/ Martin Holyoak
In the notoriously glamorous world of education finance, there is an ever increasing demand for centralisation and improved workflow. At Bromcom, we have been hard at work developing a MAT finance solution that will finally provide trusts with the tools they need to effectively manage finances at scale.
Before we begin discussing the intricacies of what’s to come, let me introduce myself and provide some context. I’m Martin Holyoak and I work as a financial consultant for Bromcom. I’ve spent the last ten years working in MAT finance and have seen almost every combination and permutation of set-up.
When considering finance within the context of a MAT, there are a range of different perceptions amongst small, medium or large trusts. When it came to creating our own MAT Finance product, we wanted to ensure that it could incorporate all sizes of MAT.
Over the years, I have used pretty much every single piece of finance software going from the good, to the bad, to the proverbial. All these experiences have helped me to lead on this project.
When locally maintained schools transition into an academy and become part of a trust, there are often a multitude of different systems in use. At some point, the finance professionals from each school send their data to the trust and through a mix of science and magic, stat reporting is completed. All MATs up and down the country are trying to approach and rectify this issue with varying levels of success. With Bromcom MAT finance there need not be an issue at all.
Managing data is crucial as it is often used to make effective strategic decisions. No one wants to both mine and refine data to have something suitable for decision making. The preferred approach is to pull data together in one centralised placed to inform best practice moving forward.
Bromcom MAT Finance is a single database with all your data and academies inside, consolidating information organically on the go. You don’t have to go out of your way to combine everything, it is done for you.
Whereas other systems require some sort of manual manipulation, all Bromcom needs to do is say, ‘show me period one at these different sites’ and out comes the data. In addition, we have included GAG pooling, which lends itself to both the single database approach and single chart of accounts, be they the DFE or our new standard.
Our MAT finance product also provides a regional layer to the software giving you the freedom to split up your trust in the way you see fit. This provides the option to have a single supplier file meaning you can get the very best discounts based on buying power or break things down in single academies and regions. Likewise, single or multiple purchase ledgers are also your choice.
Another element we’ve introduced is multicompany. We are aware that MATs have trading arms, leisure centres and all sorts of other institutions as part of their arsenal. Therefore, Bromcom MAT Finance will also be able to handle multicompany alongside multi-academies.
All of our major MAT customers have asked questions, made requests, lent an ear and offered insight into what this product needs. It’s very much a collaborative process. We’re not dictating to the market what you should and shouldn’t do. We are engaging with MATs of all sizes, and developing the product based on their requirements. This is fantastic in helping inform our decisions, but we can never have enough feedback so would encourage all schools to become early adopters and see how the product works for them.
We’ve made several key considerations when creating this product, the first of which began with the non-finance element. As a wide range of stakeholders need to analyse reports, authorise orders and so on, it was important to ensure that the interface was intuitive. We want to create a product that’s useful to all, not just the specialists with a financial background. In doing so, this promotes better budget management and proper engagement in financial process.
Some of the things you can expect from the new MAT finance product include multidimensional reporting, reporting actuals and forecasting tools. The multidimensional reporting allows you to pivot data based on academy, analysis, period or whatever your criteria might be, all with a few clicks of a button. When it comes to the reporting of actuals and forecasting, you can examine financial comings and goings forensically, whilst looking at future spending and costs the trust may incur.
We’re not limiting ourselves to numbers either. We’ve seen how clients have loved the BI functionality in other elements of the system and we will be bringing that through to the finance product. So you can expect to see plenty of dashboards for a range of different activities. Workflow dashboards, finance dashboards and budget dashboards, there really is something for everyone in there. On top of that, we’ll have a punching out functionality, helping to get those all-important discounts from suppliers.
Another consideration we have made is to the budget holders, be they premises, IT or faculty heads. We wanted to ensure there were workflows in place so every order can find its way on the system and be properly authorised. Though this workflow is incredibly intricate to track even the smallest transactions, it’s still easy to set up and maintain. This system and workflow works with any scheme or delegation in the country. It doesn’t matter if the information is based on a value, academy, a user, department or code, we have the flexibility to work these in.
As a tangible example, if a member of staff is absent or made redundant, the deputy or new member of staff will step in, and the authorisation flow will be maintained. There are no bottlenecks or blackholes where orders simply disappear, it is both seamless and continuous.
Feedback from our partners over the last decade often discusses the hope that, at some point, every invoice will have a PO. This really is a pipedream and getting the number to zero is almost a complete impossibility. Despite this, we have made our processes as seamless as possible so we can hopefully ensure 99% or more of everything that is bought by the MAT goes through a PO.
Finally, we have also acknowledged the importance of being able to drill down into finances. It’s all well and good getting an invoice for X amount and a payment of X, but we want to know what, where and who. Why does this exist, is it relevant, is it frivolous? Decisions can be made based on the forensic level of data provided and we have also implemented a GRM process, should there be any issues with budgetary requests.
We are aiming to launch the product in Autumn and watch this space for further integration with MIS; combining the two most important things that go on in your establishment: young people’s education and the finances to pay for it.