As technology, software and services continually change and grow, people and institutions across the world work hard to stay up to date, and Centre College is no exception. But the Higher Education Systems and Services (HESS) Consortium— established in part by Centre Colleges Chief Information Officer and now HESS Board of Directors Vice President J. Keith Fowlkes—gives Centre and other schools a means of discussing and playing an important role in the cost and implementation of administrative systems and services.
“The HESS Consortium is focused on collectively lowering costs and increasing collaboration between specifically private colleges and universities in the area of administrative systems and services,” Fowlkes explains.
Maintaining administrative software has been financially problematic for many schools.
“As hardware costs—computers and servers—have decreased somewhat over the last seven years, software costs, especially on the central administrative system side, continue to grow between 4 and 7 percent annually,” Fowlkes says. “Many small colleges and universities who are experiencing financial challenges are trying to find new ways to cut costs. The HESS Consortium is giving these private, non-profit institutions a new collective voice within the higher education market space.”
Currently, the efforts of the HESS Consortium are focused on enterprise resource planning systems (ERP), as administrative systems are known.
“Our objective is to form closer ties with our ERP vendor partners to improve their product development, innovation and pricing,” Fowlkes explains. “This is especially important as many of our member institutions are looking to adopt cloud-computing environments in the future—administrative server systems located in off-site datacenters instead of systems in our on-premise datacenter.”
The idea to create the HESS Consortium came from conversations Fowlkes had with current HESS board president and former Centre Chief Financial Officer Bob Keasler several years ago.
“Bob and I had discussions about ways we could work together with other like-minded colleges to lower operational costs in several areas: financial services, human resources, technology,” says Fowlkes. “He and I looked at a few models that other schools were using, but none were using newer technologies available to economize on operational costs.
“Since my focus was technology, I made a few contacts at similar schools, including DePauw University, Furman University, Bellarmine University and Berry College,” Fowlkes continues. “They all had similar interests and were very excited to work with us on any new ideas.”
Since its creation, the HESS Consortium has grown from including five institutions to over 70, and its popularity only expands as schools become interested in collaborating to find solutions to ERP problems and costs.
The HESS Consortium has also achieved success by cultivating new relationships and agreements with major higher education ERP companies including Campus Management, Inc., Ellucian, Jenzabar, Oracle, Unit4 and Workday. However, HESS members do intend to broaden their discussions to other areas.
“Initially, we have focused on ERPs as well as ancillary software systems that feed into and out of our central administrative systems,” Fowlkes explains. “We plan to expand this focus to other administrative services such as business office and human resource services.”
Fowlkes knows that membership in the Hess Consortium will have long-lasting benefits for the College.
“Centre’s technology needs are evolving and, as we look to future of cloud-computing environments, we have some key decisions ahead of us,” says Fowlkes. “Our leadership role in the HESS Consortium will help us to partner with similar institutions to collaborate on technology and business office operations, share best practices and lower overall operational costs.”
Thanks in part to the HESS Consortium, Fowlkes is confident that Centre is prepared for future innovations in technology and services.
“Higher education in the U.S. is changing rapidly and Centre must find new ways to adapt to these changes,” Fowlkes says. “Our role in HESS is one way we can partner with our fellow private, non-profit institutions and find solid ways to save money and become more efficient in our respective operations.”
by Elizabeth Trollinger
July 27, 2016