Enhancing Financial Transparency and Trust through Integrated Resource Planning

6:08 pm
September 5, 2023

Athabasca University (AU), known as Canada’s Open University, has embarked on a mission to improve access and equality in higher education. To support this mission, AU developed their “Imagine” Strategy and identified the need for a collaborative integrated planning process. However, the lack of transparency and access to timely information hindered decision-making and trust among faculty members and department heads. To address these challenges, AU partnered with ActionKPI, a Performance Management Consultancy specializing in integrated resource planning, to implement IBM Planning Analytics (PA) and transform the financial reporting, budgeting, and forecasting processes.

Challenges Faced

  • Lack of transparency: The data for financial reporting was scattered across different platforms, leading to difficulties in accessing relevant information and understanding variances.
  • Manual and siloed budgeting: The budgeting process relied on an outdated system that was disconnected from the main ERP system, resulting in manual uploads and a lack of integration.
  • Limited access to data: Certain data, such as HR and payroll information, was difficult to access, hindering financial analysis and decision-making.

Before implementing IBM Planning Analytics, budget owners struggled to access their budget information and had to rely on specific individuals for explanations due to siloed data. The budgeting process was complex and time-consuming due to manual uploads and a lack of integration between systems. Additionally, limited access to HR and payroll data prevented accurate analysis and forecasting of labor costs.

The Journey Begins: Improved Budget Visibility

After partnering with ActionKPI, AU leveraged IBM Planning Analytics to develop a variance and forecasting model that combined budget and actual data from source systems. This user-friendly solution provided timely access to relevant reporting information, enabling budget owners to actively participate in the budgeting process and make informed decisions. The implementation of IBM Planning Analytics significantly increased transparency, trust, and accountability among budget owners.

The Second Phase: Workforce and HR Integration

Following the initial success, AU focused on integrating HR data to gain a better understanding of labor costs. Through collaboration with ActionKPI, AU developed a workforce variance model within IBM Planning Analytics that incorporated faculty payroll data by position. This provided visibility into labor costs, vacancy cost savings, and headcount, leading to more accurate forecasting and enhanced decision-making.

Integrated Resource Planning: A Holistic Approach

AU aimed to transition from closed-door decision-making to inclusive, integrated resource planning. To achieve this, ActionKPI integrated budget and resource planning processes into IBM Planning Analytics, facilitating collaboration between budget owners and Finance Business Partners (FBPs). The rollout of the FBP program contributed to the success of the integrated planning process by providing personalized finance support and advisory to each department. This holistic approach transformed financial decision-making and fostered collaboration throughout the university.

Conclusion

Athabasca University’s journey towards financial transparency and trust resulted in significant improvements. By implementing IBM Planning Analytics and integrating budget, actuals, and resource planning, AU achieved better visibility, streamlined processes, and increased stakeholder involvement. Moreover, this initiative led to a cultural shift towards data-driven decision-making and collaboration at the university.

FAQ

What is integrated resource planning?

Integrated resource planning is a collaborative approach that combines budgeting, financial reporting, and resource allocation processes. It involves integrating data from different systems to provide a holistic view of an organization’s financial position and facilitate informed decision-making.

How did Athabasca University improve transparency and access to financial information?

Athabasca University partnered with ActionKPI and implemented IBM Planning Analytics. This solution streamlined the financial reporting, budgeting, and forecasting processes, providing budget owners with easy access to relevant information and improving transparency throughout the organization.

What is the Finance Business Partner (FBP) Program?

The Finance Business Partner (FBP) Program focuses on transforming finance roles into advisors to the business, rather than just compilers and producers of reports. FBPs collaborate with faculty members and department heads on financial/business plans, providing personalized finance support and advisory to improve financial decision-making.

How did integrating HR data enhance decision-making?

By integrating HR data into IBM Planning Analytics, Athabasca University gained a better understanding of labor costs and workforce needs. This allowed faculty members and departments to revise their FTE plans and subsequent labor costs, leading to more accurate forecasting and increased agility in decision-making.

What were the benefits of the integrated resource planning approach?

The integrated resource planning approach implemented by Athabasca University resulted in improved financial visibility, streamlined processes, and increased stakeholder involvement. It fostered collaboration, transparency, and data-driven decision-making throughout the university, leading to better forecasting accuracy and budget management.


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