Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE) provides services, programs and resources to 146 schools across South East Queensland, along with approximately 30 schools in the Diocese of Cairns.
BCE recently launched its new digital strategy to better engage and support students, teachers and staff members in a climate of rapid technological transformation.
“For us in IT, it’s about how we can continue to enable that transformation and ultimately improve teaching and learning outcomes,” says Leigh Williams, BCE’s Chief Information Officer and Head of Information Technology Services.
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.
“There was no consistency,” she says. “Your experience with that system in one school could be very different from your experience in another school.”
A unique cloud configuration
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 explains.
“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.”
Williams says 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 explains. “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.”
Supportive partners accelerate deployment
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.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the support that FastTrack provided as we carried out this project,” Edwards-Williams says. “We were able to easily tap in and get advice on moving forward and getting rid of blockers along the way.
“And the team at Empired are high-quality people. They were a perfect cultural fit for us and were crucial to helping our team achieve what they did.”
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.
Ensuring data quality and consistency
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 says. “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 says. “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 says.
“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.
“We have that core foundation now where we know what the process is, which is going to make it so much easier to scale out,” Williams says. “That core foundation is going to pay dividends not just now, but for all the future work that we now want to engage in over the next few years.”