Reimplementing ERP in the cloud to support schools

Friday, 05 August, 2022 | Supplied by: Microsoft Pty Ltd

Reimplementing ERP in the cloud to support schools

Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE) has recently launched a new digital strategy to better support its staff and students.

Since 2008, the organisation had been using Microsoft Dynamics to power its on-premise enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for finance and operations. However, this legacy system had become heavily customised, making it difficult to maintain and upgrade.

The organisation was also experiencing data inconsistencies and dysfunctional processes, according to BCE’s Manager of Business Information Services, Kerry Edwards-Williams.

BCE decided to upgrade from Dynamics AX 2012 to Dynamics 365 Finance, starting the process in 2021 and sending the new system live early 2022. But instead of migrating its complex on-premise system straight to the cloud, the organisation embarked on a major reimplementation project.

“We went right back to the bones of what the system could do and how we could configure it to meet all the needs of BCE,” Edwards-Williams said.

“Our schools all have very different profiles. We’ve got very tiny schools and outback schools that don’t have many students, right up to large schools that have 150 staff and are very complex, almost running as businesses on their own.”

Edwards-Williams said BCE needed to ensure that its new cloud-based software-as-a-service solution was big enough and scalable enough to manage this level of complexity.

“The way that we needed to set up Dynamics 365 is quite unique to other systems in organisations in terms of financial delegation and management,” she explained. “We required proper fiscal oversight on a per-school basis. It meant that we had to set up individual instances of Dynamics 365 for every single one of our schools, as well as for us as an office.”

Guided by Microsoft partner Empired and Microsoft’s FastTrack advisory service, BCE deployed its new finance and operations system across 177 entities in just eight months.

BCE also used other Microsoft technologies to ensure a smooth deployment. These included Microsoft Teams, which enabled the organisation’s IT team to work in separate locations and minimise the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, and Azure DevOps.

“DevOps was a fantastic tool for transparency across everything happening on that project — when things were happening and who was responsible,” Edwards-Williams said.

The revamped finance and operations system has already delivered several benefits.

“The project has helped us tidy up business practices and processes across the organisation, and the system’s user-friendliness is coming to fruition,” Edwards-Williams said.

“People are enjoying the new experience of the system. It’s got a much nicer and more modern-looking user interface.”

The cloud-based solution has also enabled BCE to standardise processes across each school, big and small. As a result, the organisation has noticed a significant improvement in the quality of its data, which is now being fed into Microsoft PowerBI.

“That quality and consistency is becoming evident in our reporting and insights,” Edwards-Williams said.

“We’re comparing apples with apples, whereas previously all schools were doing different things, requiring a lot of manual manipulation by our finance team to try and pull reporting in.”

Moving to the cloud has reduced business risk for BCE, with its on-premise system no longer under threat from natural disasters such as floods and bushfires.

Lisa Camus, Portfolio Manager at BCE, says the solution has also improved employee productivity by giving staff a more flexible and secure work environment.

“Knowing that we’ve got a whole gamut of things to keep our system secure and that the onus isn’t just on our organisation is a real benefit,” she said.

“When we think about the diversity of our workplace now, and when we’ve had COVID and had to go into lockdown, the ability for people to use their own devices and how we manage that is easier with a cloud-based product and a secure product that’s looked after by a big organisation like Microsoft.”

BCE is already looking to add new modules and functions to its cloud-based system, including purchase orders and customer relationship management.

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