With approximately 19.7 million college and university students, and 56.4 million K-12 students returning to school this fall, position planning and budgeting is more important than ever. Position planning is about making sure your budget for higher education or K-12 schools has the right number of people with the right skills at the right time. Many organizations use position planning to develop line items in the budget for personnel activities, such as salaries and benefits.
The Questica Budget 2020.2 release has new features to improve the salaries module, now known as Questica Budget Personnel. We sat down with Questica’s Director of Product, James Orr, who explained some of the highlights and key features of Personnel.
What is position planning and how does it relate to budgets?
James Orr: Position planning involves building an HR personnel model of the organization and all forms of compensation, including salaries and wages, benefits and allowances, then using that model to generate an operating budget reflecting those personnel expenses.
Why is position planning important?
James Orr: Personnel expenses account for 70% of a typical public sector budget, so striving for accuracy in budgets and forecasts is critical in planning the financial performance of an organization.
Is position planning just an HR responsibility? When is position planning important to budget managers?
James Orr: Position planning is a collaboration between HR and budget managers. The managers must forecast for their future personnel requirements, including new hires, and HR will work with the budget office to build the models that will be used to calculate the projected expenses from these forecasts.
What are some of the new features added to Questica Budget Personnel? Did customers ask for these changes?
James Orr: Customers are an important voice as our team continues to develop our product strategy and add new features. We’ve heard directly from customers that they rely on Questica Budget for personnel planning and that they wanted more flexibility. The new personnel module delivers this in a number of ways. One new feature is called Position and Employee Revisions, which is a refinement to our HR Model that allows any value to change over time. In addition to the expected seniority step-based progression that you might expect to see over time, you can now forecast for changes to any type of model data. This can include mid-budget reclassifications, changes of benefit applicability (e.g., an employee who is engaged to be married may switch from single to family insurance coverage mid-year), and anything else you could think of.
We decided this was the most important refinement required for Questica Budget Personnel based on customer demand. The fact is, there is an endless need to capture more nuance and complexity in the HR organization model in order to generate more accurate budgets. Our customers frequently plan for reclassifications and similar changes throughout the lifespan of a budget, and we now deliver a general-purpose system that allows data elements to change over time which gives our customers enormous flexibility.
That’s impressive that customers are participating in the product roadmap discussion for Questica! How does that work?
James Orr: We engage with customers in a number of ways to help form our product roadmap. We host “early adopter” groups that can test pre-release features and provide feedback. We also have a “user research” group that helps us to design new user-friendly interfaces and experiences. And our Questica Connect conferences have been an excellent way to touch base and get feedback from customers. It helps that Questica has partnered with so many excellent organizations.
How specifically does Questica Budget Personnel address common position planning challenges?
James Orr: An HR organization is always in flux. You might think that you’ve made an accurate forecast of the year’s personnel expenses, but by the second month you’ll find that somebody has quit, another has taken leave, transfers have been requested and so on. It’s inevitable that all personnel plans are subject to unforeseen change. By adding features to Questica Budget Personnel that capture changes over time, and integrates with interfaces like batch import/export and Salary Synchronization, the budget office can respond to constant change.
What specific kind of modeling are Higher Education or K-12 budget managers able to complete in Questica Budget Personnel?
James Orr: Most higher education and K-12 organizations must complete at least one revised budget at a midpoint during the year. By making use of our new Position and Employee Revisions feature, users can synchronize the Personnel’s organization model with an external HR or payroll system, and generate a new budget for the remainder of the year without affecting the original numbers.
How does the Template Positions feature help HR administrators?
James Orr: Template Positions are special, pre-configured positions that can be used by lower-level Personnel users during budgeting to model the costs of proposed hires. By creating pre-made template positions, HR administrators can create “building blocks” for budgeting staff to use when forecasting for new hires. A staff member may want to request a new teacher, for example, but will not need to enter the salaries section of the application or fill out the configuration for a new teacher. Instead, HR can create a Teacher template position (or likely a set of template positions for the different types of teachers that might be hired) and staff can select the template from a list to make proposals quickly.
How does adding more functionality to the Salary Security Groups help HR administrators?
James Orr: Positions have always been securable in arbitrary groupings in Questica Budget Personnel, which allows administrators to configure the system to provide access to lower-level users, but they can only see a subset of the personnel in the organization. We want to increase the potential number of users that can access Personnel to contribute and collaborate. In order to do that, we have to ensure that private information like Salaries and Benefits is tightly controlled, so that budget users granted access to their positions would never see anyone else’s data. Our Position Security Groups made this possible, but it didn’t include data protection for things like lists of employees and benefit definitions. By improving the functionality of the Salary Security Groups, administrators have full control over the visibility of data in Personnel.
What is the difference between how users use modifiers now vs. when modifiers become available with the statistical budgeting system?
James Orr: Modifiers are one of Questica Budget Personnel’s most powerful features, allowing users to model a wide variety of personnel-related costs like benefits, allowances, overtime, bonuses and reductions. Statistical modifiers allow statistical budget data to travel with positions from Questica Budget Personnel instead of being attached to organizational elements like Costing Centers. For example, a specific surgeon might be able to perform 12 knee procedures each month. By setting this as a statistical modifier on that position, those activity stats will show up wherever that surgeon is allocated in the organization. If we split the surgeon’s allocation 50/50 between two health clinics, the plan will show six procedures each. For customers who use the Advanced Calculation Engine (ACE) to generate activity, revenue and expense models, this is a great way to set up activity-based budgets.
What is “stick to step” and “percentage of salary range” costing modes? How do they work in Questica Budget Personnel?
James Orr: These two features were frequently requested by customers who used Vacant Position Costing. Organizations often have their own special rules about how to generate costs for vacant positions, and these were the two leading approaches:
- Stick to step – Model the position as starting at a specific seniority step, but don’t apply step increases. Instead freeze them on that starting step.
- Percentage of salary range – Give an associated salary maximum/minimum range for that position’s grade, cost the position at X% of that range (for example, 50% is the halfway point of a range).
How do the Longevity-based Modifiers help HR administrators?
James Orr: Longevity-based Modifiers are a new type of Modifier recurrence takes effect once an employee’s seniority reaches a certain number of months. Some benefits don’t apply until an employee has been with the organization for a certain amount of time – retention bonuses are an example. This new feature allows HR to configure a benefit that only kicks in after a certain amount of time has passed from a date contextual to an employee, such as a hire date.
What else do you want Higher Education and K-12 organizations to know about Questica Budget Personnel?
James Orr: We’ve added some great refinements to the Advanced Calculation Engine (ACE) for this Questica Budget 2020.2 release. Several higher education and K-12 customers are running sophisticated expense and revenue models in this system, generating budgets based on activities like enrollment. I encourage our higher education and K-12 customers to look into this area of the product if they haven’t already. They can contact their Questica Customer Success Associate to learn more.
What are the advantages to upgrading to the new version of Questica Budget?
James Orr: For customers who are already on version 2019.3 or 2020.1, this is a painless upgrade – we haven’t changed much under the hood that would likely to affect reporting or customizations. If you’ve been struggling with things like modeling reclassifications in salaries, don’t go another budget cycle without getting this upgrade! Reach out to your Questica Customer Success Associate to get started. It’s easy to reach the Customer Success team by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1.877.707.7755.
Visit the Questica website to learn more about cloud solutions for Higher Education budgeting or K-12 budgeting. You can also read one of our blogs or white papers, take a product tour or sign-up for one of our free monthly informational webinars.
For a personalized demo that addresses your organization’s specific concerns, contact one of our budgeting experts today.