The HESS Consortium Higher Education Technology Collective
There are major changes in the national higher education landscape coming very soon related to enrollment, demographics and cultural. Private higher education institutions are looking at flat or decreasing net revenues over the coming years. With the demographic changes ahead, seriously impacting our institutions now that will be hitting hardest in 2026 and years after, private institutions are trying to find ways to collaborate with other institutions to save money and staff time.
We currently have 29 private, non-profit HESS Consortium institutions interested in creating and participating in a "shared ERP services operation." As our planning process develops will be seeking partners in this feasibility study as well as solutions selection. Another major goal for our group is finding a grant funding partner that can help our private colleges and universities develop and adopt this new paradigm in ERP operations nationally.
Many smaller institutions are desperately looking for ways to share services, expertise and staff resources to lower technology costs, specifically in their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. As a former CIO in higher education and a leader with the HESS and E&I organizations, I believe that it is time to discuss a new concept, centered on shared technology operations.
This could be done in several different forms but all of these should be focused on information technology systems, operations and resource sharing to help institutions interested in joining an effort to develop an innovative and financially sustainable approach to ERP operations for our small and mid-sized private institutions.
We know that this model will not be possible for every institution, but we want to give energy to this concept if there are HESS institutions interested in partnering together in this way.
Network of Staff and Resource Sharing
The primary question that this document will ask is “is it possible for a group of HESS institutions to work together to move to a consolidated and “shared” cloud-based, cloud-native ERP solution to find economies of scale in our technology operations. Some of these economies of scale include:
- Group review and selection of one (or more) of our contract partners as a cohort group partner
- Cohort “buy” of an ERP cloud-native solution and all necessary software tools
- Cohort “buy” of an ERP consulting and project management services
- Cohort sharing of implementation resources for a new system
- Cohort shared governance on system and business processes, practices and standards
- Cohort sharing of staff expertise, skills and possibly, time for DBA, programming and support services
- Cohort future development of shared operations in technology, business and other services
Illustration 1: Resource and Staff Sharing
This is a complex project concept and, in reading this, you may be thinking that the idea isn’t feasible. Keep in mind that these types of shared services have been done for decades. Even though these other ERP shared services projects have been centered around shared datacenter installations with staff and hardware/facilities overhead, times have changed. Now that systems and operations are provided by many solution providers in the cloud and communications via web conferencing are quick and easy, there is little need for a shared facility with staff, servers and equipment overhead to operate a shared system outside the vendors’ services. In concept, staffing and expertise in colleges and universities inside a cohort could do the work necessary to implement, manage, enhance and support systems for multiple institutions. Staff resources could be shared between institutions while some institutions could reallocate staff to customer-facing functions. Some institutions, in theory, could eliminate or reduce positions connected with ERP operations and lower their overhead costs.
A COMMON STRUCTURAL FRAMEWORK MODEL
The operational model is centered around the "Common Structural Framework Model" that includes 1.) Core Database and Reporting platform, 2.) Student Information System and Portal, 3.) Finance/Accounting, 4.) Human Resources and 5.) Student Financial Aid (see illustration 2). As we develop the model, it could include other software needs such as housing, LMS and CRM.
Illustration 2: Common Structural Framework
This concept cost model would include 1.) implementation, installation, and migration costs, 2.) support and training costs, 3.) on-going maintenance and licensing costs and 4.) enhancement and upgrade costs. All servers, systems and storage would be provided through the solution provider or through 3rd party cloud services eliminating the need for on-campus equipment and storage necessary for the ERP itself.
General questions for exploration in how a cohort might work together in this cost model would include:
- What services and at what level of support would an institution need for implementation
- What could be shared between institutions within the cohort model on implementation costs - reports, system configurations, customizations (by shared standards on business practices), training resources, etc.)
- Would the system be multi-instance or single tenant-based? How closely could the business practices of institutions be defined to share tenancy? What would have to be unique to institutional operations?
- Which institutions could/would be able to share their DBA, programmers, training and support resources with the other cohort members and how would this affect those institutions’ costs for the overall shared service?
After the core common structural framework is built for one model institution, the model could be economically replicated in the cloud for other institutions (see Figure 3 below). All institutional data would be segmented and separated within database tables and stores, eliminating any possibility of co-mingling student, financial and human resources information with other institutions. All confidential data would be kept confidential to its institutional owner although shared database administrators (DBA) may require their having access to institutions’ data for operational, reporting and auditing purchases. Because of this, all employee time that is shared by the cohort group would sign a legal non-disclosure agreement with strict penalties for violations of the shared privacy and confidentiality agreement.
STANDARDIZATION AND REPLICATION OF THE COMMON STRUCTURAL FRAMEWORK & BUSINESS PROCESSES / WORKFLOWS
The question of how costs could be shared among institutions within a cohort can be approached by answering the following questions within the cohort agreement:
- General costs of sharing a solution provider, cloud services, backup/recovery/redundancy, report writing, training collaboration and other purchased services could be found by a cohort group buy and would result in a substantial savings.
- Shared staffing costs would be evaluated based on the needs of the institution and the services an institution would provide to the cohort.
EXAMPLE: A cohort institution providing a 25% FTE staff position for DBA services might pay relatively less in collective services than an institution providing no FTE staff time to the cohort. Other types of subsequent services would be valued likewise based on current CUPA salary data.
Illustration 3: Replication of the Common Framework Model
Business practices are the crucial key in this process as it may require some institutions to change or amend their internal business practices, schedules, standards and policies to work with a cohort group of other, like-minded institutions. Functional aspects of such changes could touch on operational items such as:
- Accounting systems, processes and practices
- Human resources processes and practices
- Student records processes, reporting, schedules and practices
- Audit services, processes, reporting and practices
- Data-privacy processes, reporting and practices
- System support processes, reporting and practices
- Development and adherence to shared business practices and shared governance
- Development of a steering committee and functional area committees for all operational areas including 1.) information technology, 2.) financial services, 3.) human resources, 4.) Academic Affairs / Registrar and 5.) student financial aid.
These items are at the heart of college and university operations and are necessary areas for management and normalization of business processes and practices using a shared system. This decision process would be done as a collective group of chief financial officers, chief information officers, human resources leadership, registrars and other key managers and staff. Guided by leaders and selected solutions provider(s), these key leadership groups would outline a straightforward set of standards for a shared policies and procedures document to govern the cohort’s activities and partnership. Once those standards are set, institutions would follow these standards and practices to operate a shared system and manage necessary operational workflows for their organizations.
Using this as a concept discussion starter, the initial questions include:
- How many institutions are interested in this model?
- How many institutions are prepared to discuss this model internally at their institutions?
- What are the possible “show-stoppers” in getting your institution involved in these discussions?
- What would a target return on investment (ROI) look like for your institution? How much time would an ROI model need to take?
If you are a HESS Consortium member institution and interested in joining the HESS Collective Shared ERP Services Initiative, please click here to fill out the questionaire and application form.
If you have any questions about this whitepaper and the information contained here, please contact Keith Fowlkes at firstname.lastname@example.org.