Sound decision-making requires in-depth analysis to understand the implications of an action or initiative. Prior to implementing Syntellis’ AxiomTM, officials at the University of North Texas (UNT) System used giant spreadsheets and tedious, time-consuming manual processes to gauge the impacts of a decision.
Today, UNT System uses long-range planning capabilities within Axiom to tackle a broad range of challenges, including the system’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, legislative requests, and even advertising opportunities. They can quickly run various scenarios and evaluate the financial impact of proposed initiatives through an integrated financial planning structure.
The Denton, Texas-based university system was among four institutions across four industries to win Syntellis’ 2022 Most Valuable Performers (MVP) award, honoring customers that use Syntellis solutions in innovative ways to improve organizational performance, solve challenges, and achieve measurable results.
Paige Smith, UNT Associate Vice Chancellor for Budgeting, Planning, and Analysis, said having the data and analytics from Axiom LRP has changed the way leaders across the system approach strategic planning.
“Axiom empowers us to answer ‘what-if’ questions much quicker and with confidence,” Smith said. “UNT's most senior leaders rely heavily on Axiom data — and they trust it — to make critical financial and strategic decisions.”
COVID-19 Response: Agility in Uncertain Times
When the COVID-19 pandemic set off a domino-effect of unexpected events worldwide in 2020, officials at UNT System used Axiom’s financial modeling capabilities to run hundreds of scenarios to help guide decisions about the system’s pandemic response. Early on, things changed so rapidly that the finance team reran various scenarios numerous times and held weekly meetings to update the system’s presidents and finance leadership.
“It really helped us build credibility,” said Kerry Romine, Senior Director for Business Planning and Strategy. “We were able to say, ‘Here's what the data is showing, here's what the forecast is showing us right now, and 95% of our scenarios put us between these two points. If we land on either one of those, we're going to be okay.’”
UNT used scenario modeling to develop action plans for each campus, such as cutting costs, freezing new hires, and even closing campuses. The action plans were broken down into milestones, with different courses of action prescribed depending on which scenarios played out. The worse the circumstances, the more aggressive the corrective action.
“We did better than many other institutions because we followed the model and changed our action plan,” Smith said. “That would have been impossible without Axiom.”
Billboards: To Buy or Not to Buy?
UNT officials also relied on Axiom’s driver-based planning to guide recent decisions about whether to invest in multiple billboard advertising projects. In the first case, the UNT board of directors considered purchasing a billboard at the intersection of two interstates in a high-traffic area near the UNT Dallas campus.
Romine and others pulled road plans from the Texas Department of Transportation, visited the site, and calculated the amount of revenue they could gain from leasing the sign versus the purchase price. While it initially sounded like a good opportunity on paper, running the analysis in Axiom revealed that the cost was too high considering the billboard’s limited visibility and needed upgrades. The board decided not to move forward with the investment.
In another case, however, UNT explored building a new digital billboard on a highly visible site along an interstate on existing UNT land. When bids to build the sign came in much lower than expected, UNT officials opted to build two billboards instead of one. The revenue projections from Axiom made it an easy decision, Romine said.
Legislative Requests: Data Helps Make the Case
UNT officials routinely rely on Axiom as they develop Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs). When officials from the university’s 14 colleges and schools make special requests, Romine analyzes the costs and implications of those proposals to determine if they’re viable before sharing them with the state legislature.
For the requests they decide to move forward, the analyses are integrated into the LAR proposals, which helps build UNT’s case by providing legislators more detail about the projected impacts of specific projects.
“If we're going to ask the state legislature for some huge amount of money for a building or some other initiative, we need to be able to back it up and show how we decided it was a worthwhile endeavor,” Smith said.
UNT leaders have used Axiom’s strategic planning solution for a variety of other initiatives, including determining tuition sensitivity for prospective students in rural versus urban areas, prioritizing projects for UNT’s master plan, and staging development of its new campus in Frisco, Texas.
The solution ensures UNT’s leaders have reliable, apples-to-apples comparisons, data, and analyses to help guide critical strategic decisions. It has helped build trust with students, community leaders, and other stakeholders across the university system.
“Our stakeholders know we're going to make good decisions based on good data and good forecasting methodology behind the scenes,” Romine said. “They trust their leaders and their leaders trust us. They know we’re going to make the best decisions to serve the UNT mission.”