Chilean University Boosts Its Appeal to Digital Natives

When the Universidad de Talca was founded in 1981, it was designated a regional university by the Chilean government. After a concerted effort by administrators, the university, located 250 kilometers south of Santiago, raised its profile and became one of the top-five Chilean universities.

“We’ve been focused on improving academic quality and attracting the best professors and students. We have grown tremendously – and quickly,” Hugo Salgado, vice rector of economics and administration, said. However, administrative systems were not keeping up and management realized the University needed to digitize operations.

“We saw ourselves chained by complexity and needed to transform our administration to keep growing,” Salgado said. Processes such as procurement and granting student financial aid are complex, and further complicated by the fact that Universidad de Talca is a public school. Therefore, the university is required to comply with government regulations.

The university’s outdated processes also inhibited its appeal to new students and faculty. “Our students and younger professors are digital natives. We realized we weren’t addressing the needs of this newer generation. We needed to service them, but also prepare for future generations,” said Salgado.

For Salgado, digital transformation spoke to the university’s mission. “Especially when you’re a university, you want to be innovative and promote innovation. To do this we needed to use the newest technology.”

Universidad de Talca Turns to SAP to Prepare for the Future

The university administration chose to partner with SAP. Universidad de Talca uses the flagship enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite SAP S/4HANA and SAP Analytics Cloud. Additionally, SAP Ariba software has digitized procurement and SAP SuccessFactors solutions drive collaborative human resources (HR) processes for the university.

“We needed a company with a clear vision that is investing in the future. We chose SAP because it can deal with problems today – but also in 10 years,” says Salgado. “The ecosystem made a big difference in our decision. With SAP we were able to join the Higher Education and Research Users Group (HERUG), part of Americas’ SAP Users’ Users Group. It has been a great opportunity not just to buy the software but to join a community and leverage its expertise.”

Managing student benefits, including financial aid, has already been vastly improved using SAP S/4HANA. Salgado explained that students previously needed to apply for benefits from the government, but often had to wait six months to learn about   support they would receive and repayment terms.

“It was very hard for them,” said Salgado. “Now they know the next day how much funding they’ve received and what’s in their accounts.” Considering that most of the university’s students rely on help from the government — Salgado estimates about 80 to 90 percent — early awareness is a significant advantage for students and a differentiator for the university.

Moving forward, the university plans to create a student lifecycle system with SAP solutions that will help administer everything from funding to class scheduling as well as keep track of academic credits.

SAP has also helped the university optimize its payment and purchasing processes. “Before it took 60 days to pay a bill. It was very bureaucratic and had to go to a number of departments. Now we pay in just 15 days after the vendor submits the bill,” said Salgado.

He attributes this to a newly optimized purchasing process. The university has been able to set up clear processes that help ensure all purchases have been approved by management and that suppliers are permitted to do business with the public sector, meaning they have been vetted by and registered with the government.

Salgado notes that the new purchasing process was a significant cultural change for the organization. Previously, people would buy goods and services as they needed them and bill the central administration afterward. Now, Salgado explained, “They have processes to follow. They need to make a request, get budget authorization, work with approved vendors, and make sure they receive all the authorizations they need before making the purchase.”

There was initial resistance to the new system as unnecessarily bureaucratic, but staff and faculty now recognize that it helps ensure compliance and simplifies bill payment and reimbursement when they pay out of their own pockets. . “Now they see that it makes things easier and less error prone, so they spend less time on bureaucracy and more on research.”

Additionally, administrators can more easily provide reports to the government that show how public funding has been spent and demonstrate compliance with state-approved vendor policies.

Going forward, Salgado believes that technology will jumpstart modernization for Latin American universities, ensuring parity with higher education institutions in the U.S. and Europe.

“We’ve started to realize that universities, while based on traditions, can’t live in the past or we won’t be able to give the students what they need. Universities need to go digital and get ready for what our students need today. We either do it, or we become museums.”