The University of Texas at Arlington Achieves IT Cost Transparency and Improves Departmental Relationships With Apptio

“My team and I work really hard to give our management team the information they need to do their work and to ensure the data is accurate, Apptio enables me to do that.”

Apptio’s suite of solutions provides the university better visibility of IT costs, enabling IT and Finance to create a services catalog, shorten the annual budgeting process 67%, and answer ad-hoc questions 94% faster.

For over a century, The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) has been a premier state institution. Founded in 1895, UTA has always encouraged its students to be critical thinkers, offering state-of-the-art facilities, high-quality academic programs, and real-world experiences. Today, the university is an R-1 research institution, offering 180 baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral degree programs and serving an average of 60,000 students a year both virtually and on its campus in Arlington, Texas.

Positioning IT for future success requires strategic change

UTA serves a large student community, including many non-traditional students, and prides itself on delivering a high-quality education at an affordable price. Keeping costs in check is a basic tenet across the university, and that includes the IT department. “I’m always concerned about costs,” said UTA Chief Information Officer Jeffrey (Jeff) Neyland. “I consider our colleges, administrators, and researchers to be our customers. And they have to be able to look at the services we provide them and understand the cost.”

Delivering that capability, however, required changes within IT. Over time, the department had become fragmented and decentralized, and the leadership team knew they needed to set a clear strategic vision for the future. And that included acquiring new technology solutions to help achieve that vision. “You have to have the tools in your technology organization to support delivering good services,” said Jeff. “I consider finance to be one of those areas where you need really good tools.”

UTA implemented Apptio’s Cost Transparency, IT Planning, Bill of IT (now all part of the ApptioOneMX product family)  along with Cloudability solutions as a set of tools to help their organization achieve its vision.

Cost transparency gives structure and context to IT cost data

UTA uses Oracle’s PeopleSoft application for the university’s business management functions, including human resources management and financial management. As such, it is the source of record for all university financial data, including all the various costs that go into delivering IT services to the colleges, students, researchers, and administrators.

Although the IT cost data was accessible in PeopleSoft, it wasn’t automatically presented in an easily consumable way. Consequently, the IT Finance team used Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to track IT costs, vendor contracts, categorize expenses, and manage budgets and forecasts. Working in the spreadsheet was cumbersome, and the process was time-consuming and labor intensive, leading the team to dub the spreadsheet “The Monster.”

Improving IT services, as Neyland points out, requires the right tools to do the job. To take the university to the next level, Neyland needed better visibility into the costs of IT than their current spreadsheet-based process could provide.

Apptio simplifies budgeting, forecasting, and ad-hoc reporting

Prior to implementing Apptio, budgeting and forecasting was a labor intensive effort at UTA. IT finances were managed using “The Monster”, which required a lot of time and effort to enter data, reconcile discrepancies, and put forth reports for the management team to use. “We were doing quarterly forecasting at the time,” said UTA Assistant Director of IT Finance and Analysis Michelle Bell. “I was doing it manually. Every day I worked on the budget, so when I had the quarterly meeting with Jeff (CIO), I could give him substantial information.”

Using Apptio allowed them to simplify the forecasting process, which has significantly reduced the amount of time she and her team spend on it and enabled them to shift to monthly forecasting. “Before Apptio, we had a team of eight people who spent a week every month putting together the quarterly forecast,” she said. “Now, we do the forecast monthly, and it only takes one person about five hours to do it.”

In addition to improving the forecasting process, Bell said, Apptio has made it much easier for them to create their annual budget. “We don’t print paper anymore,” she said. “We used to print out pages and pages of data on 10×17 sheets of paper, meet with all the managers, review the information, scribble notes in the margins, highlight line items, and then go back and update the spreadsheet to create the budget. Now, we do it all in Apptio. And the whole process, from start to finish, only takes us six weeks instead of 18 weeks.”

Having all the data in Apptio has also made it easier for Bell and her team to answer ad-hoc questions from the CIO and other managers. “It used to take us two days on average to track down data and answer a question,” she said. “Now, we can do it in three hours or less.”

A good example of this, Bell said, was a time when the CIO wanted to know what their forecast variance was. “Jeff wanted to know what our actual spend was compared to our forecasted spend,” she said. “In the past, that would have taken me an hour and half to find the answer. Now, it takes me about 10 minutes with Apptio.”

Enhanced reporting leads to better decision-making

Bell admits that it took some time initially to get access to all the data elements they needed to optimize Apptio. Sources had to be identified, and then some data elements required security authorization before the team could access them. But once that process was completed, Apptio gave them the ability to drill down on any budget item for more information. “Jeff can click on any expense amount for more information,” she said. “If the budget changes, all he has to do is click on it and drill down to get the details. All the information about the transaction — the notes, comments, everything — is there. Before Apptio, nine times out of 10, we wouldn’t be able to give him that information because the reports we had then didn’t provide it. And if we did get it for him, we had to go search for it manually.”

This enhanced reporting capability has made it easier for Bell to keep leaders informed and help them make faster decisions. “Before Apptio, I had to manually compile a huge binder for the quarterly budget meetings with the CFO,” said Bell, “so Jeff could answer questions that might come up during the discussion. Now, he simply carries a tablet to the meeting. If a question is asked, he can bring up Apptio and answer it.”

Apptio’s reporting capability has been, according to Bell, one of the biggest benefits of the solution for her. “We have been able to automate 98% of the reports we do for the office of the CIO in Apptio,” she said. “That’s a great achievement because that allows our personnel to do other things instead of sitting here, treading out reports all the time.”

Implementing Apptio has given their team greater transparency and availability of data. “My team and I work really hard to give our management team the information they need to do their work and to ensure the data is accurate,” she said. “Apptio enables me to do that.”

According to Bell, Apptio helps her provide timely, accurate, and consistent data to her management team. And this has helped improve cross-functional relationships at the university. The CIO is able to communicate meaningful and impactful data to the university executive team, and this helps them make better decisions on project spend and contract commitments in support of the overall objectives of the university to support students in their learning experience.

Looking forward to more: services catalog, bill of IT, and cloud cost optimization

While UTA has made tremendous progress toward its strategic vision, there is much more to come. Next up is implementing a comprehensive services catalog. After two years of work, Jeff and his team have formalized the services they will offer to their customers, and Apptio will provide the cost basis for pricing those services. Going forward, each college and department will be able to select the services they want and know the cost right away. “I have told all our customers,” Jeff said, “that if we can’t provide a service at the best cost, you should look elsewhere.”

Along with the services catalog, UTA plans to use ApptioOne Billing to invoice their customers automatically for services. This will eliminate the manual work involved with calculating costs, generating statements, and processing interdepartmental transfers.

The final near-term project, according to Jeff, is to optimize UTA’s cloud costs. As part of the university’s strategic plan, Jeff and his team migrated over 90% of the university’s applications to the cloud. Now, he plans to use Apptio Cloudability to help him better understand his overall cloud costs and identify ways he can optimize the university’s spend moving forward.

“It’s important to build a strong foundation for IT to support the institution moving forward,” said Jeff. “There’s strategy, HR, finance, operational security, infrastructure. All these need to be built out very strong. Finance brings them all together. And Apptio is my financial tool to help me manage it.”

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