New Oracle cloud solution helps ADU integrate budget analysis and execution

Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service enables Abu Dhabi University to meet the goals of its five-year strategic plan

Tags: Abu Dhabi University (www.adu.ac.ae/en)Cloud computingOracle Corporation
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New Oracle cloud solution helps ADU integrate budget analysis and execution Mousa: "We are using this implementation as a test case for cloud with an eye on potentially moving our ERP to the cloud in the future."
By  David Ndichu Published  August 15, 2018

Until recently, Abu Dhabi University (ADU) lacked an integrated system for budget analysis and execution, relying exclusively on Excel sheets.

In 2014, the university began looking for an enterprise performance management (EPM) solution to improve the core process of planning and forecasting. The requirement was to implement an end-to-end system capable of handling higher education budgeting focused on revenue, human capital, scholarship, operating expenses, capital expenditure, and budget execution.

ADU was established in 2003 to provide undergraduate and postgraduate programs in a wide range of studies. ADU adheres to five-year strategic plans aimed at providing quality education and applied research that drive economic and social development in the region. The mission is to produce career-oriented graduates aligned with regional and global needs through teaching, operational excellence, and financial growth.

Sherif Mousa, director of finance at ADU highlights the challenges of operating in a manual-based environment.

The budgeting process in higher education is complicated, Mousa notes, especially with the level of detail required by a university of ADU’s stature. “It was part of a strategic decision to deploy an automated solution to streamline the budgeting process and to help our users by providing different scenarios in the budget cycle, visualising the results of such scenarios and the implications of planning for the year as well five year forecasts as part of our strategic goals,” says Mousa.

After a procurement process, ADU settled on Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service, a cloud solution designed around enabling organisations quickly adopt planning and budgeting applications with no CAPEX infrastructure investments, drive functionality across lines of businesses in the enterprise with flexible and customisable deployment options.

The selection process at ADU follows a laid-down and established procurement procedure, says Mousa. “The first thing we did was to identify precisely what we were looking for before evaluating the products on offer. The solution we required had to have full integration with our ERP and as well as PeopleSoft.” PeopleSoft Campus Solutions (CS) is an Oracle student information system for colleges and universities.

All project managers (45 in total) are involved in the budget process at ADU, Mousa says. This list includes all deans, department heads and senior management as well as the executive budget committee and the capital budget committee. All these were involved in the planning stage of the deployment, including answering requests, putting in the specifications, etc.

After agreeing on the product, the team then followed up by sending requests for proposals from different companies, eventually receiving proposals from five companies. “We requested for technical and financial bids separately. The technical bids were opened first as we had decided to give more weight to the technical specs (60%) than the financial aspects (40%) to get the best results out of the system,” Mousa explains. The final shortlist consisted of two companies, with Oracle winning at the end though their partner Azdan.

Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service stood out based on its intuitive, role-based web and MS Office interfaces. It also offers flexible driver-based ‘what if’ modelling capabilities as well as the automated integration from Oracle and other ERP systems.

Business need

With Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service, ADU has been able to meet the goals of its Five-Year Strategic Plan with forecasting accuracy and optimised budget execution.

As a cloud service, offered through Oracle Cloud, the solution requires no hardware or IT investments. Secondly, the solution is customisable and adaptable to various lines of business. Like in the case of ADU, it enables organisations to migrate from disconnected planning tools and spreadsheets.

The Oracle Cloud offers self-service business applications delivered on an integrated platform with tools to scale and create new services. With predictable subscription pricing, the cloud delivers better value than on-premise applications.

The university’s ERP solution is currently hosted on-premise and Oracle Hyperion, part of the Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service, was the first module deployed as a cloud service by ADU, Mousa explains.

Mousa admits to some teething problems when the solution went live in November of last year. “Any deployment of this nature will have its share of challenges. For one, introducing the new system to the management as well as educating end users was a challenge especially because everyone was used to using Excel sheets, as well as the fact that most are not directly involved in finance,” he adds.

Business benefits

Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service includes integration capabilities that enable automated data imports from and extracts to on-premise or cloud-based applications. The solution is integrated out of box with Oracle ERP Cloud Service to facilitate closed-loop processes for planning, budgeting, transacting, and measuring results. The service also provides open interface REST-based web services that can be used to customise connections with any third party source or target system. “We figured out at the very beginning that Hyperion is the most flexible product especially based on its simple integration with the ERP system. The system also offers us a lot of flexibility and allows us to build on it in the future,” Mousa explains.  

ADU wanted to move away from manual Excel-based processes. Still, Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service offers easy integration with Microsoft Office tools such as Microsoft Outlook, Excel, Word and PowerPoint.

Users can still use Excel as their modelling environment for adding custom members on the fly and slicing and dicing data using Excel-based ad-hoc. Users can also create data grids using Microsoft Excel functionality like Excel formulas and formats. Common planning actions, such as spreading and allocation, are available within planning data grids rendered within Microsoft Excel.

Additionally, users can directly integrate data from Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service into Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft Word to create reports. This allows the creation of customised documents and presentations, and users can automatically refresh the report when the underlying data changes.

Planning and budgeting in most organisations tend to collaborate typically using spreadsheets being exchanged between and within operations, lines of business, and finance teams.

The solution facilitates both enterprise-level and departmental-level planning process by providing both Excel-based and web-based Excel-like modelling, planning and approval capabilities within one collaborative scalable solution. Sales, operational and strategic plans can be linked to long-term and near-term financial plans.

Most organisations are moving to embrace mobility and demanding web-like simplicity in their applications. The Oracle solution uses modern html5- based browser interface to enable business users to easily view plans and reports on the web or on their mobile devices. The interface’s capabilities are kept consistent with other Oracle Cloud Solutions to ensure a similar look and feel.

Reports and dashboards that display plan, forecast and actual data can be created quickly and any change made to the plans in Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service is instantaneously reflected in the content of the reports and dashboards.

This was the first time ADU chose to deploy a cloud solution.  Mousa says although the organisation had no prior experience with cloud enterprise applications, it is imperative to take some risks in business. “The cloud modules we have deployed have not affected our business operations. We are using this implementation as a test case for cloud with an eye on potentially moving our ERP to the cloud in the future,” he adds.

The Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service incorporates a number of cloud-specific features to make it easy to get users up and running quicker. These include built-in capabilities such as multi-currency translations, time series spreading based on calendar definition, a large amount of online help and tutorials, as well as best practice templates and guides. To simplify administration, the solution includes diagnostics and governors that assist with monitoring and troubleshooting an application.

“The deployment has gone smoothly so far, and we are giving it another one or two years for testing and assessment as well as measuring return on investment. After that we will decide we need to shift part or all of the ERP modules onto the cloud,” Mousa says.

Companies today are faced with a rapidly changing business environment. Demand is volatile, costs fluctuate and the supplier landscape is constantly changing. A key requirement to stay ahead of the competition is to understand this volatility and model for these financial and operational changes quickly based on fast-changing assumptions.

Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service provides modelling and predictive analytical capabilities that allow users to create multiple what-if versions and slice and dice data based on various what if assumptions. The solution also offers a rolling forecast wizard which makes it simple to implement a drive- based rolling forecast process in which the forecasting time horizon rolls forwards across years with the passage of time.

This is handy in an organisation such as Abu Dhabi University which continues to expand. “We are opening a new campus soon. We, therefore, require to effectively plan for this including setting strategic goals for the campus. Equally important, we need to have a solution which can be amended later on if need be. This is the flexibility that we required and which Hyperion delivered compared to other systems,” says Mousa.

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