Plymouth College of Art is an independent, specialist art college with an outstanding reputation for innovation.

Currently, the college offers a range of studies across Art, Design and Digital – from Pre-Degree diplomas through to BA (Hons) Degrees and MA qualifications for approximately 1,300 HE students and 500 FE students.

With two city-centre campuses, the college is also home to the public Gallery and Fab Lab Plymouth, providing short courses, masterclasses, and a programme of Young Arts activities. Prominent alumni include actor Charles Dance, Tywin Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones. 

We talk to Mark Taylor, Director of Finance, about the challenges he faced in updating the institution’s back-office systems to create a future-proof, streamlined operation designed to take the college to the next stage of development.

What problems were you looking to solve?

We already had the Unit 4 finance system in place, but it ended up being too complex and too high an overhead for an organisation of our size. We had multiple contracts in place to try and support that system, including a contract with Unit 4 for application maintenance, a third-party contract for hosting, another contract with Agilix for tech support around that hosting and another contract with G7 Business Solutions for enhanced application support, because Unit 4’s support just didn’t meet our needs.

We were in an unsustainable position which we were really struggling to manage. Any upgrade of our existing system was going to be prohibitively expensive and even then, it wouldn’t solve all the legacy problems of how we were to be supported.

We undertook some research and started looking for a simple, transparent true cloud solution which we realized would go a long way to solving all our problems.

Why did you choose Xledger?

We’re too complex and too big for something like Xero and we were looking for the next, bigger tier players. Initially, we just couldn’t find anything – SAP Business by Design (another well-known provider) was much more suited to a commercial environment, which didn’t really translate into the education or third sector. Conversely, some solutions, like Technology One were too big and expensive.

We wanted to stick to our idea of true cloud and discovered not everyone offered this – often it was just a hosting option, not true cloud.  The choice ultimately boiled down to SAP and Xledger, both of whom seemed the best fit for an organisation of our size and complexity. We already knew that Swindon College was using Xledger, so it was clear to us that it would work in an education environment. This went a long way to reassuring us that they were the best choice for our sector.

How did they resolve the issues you faced?

Xledger massively simplified things for us. Now that we only have one contract, we have access to true cloud and, technology-wise, it was very simple for us to use. Getting access from Xledger to our users, which just relies on a browser, was so easy.

It was much more streamlined for us to liaise with only one supplier. Xledger are very responsive – something we didn’t experience with the previous system – the whole relationship between ourselves and Xledger is just completely different. They made it clear we were an important client to them, and therefore we got all the attention and help we needed, particularly in the implementation phase.

How did you find the implementation and training?

Very good, the project management side of things is very strong and their own project management and implementation methodology works really well. The support we had throughout implementation was second to none and we actually launched on time only using our existing team internally! As always in any system implementation, there were a few hiccups, but they were ironed out pretty quickly. Having follow-up meetings was really helpful, giving us access to senior managers and consultants. As a result, our objectives were met very quickly.

What’s changed for you since the implementation?

We were looking to make significant savings within the department, and we’ve been able to do that with Xledger in a way we couldn’t have hoped to with Unit 4. The finance office is so much more streamlined: Transaction processing in the back office is more efficient and things like the import of purchase invoices through email, the OCM functionality and the automated bank feed are all a massive improvement over our previous system. We operate a £16m complex business with just 3,4 FTE of staff, including myself. That has only been made possible by choosing the right true cloud system with high levels of automation in processing.