened Walsall Colleges’ reputation as a top tier Further Education College and measures are in place for Walsall College to make the transition into becoming a ‘beyond outstanding’ Ofsted rated college in the near future. This case study focuses on the implementation of IRIS Financials into Walsall College and the process, benefits and future plans for the IRIS Financial Management System explained from the point of view of James Stevenson, Finance Manager at Walsall College.
James started off by commenting on the next step for Walsall College, “Achieving the landmark accolade of ‘Outstanding’ was part of a journey. Similarly, the next phase, achieving ‘beyond outstanding’ is not a static goal but a continuous process that unites all of our staff, students and governors”. This statement is echoed by the emphasis placed by Walsall College to further improve business practice across all key departments, including their finance department.
Time for Change
In order for Walsall College to achieve their future goals, the need for a comprehensive Financial Management System with a broad depth of features was highly significant. The finance department at Walsall College has previously been using QLX and had no intention of renewing the system when their maintenance and service contract was coming to an end. “We found that our previous Financial Management System did not meet our demands in many ways, the system had an out-dated interface and a real lack of reporting options. There were frequent issues with the portal and our experiences with the providers customer service team was below standard; we also experienced a breakdown in communication several times over our service end date” commented James Stevenson.
James went on to say “We required a Financial Management System which would improve efficiencies and save time for the finance team and wider college, we also required a reporting suite with a greater scope than our previous system to enable end users to proficiently control their budgets. Having a system which could automate processes was another essential requirement for us because we wanted a system that could do the work for us and not set us back”.
Once an end date was set, James started the process of identifying potential replacements, he comments, “we were told by our previous supplier that the maintenance and service contracts would come to an end at a fixed point in the future, I knew that we would move onto a new provider and wanted any potential system to cater to a few primary provisions. It was imperative that any new system dramatically improved the efficiencies for our finance users; it needed to reduce the time we spent on manual inputting to allow finance users more time to understand the data. The new system also needed to give end users more power and control over their own budgets”.
The Selection Process
The Finance Team at Walsall College were involved throughout the entire selection process, James wanted the day to day users of the system to have an input into which new system best fitted their needs, therefore a strenuous selection process was put in place to decide which system provider that best suited the requirements of Walsall Colleges’ finance department. Seven organisations were vying to provide the new Financial Management System for Walsall College.
Why IRIS Financials
IRIS Financials had a solution to all of the prerequisites put forward by Walsall College, however it was down to the commitment demonstrated by IRIS towards building a working relationship with Walsall College that set IRIS apart from the other providers. “The ability to work alongside IRIS to find solutions for certain problems we were facing was a huge draw for us, other competitors wanted to dictate to the college, this was a way of working which would not have suited us. IRIS could also transfer seven years of data from QLX, something that the other suppliers could not offer” comments James.
“Getting to know the ins and outs of the system as much as I can is something I am keen to do, especially the maintenance and set-up of the workflow features, it is still early days with the system therefore it hasn’t been used to its full potential yet”.
When asked which element of the IRIS system will best help transform the finance department at Walsall College, James responded by saying “the IRIS system will allow us to be in full control of our own requirements without requesting changes to the system from our supplier”.
Moving forward, making full use of the free time attained by implementing IRIS is a key objective for the finance department at Walsall College, the improvement in efficiencies which the IRIS system generates will offer James and his team a chance to analyse the data taken from the system and apply it towards the wider vision of the college. James concluded by stating “we will be using business intelligence to make sure that our curriculum offer is ahead of the curve, ensuring that our business needs are met. Innovation will be at the heart of our ambitions for growth, and we will continue to build on our recent achievements”.