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Building a connected back office in universities

Building a connected back office in universities

When a university has a streamlined approach to its HR, finance, payroll, IT services, and other back operations, it has a better chance of being continually responsive and proactive in today’s era of disruption.

Julian Edwards

Partner, Head of Solutions

KPMG Australia


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Like all organisations, the ‘back office’ of a university serves to ensure smooth operations such as HR, finance, payroll and IT. However, as with the ‘front’ and ‘middle ’ offices, the back office is also facing multiple drivers of change.

These disruptors include the need for greater speed and efficiencies in a fast-paced environment, shifts towards being a digitally savvy workforce of the future, pivots in government funding and priorities, increasing customer demands, pressures on costs, and immense domestic and international competition.

Universities nationally are suffering from inefficient processes and productivity challenges, often stemming from legacy ways of working, policies, and restrictive and outdated technology. The back office can face a lot of paperwork, duplication, and manual steps. For example, some universities still use carbon copy contracts for casual staff.

As a result, universities all across Australia face a broad and urgent need for back office transformation – aligned to the overall university’s strategy, and enabled by the right technology.

An appetite for change

The good news is that many universities are getting on the front foot of this need, looking to reignite their back office operations either independently or as part of a whole-of-organisational transformation including their front and middle operations.

For example, about a third of universities in Australia are looking to fix their HR systems, and that could vary from process improvement to full-scale transformation.

Many are seeking to improve their finance systems, often due to their existing system no longer meeting regulatory requirements. Others are looking at how to build a workforce of the future, which is digitally enabled, efficient, agile, productive and engaged.

Empowering the back office

Many universities have not undertaken a back office transformation project before, so the level of understanding of how to drive change, and take people on the journey, can be low.

KPMG’s Powered Enterprise approach is designed to help universities to smooth out the experience. We work with universities to transform back office operating models, ensuring they are aligned to the overall business strategy and supported by the right enabling technology.

Our approach takes a ‘connected enterprise’ view, where we look at back office systems as part of an overall integrated university. Instead of just think about improving, for example, HR or finance systems, how can we improve the whole experience?

We implement the back office strategy with Workday cloud technology. This means we can pre-configure a lot of processes, so the university staff can hit the ground running using it, understand how it works and learn how to self-sufficiently build on the foundation as their business needs change.

We support our strategy with sound change management – bringing in our people and change expertise to ensure stakeholders understand the plan and are in agreement before moving forward with implementations.

Outcomes of change

When universities engage our Powered Enterprise approach to establish a connected back office, it is not a ‘set and forget’ program, but one of agility and continual improvement. This encourages an culture in which transformation is ‘business as usual’ – ideal as universities face continual drivers of change now and into the future.

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