ERP Selection for Multi-faceted Higher Education Systems in the Software-as-a-Service Era


Enterprise software selection has changed with the acceptance of “as-a-service” solutions to support college, university, and academic medical center administrative operations such as human resources, payroll, grants, procurement, financials and the student life cycle. 

The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) options, having established an initial footprint in the higher education market, are expected to gain an increasing share of enterprise software selection decisions in the next three years.  SaaS provides an institution with a subscription-based set of automated functional capabilities supported and frequently enhanced by a third-party solution provider.  The institution gains access to a sophisticated and expanded set of functional and technical expertise that incorporates leading practice functional and technical capabilities into the applications.  Notably, these include security, analytics and multi-platform functionality that is more closely aligned with student, faculty and staff expectations for Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD), anytime, anywhere access than most individual institutions are capable of mustering on their own.  The SaaS option provides all subscribers with a single line of code that allows the solution provider to focus its resources on priority development areas and evolve SaaS solution capabilities more rapidly than with the traditional model.  More frequent application of new, market-driven and provider-developed functionality provides a level of agility that is one of the most often cited reasons why institutions move to the SaaS model.  This “single line of code” approach supports software configuration and precludes modification, encouraging an institution adopting a SaaS product to modify its processes rather than the software.  Likewise, standard support terms and conditions of solution provider agreements allow for a uniform level of service to the solution provider’s multi-industry customer base.  The PaaS option expands the solution to include provider-supplied and maintained development tools and a production platform on which an institution can develop and maintain complementary functional capabilities.  Under the PaaS model, the solution provider maintains the platform on which the SaaS and institutional-supported solutions reside, relieving the institution of the platform support burden.

In accordance with this trend, the emphasis of enterprise software selection has changed from compliance to change management.  The traditional selection process focused on the software’s ability to meet detailed functional and technical requirements.  The SaaS-era selection process shifts the emphasis to preparing the institutional community for adoption of the SaaS/PaaS model.

The University of Arkansas System, a complex university system with component institutions using a variety of software applications, selected ISG to guide the System through the evaluation of SaaS and PaaS options including current system assessment, business case development, solution RFP development, response evaluation, contract negotiation and pre-implementation planning.  The System selected Workday as its enterprise-wide System solution.

Steven Fulkerson, the President’s delegate and Steering Committee co-chair, and members of the ISG project team discussed the successful project at the 2017 National Association of College and University Business Officers Annual Conference in Minneapolis on July 31, 2017.  Download the presentation, ERP Selection for Multi-faceted Higher Education Systems in the Software-as-a-Service Era

About the author

David Hemingson leads Higher Education and Academic Medical Centers practice.  He has provided professional services to 200+ university systems, colleges, research universities and academic medical centers. He specializes in complex, enterprise-wide transformation projects that encompass strategic planning and implementation of leading practices often in conjunction with selection and implementation of enterprise systems.  He has led teams in evaluating university and AMC organizational structures, processes, and technologies, and identifying and implementing operational improvement, service enhancement, and cost reduction/containment initiatives, including shared services.  Prior to joining ISG, he was with KPMG, BearingPoint and PwC.