Why did you create CHESS, and why do you believe shared services collaboration is the path forward?
New Mexico is not unique in that our colleges face challenges around enrollment, finance, competition from online programs, rapidly evolving expectations for the modern digital student experience, and political pressure to create efficiencies and reduce duplication.
Layer on the fact that New Mexico has 27 public higher education institutions and has the 5th largest land mass in the country, but our population is only 2.1 million. Over the years we’ve invested heavily in physical access to higher ed, but with a very small tax base to support us.
Many of our university and college presidents recognized that we needed to improve efficiencies or we would face consolidation—even closure of some colleges. We could either wait for the state government to address the matter—likely meaning a change in the governance structure—or, we could take ownership of the solution by working in collaboration to share tools and talent.
This would allow us to achieve many of the benefits of a statewide system of higher education but without changing governance. For our community colleges in particular, this meant partnering to face common challenges while maintaining our locally elected boards of trustees who have a deep understanding of the needs of their communities.
We moved forward with a plan to keep technology current and provide all colleges in CHESS a cloud-based, single-instance software platform. We allowed the flexibility to separate data for individual independent colleges but to also come together when needed. And, we also shared in system maintenance costs.
Knowing collaboration is a key element within the vision of CHESS, what innovations will maximize institutional excellence?
Our first step was to get everyone on the same platform with as many business processes in alignment as possible. Currently, four of our colleges are live on Workday Financial Management, Workday Human Capital Management, and Workday Payroll Management. Two additional colleges are implementing them now.
With our first four colleges, we were able to achieve alignment in more than 90% of the hundreds of business processes managed by Workday.
Now, the real innovation begins. By moving to a common platform, we are able to consider which back-office operations can and should be consolidated into true shared-services offerings. This is important as quality back-office operations are critical to the success of a college, and failures in those processes can lead to both financial and reputational risks for the college.
To innovate, our colleges will come together to prioritize those operations that can be centralized as shared services—in other words, outsourced through CHESS.
We have already prioritized this decision for the payroll process. Currently, CHESS is running payroll for our four colleges that are live on Workday. And stay tuned, because not only will there be more business office processes reviewed for consolidation, but as we begin to implement Workday Student, you can also expect to see shared service innovations related to administrative tasks that support students.
Can you provide examples of the capabilities CHESS institutions gained that were not possible before?
One important example relates to system maintenance. Prior to implementing Workday, each of our colleges maintained their own independent legacy systems. Many of our colleges, particularly those in small rural communities, really struggled to attract the IT talent necessary to adequately maintain their systems. Consequently, they ended up relying on very expensive out-of-state consultants to fill in the gaps.
Now, CHESS has been able to hire top talent to support Workday. As a single-instance cloud-based system, the work is now more focused on bringing together college personnel to make decisions around proposed system changes or to address new release features and then working on configurations based on the cross-college decisions.
In the past, this work was duplicated by IT personnel and/or consultants at each college. Plus, our legacy systems were much less intuitive and often required database administrators, system administrators, and business analysts to extract the data needed by functional experts.
Payroll is another great example of where we have achieved greater efficiencies. In our legacy systems, collectively our colleges employed 14 full time employees (FTE) to run payroll. We are now able to provide this service with a total of 7 FTE at CHESS supporting those same colleges.