Why School Business Office Reviews are important

A wise person once said, “You don’t know what you don’t know”… so how can you obtain a shortlist of all the things you don’t know about how your School Business Office is performing?

Precision Management Accounting has been asked to complete many process and system reviews for non-government schools, whereby we assist the School Business Office by identifying inefficiencies and mapping opportunities for system and process improvement in line with industry best practice.

Specialising in the niche field of the Education sector, we have seen lots of different ways of using similar systems... the good, the ordinary and the “let’s not go there”. We also invest a lot of time in professional development to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies, suppliers and schools to learn how they are operating.  We can apply our knowledge to make personalised recommendations on how your Business Office can turn information around faster, with tighter controls, to produce better quality reporting for all areas of your school.

When is a good time to complete a process review?

When a school is growing, shrinking or changing

Your school might have declining enrolments and require less resources in the Business Office. Alternatively, your school might be growing, so scalable Business Operations would mean any increase in student enrolments would not require a direct increase in Business Office resources. Reviews examine how finance and administration tasks and processes can be streamlined to cope with changing organisational needs.

Succession planning for staff

We've seen many instances when staff members retire after working for more than 20 years in the same role, and the person replacing them has a very different skill set and expectations of the role. For example, where a Baby Boomer has maintained manual records and can complete data entry at lightning speed, a Millennial will start the role and will literally roll their eyes at the thought of manual processes and will seek to automate as much as possible. Your processes should be modern enough to not scare off new and skilled staff.

Change in Management or Executive

New management can take a long time to understand the roles and internal processes of the staff they manage. Also, it can take many years to identify potential inefficiencies and even then, sourcing individual solutions is very time consuming. A Process Review can give a very clear understanding of what is working well, where there is opportunity for improvement, as well as provide a road map for innovation and change.

Change in school management systems (or up to 2 years post new system implementation)

If you are looking to change school management systems because you are unhappy with your current system, a Process Review can identify ways to address frustrations with your current system or features that any new system must have.

Moving current processes and data to a new system may not fix your frustrations. For example, we often see instances where old General Ledgers are transferred to a new system, yet Finance are still frustrated with the detail/lack of detail for financial reporting.

What does a Process Review involve?

All Business Office staff must be involved in the review process and we make sure their views are heard and considered, as they will have both frustrations and ideas on how to make their role easier. We sit with all staff to thoroughly go through the day-to-day operations, not just asking questions, but also witnessing how processes are completed.

Processes evolve over time with staff creating many of their own processes, unbeknownst to others, to help them in their roles.  "Following a piece of paper" and examining how data is captured and maintained in software will always uncover internal processes that other members of the team do not know about.

Quite often when people are asked why processes are completed, or what is the purpose of completing a task, the response is unfortunately "that's the way we've always done it". 

A Process Review analyses why processes are complicated and evaluates the quality of the output of the Business Offices, such as the reporting and information produced for the School.

Breaking down the time spent on key tasks and processes

Careful consideration is given to the frequency and time taken to complete key processes and how, if simplified or automated, that would impact a role and overall function of the Business Office.

What key tasks and processes are data entry vs value-adding tasks

Value-adding tasks must be prioritised over manual data entry tasks. Even when the data entry must be completed, the role can only bring value to the whole organisation and community if there is sufficient time to complete the value-adding tasks as well. For example, Accounts Receivable has the non-value adding data entry task of entering debtor receipts, but value comes from Accounts Receivable having the time to phone debtors to follow up debt and manage payment arrangements.

Where is there an opportunity to automate data entry and repetitive tasks

If data entry can be automated through importing, system integrations and using electronic workflows for approval processes and record keeping, then this instantly frees up time for the value adding processes that bring value to the whole school.

Is there Corporate Knowledge Risk?

Corporate knowledge maintained outside of the central school management system is dangerous as it can be lost or stolen and training staff on how to manage the information is difficult.  Quite often, debtor communication and payment arrangement details are stored in spreadsheets and word documents outside of the school finance system, posing a potential risk to the School.

What reporting is being prepared, for whom, and WHY?

A Process Review looks at whether staff have the information they need to fulfil their roles and responsibilities efficiently. A delay in information and reporting can cause stress, and rushed staff are more likely to make mistakes.

Legacy reporting is also reviewed to see if the information is still meeting today’s needs. Unfortunately, we often see that time is being spent on preparing reports that are then saved/archived and are never reviewed or actioned by anyone.

The quality of reporting is very important as reports should clearly display information that tells an accurate story, regardless of whether it is going to the Principal, Business Manager or School Board.

What are some of the roadblocks for Process Reviews?

Will people be made redundant?

Unfortunately, we get asked this question a lot. The worry is that if we streamline and automate processes then people will be made redundant because they won’t have anything to do, and this is simply not true. Resources can be re-allocated to other areas of the school, but more often the staff are able to complete new processes that they did not have the time to undertake previously.

We don’t want to replacing people with robots

Staff should take ownership of their roles and contribute to continual improvement in the best interests of the school. Automation is not about replacing people with robots or other technology. Automating menial tasks enables and enforces the importance of personal interactions and critical analysis in the Business Office. The Business Office should have the long-term view of moving away from focusing on historical data entry and re-focus on value-adding support to all other areas of the school.

Change is expensive, and we can’t afford it

Yes, change can be expensive, but not changing is fatal.  Some of the hidden costs of maintaining the status quo are associated with staff turnover (especially with new millennial employees) and the impact on your school brand and reputation with students, parents, staff and suppliers feeling frustrated with their dealings with the Business Office.

So, when someone says that a task is no problem because “It only take me an hour”... think about the long-term opportunity cost for an employee earning $75k per annum:

  • Saving 1 hour a day  =$10,950 p.a or $54,750 over 5 years

  • Saving half a day per week = $8,760 p.a or $43,795 over 5 years

  • Saving 1 day per month = $3,790 p.a or $18,950 over 5 years

Is this cost of time being spent on contractors or consultants, and is that cost better invested in other tasks that support the school’s long-term strategy? Or is it just a waste of resources that could be invested in Educational operations?

Where to from here?

The pressure to innovate is coming from everyone - students, parents, staff, creditors. Process Reviews are a great way to identify how the Business Office can innovatively work with all parties more efficiently and effectively.

We are accounting specialists in the Education Sector and we want to see your industry thrive. Given the rapid pace of change and technology, we can assist School Business Offices to provide guidance, business cases, and support to navigate this complex time.