In continued pursuit of excellence and innovation, Australia’s La Trobe University set out on a mission to achieve a digital transformation and move all its on-premise SAP applications to the cloud to simplify operations, increase productivity, and foster creative thinking. Technology is a competitive advantage in the world of higher education, and this idea has underpinned each strategic move the university has made since its beginning in the mid-1960s. La Trobe chose SAP software to drive these technological initiatives early on, so it was a natural progression to replace its existing on-premise systems with SAP’s cloud offerings.
The first phase of the project launched last year and went live in May 2015, and with that La Trobe became the first global customer to go live with SAP Simple Finance on SAP S/4HANA, hosted on SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud. The move from an on-premise finance system to the cloud-based solution delivered quick results: The university’s financial process is now much faster, access to real-time data leads to swifter decision making, and less busy work allows staff to focus on more useful projects. For example, reports that used to take over a week to compile now can be ready within a few days. Peter Nikoletatos, Executive Director and CIO at La Trobe, explains that the go-live date was May 5th, but the pilot went live six weeks prior. “We went through a remediation period of one full cycle of a month-end period to make sure it would be successful,” he says. “As of May 5th, we were business as usual in finance.”
In addition to SAP Simple Finance, the university deployed components of the SAP Student Lifecycle Management application — a first-of-its-kind implementation in Australia. This application offers an end-to-end view of the complete student experience, from initial inquiry through to graduation and alumni services. La Trobe also went live with SuccessFactors Employee Central. Complementing SuccessFactors Performance Management, which the university deployed in 2013 to support 3,000 staff members, SuccessFactors Employee Central serves as a single system of record for workforce data.
According to Nikoletatos, choosing the right strategic partner, one that will both influence and shape the strategy, is a critical first step when building a technology roadmap. “We went from a very fragmented finance system with over 15 years of customizations, to now being the first global customer to roll out SAP Simple Finance in the cloud in under 20 weeks,” he explains. “We could not have done that without having the right embodiment of a partnership in place.”
During this first step toward a total cloud solution, La Trobe had a number of SAP professionals at its disposal throughout the SAP Simple Finance implementation, including SAP’s active technical support teams. La Trobe also has access to SAP’s centers of excellence, and — because this was the first global deployment of the solution — worked directly with product development teams as well. These engagements were simplified with an appointed service manager in charge of resolving all problems.
When we have reliable financial data to make decisions about which programs we want to increase or which facilities we want to enhance, that brings innovation, mobility, and a much improved landscape than what we have ever had before.
— Peter Nikoletatos, Executive Director and CIO, La Trobe University
SAP Simple Finance Increases Efficiency and “Creates Time”
Primarily a liberal arts and sciences university, La Trobe’s move to SAP Simple Finance on SAP S/4HANA is indicative of its commitment to continued development.
“Our financial position is fundamental to our future,” says Nikoletatos. “When we have reliable financial data to make decisions about which programs we want to increase or which facilities we want to enhance, that brings innovation, mobility, and a much improved landscape than what we have ever had before.”
With SAP Simple Finance, La Trobe’s finance team can gain instant insight to leverage planning, analysis, prediction, and simulation across various processes. Completely in the cloud, SAP Simple Finance also simplifies the university’s entire IT landscape and architecture.
“It’s about being able to have real-time data so that we can make decisions more quickly,” says La Trobe’s Chief Financial Officer Gary Seach.
As with many universities, La Trobe struggled with flexibility, and the staff often felt bogged down with processes. “Quite often, we used those processes to drive a lot of software changes,” explains Nikoletatos. “In other words, we customized software to match our business processes, which we came to realize is the wrong way around.”
Through its partnership with SAP, La Trobe was able to get the SAP Simple Finance implementation up and running quickly through the use of agile tools, and now the university is hosting from Sydney in SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud. “We did not reengineer the software to match our processes. Instead, we determined what the best practices in this environment were and how to adopt them. From day one, it was just taking the reporting and structure out of the box, migrating our data to it, and making it run in that completely new environment,” explains Nikoletatos. “That changed the whole way we’ve done finance. Reports that would take a week or more now take a couple of days. That’s a significant difference.”
He continues, “The speed differentiator is enormous already.” Under the old finance system, 72 customized reports were pushed out each month. The speed and simplification that SAP S/4HANA brings reduced this number to five, returning an entire day of work to the finance administration employees.
Greg Hill, Director of Enterprise Applications at La Trobe, adds that, in addition to the speed factor, SAP Simple Finance leads to ongoing cost savings and an improved user interface, which allows the university to give a better experience to its staff and students.
“We have taken the latency out of the previous way of doing things,” says Nikoletatos. “Latency is real time — real time that translates to hours and days, and time that goes back into the business, to staff who can then use that time to become more effective in enhancing our student experience, working with our researchers, or doing things that change our value proposition in the sector.”
Next Semester’s Syllabus
With an infrastructure supporting 35,000 students and 3,000 employees, the ability to be agile and scale quickly is critical. As such, La Trobe plans to execute a complete cloud solution by the end of 2015, which will include its entire human resource and payroll environments, followed by business intelligence as well as risk and compliance applications.
“We are working on embedding SAP HANA into our curriculum,” says Nikoletatos, “so our graduates are work-ready when they finish their programs for what I think will be an emerging technology in the workspace.”