Charter Schools Can Gain Monumental Efficiencies by Operating in the Cloud
Charter school networks are growing, and with that growth come added complexities in finance and operations. Success means more students, which leads to more campuses, a variety of administrators with decision-making input and authority, and new regulatory and reporting requirements. But because charter schools need to be student-centric, growth doesn’t always lead to more operational resources. Finance and operations leaders often find they must manage the additional responsibilities with little additional support.
If your charter school is experiencing these growing pains, there is a reliable remedy: cloud-based accounting. Moving your operations to the cloud is about much more than mere data storage. It automates your organizational functions, generates more relevant financial information, and rapidly and transparently connects your school with your overseers and stakeholders.
When stakeholders have easy access to critical information, you can operate more quickly and efficiently. For instance, receipt documentation can be uploaded in real time, budget holders can approve requisitions and expense reports from remote locations, and cash disbursement can be authorized by signatories from any campus site.
The cloud is more about “how” than “where”
Cloud computing means that your software and data live “in the cloud,” which is really just a fanciful way of saying that they reside within a series of highly secure, redundant servers all over the world. The cloud system gives you secure access to your data from anywhere, anytime, without the need for an expensive IT infrastructure or personnel. All you need is a connected device. This makes it more about how you operate than where you store your data.
Today there are numerous cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) applications for running your finance and accounting functions. SaaS offers a subscription-based model of software delivery that authenticates users based on the security criteria you define. Your subscription pays for the data security, availability, and continual new releases. SaaS that is developed as a cloud-based application is written in a language that allows it to play well with other SaaS applications, so data from one system can easily integrate into another. Think about your smartphone and its app store: You have the choice of literally thousands of apps that will work seamlessly with your smartphone because they are designed to integrate with one another.
This same level of system integration is available in true cloud-based finance and accounting applications, so you have your choice of vendors for general ledger, budget planning, accounts payable automation, expense management, procurement, donor management, and payroll functions. Even cloud-based student information systems can integrate with the right enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms.
The cloud automates functions that otherwise take hours to perform
Here’s an example of how cloud-based operations could work in your school’s finance department.
Your credit card holders have an app on their phones. As they purchase supplies for the school or pizza for the staff on Friday afternoon, the receipts are uploaded to the app. The bank feed for that credit card is also going into the app, and the app uses text recognition to compare date, vendor, and receipt amount to the bank transactions and attach the receipt to the correct transaction. The app is also intelligent and has learned that office supplies get coded to “office expense” and that the credit card holder gets coded to his or her respective school and department. The completed expense report gets routed to the appropriate approvers for coding and budget, and, upon approval, the transactions are automatically uploaded to the general ledger for posting. By the time the credit card statement arrives, the expenses have already been recorded, properly coded, and documented.
This is one small example of one process. Imagine the potential for gained efficiencies in staff productivity, timely and accurate reporting, and audit documentation.
Plan before you move your operations to the cloud
The cloud is accessible to every organization, but making the move can still feel daunting. Here are some suggested steps for getting started:
- Assemble your team — Identify who can help drive the project forward. Get executive buy-in.
- Define your requirements — Where are your biggest pain points? Where will you see the greatest gains? How will you define success?
- Evaluate your options — Compare software vendors, as well as their partner implementers. Do your research and get references. Look for vendors that understand charter schools and your particular needs.
- Calculate the return on investment — Does the added cost of the new system save you in high-compensation hours that would be better spent in analysis and strategy? You will likely find that the investment in the right system will actually save your organization money.
How we can help
CLA’s charter school-specialized professionals can assist you in optimizing your operations with cloud-based systems. Our people can assess your finance department’s structure, processes, and systems; help identify your requirements and match them suitable vendors; implement an appropriate cloud-based system; and perform data culling for system migration.