Financial Management for K-12: Should you move to an ERP System?

Budget management and reporting are a significant challenge for K-12 school districts as they deal with disparate systems and limited resources. Working with poorly integrated systems makes it difficult to report on the financial health of your school district. If you can't tell where resources are allocated, it would be difficult to justify future funding requirements. And the cycle continues.

To avoid this and pivot the organization to success, K-12s must remove disparate systems and opt for integrated enterprise software. Financial management functionality that connects funding to operations can improve organizational oversight and reduce the need for manual paperwork. The result is better data insight and visibility, which leaders need to make more informed decisions.

Benefits of Integration

First, let’s dive into the benefits of integrating financial management and how it can aid K-12s in reaching their highest potential. Integrating finance with business systems such as human resources (HR), payroll, and employee scheduling is known as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

Understanding these benefits will help manage expectations and set the main priorities of a potential move to an ERP system.

  1. Streamlined Communication and Process: Integrated financial management can help staff coordinate their processes, provide equal access points to data and data critical to their work functions, mitigate errors, and better manage financials and procurement. With better communication comes higher productivity and performance of both teams and individuals.
  2. Cost Effectiveness: An ERP software system can help staff focus on more productive and analytical work rather than monotonous and time-consuming administrative tasks. Spend less time reconciling data, manually extracting, manipulating, and combining data for reporting as everything is centralized. K-12s can do away with hiring administrative people to do menial tasks and instead offer work positions that can present more growth opportunities.
  3. Security: IT directors and administrators can rely on ERP software to provide data security and compliance, so they focus on more strategic tasks rather than maintenance-type work such as backups, security audits, performance tuning, patch management and others.
Benefits of Integration

What to consider before implementing ERP

While the benefits of ERP software might be clear, some organizations struggle to realize the value because they choose the wrong software or skip the required pre-work. Let's look at some areas for K-12s to consider with integration and adopting a more robust solution, such as an ERP system.

Auditing Business Systems

It can be challenging to run a K-12 school district due to public demands, including parents, students, the ministry, boards, politicians, businesses, and more. They must demonstrate fiscal responsibility and that the money spent impacts the delivery of educational services and improves student outcomes. It is essential to track, complete and ensure the integrity of all data to help oversee funds spent and the impact it has. 

However, this is a struggle for K-12s, as they often deal with outdated software that doesn’t integrate well with other systems. Budget constraints usually mean schools are using software that reached the end of their life decades ago, resulting in staff finding solutions independently. 80% of employees admit to using SaaS applications not approved by IT. Using disparate systems results in a lot of wasted time and effort trying to collate data across systems. Often, it is hard to trust the data as the source is unknown.

Auditing all business systems in place is vital in building a use case for an ERP system. Informing stakeholders that it can help streamline technology and ensure that decision-makers have access to one single source of truth is an essential step in getting buy-in.

Organizing Data

Some of the biggest challenges of K-12s involve reconciling conflicting data, managing data across multiple systems, and manually extracting, manipulating, and combining data for reports. Collating, organizing, and presenting data in a digestible format is a significant advantage of using an ERP system.

This can happen with a few clicks as all of the data is already centralized. Budgets, expenses, funding, payroll and timesheets are accessible in real-time to the management and leadership team.

For organizations that have not yet adopted an ERP system, organizing and labelling all data and its current location will help ensure that it can be easily accessible and migrated to an ERP system in the future.

Getting Organizational Buy-In

It can be challenging for K-12s to get buy-in for technology because it isn’t as flashy as a new football field. School administrators must demonstrate that funding a new system will positively impact student achievement. 

A digital transformation study found the top two reasons technology adoption faces resistance are: 1) the change is seen as a cost center, and 2) the data to prove ROI is hard to come by. 

To make data-driven decisions about technology, K-12s should calculate the “total cost of ownership” of their existing solution versus an ERP system. Including the cost of the technology, IT services to support it, the cost associated with security risks, and indirect labour of using the technology. For example, when there is a lack of integration between finance and HR, there is a (usually unaccounted) cost associated with managing the chart of accounts coding in both systems, resulting in errors and duplication of effort. 

In the study mentioned above, 26% of organizations faced change resistance from their employees. If administrators and teachers are used to their financial management tools - however inefficient and disconnected - there can be pushback.One way to solve this problem is using an ERP system that integrates with their existing technology stack.

Sparkrock 365 is powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, which means that staff can continue to work within their familiar Microsoft applications (i.e. Outlook, Teams, Word, Excel etc.) while leveraging the benefits of the new ERP. 

Sparkrock 365 powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central

Getting all applications on the same technology stack is usually recommended for ease of use. If the organization is already using other Microsoft products, adopting Sparkrock 365 ERP will be less work.

Planning for the Future

K-12s must also assess whether the technology will adapt and scale for future needs. Many organizations focus only on features and functionality that meet their current needs. However, the most critical consideration for an ERP is the underlying technology.

SaaS products often release several new features a year to meet the growing demands of the industry. Functionality and system capabilities will continue growing even if they’re unavailable today. Another important consideration is whether there is enough investment in interoperability, security, and privacy compliance. Focusing on this foundation ensures that the K-12 organization won’t put their organization at risk and can continue to use their ERP system for many years to come.

To help plan your next technology investment, read the in-depth guide to our product, Sparkrock 365. Let us take you through the benefits of integrating financial management with HR, payroll, and scheduling and the key features we've built to help K-12s thrive.

Are you ready to spark change?

With Sparkrock 365, you'll have the tools to manage your finances and workforce more efficiently so you can focus on what you do best. Go from paper-based processes to intelligent online workflows, and access the data you need to make a real difference in your community.
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