Switching Hosts to boost expansion plans for the Elliot Foundation

Not long after Suthan Santhaguru entered The Elliot Foundation’s doors as finance director in March 2015, it became apparent that its existing accounts package system – and the external hosting of it – had the potential to gnaw away at the trust’s ambitious expansion plans.

The charitable trust, which has around 20 primary schools in its academy chain, was keen to double its client base within three years.

Compounding matters, the foundation’s hosting provider wasn’t responding quickly to enquiries, causing chunks of time wasted on trying to solve issues. Had it not taken a calculated gamble for change, the trust feared the status quo would have more likely led to losing existing clients rather than attracting new ones.

Fortunately, Suthan had noticed the keen prowess of EduFin, a Kent-based one-stop shop for academy accounts management, whose team works nationally and was already helping the trust with its annual accounts. “As I engage with our trust’s academies, I was quickly able to see EduFin’s value,” says Suthan. “I gave them a few tasks and it didn’t take long to realize how sharp they are.”

Our relationships with academies have greatly improved as things are now running efficiently. EduFin’s excellence has enabled us to dedicate more time to growing the trust
— Suthan Santhaguru, Finance Director

Ahead of the current school year, The Elliot Foundation agreed to become the test bed for EduFin’s new hosting service, EduFin Connect.

By hosting the accounts packages of academy trusts on its dedicated and powerful servers, rather than those used elsewhere by hundreds of others, EduFin offers academy schools a cut-priced alternative to owning and maintaining their own servers.

“The software is loaded onto their machines; all they need is a good internet connection and they’re away,” says David Powell, founding director at EduFin. “The foundation’s old system relied on having a reliable remote application server, which was continually going off-line, meaning lost time whenever users’ lost connection. Our system works as long as you have internet access because the trust’s financial software is loaded onto our servers, where we maintain and administer it.”

A few months after switching to new hosts, Suthan was thrilled with the outcome. “Our relationships with academies have greatly improved as things are now running efficiently. That’s really important, otherwise life here can get so chaotic.” In fact, it’s working so well, he says, “EduFin’s excellence has enabled us to dedicate more time to growing the trust”.

With almost two dozen in its academy chain, based in three geographical clusters: West Midlands, East Anglia and London, the foundation is looking to convert five more academies into its framework by the new school year; with a slightly longer-term plan to grow to 40 academies. Suthan has full confidence in EduFin being a central plank in helping them to achieve just that.

EduFin now considered a vital business partner

The trust now considers EduFin a vital business partner, and incorporates its knowledge base into client pitches. “Whenever we try to convert potential academies, we mention EduFin’s new systems as an important part of our offer. Their full potential hasn’t yet been reached and I believe they can grow with us.”

EduFin’s David says: “We want to increase our client base but we don’t want to grow massively. We’re happy providing the best service we can to clients that need us. We work fast, and our EduFin Connect service backs that up.

“We offer a full understanding of how schools are set up and operate. EduFin Connect gives schools peace of mind knowing they have an easily searchable software system from which they can pull data,” adds David. “We handle the software meaning not only can we make their use of PS Financials’ software better, but we can also improve the speed of their access to it.”

The foundation is the first big trust to allow EduFin to host its accounts package. “It’s been working brilliantly,” says Suthan, who has also hired them for other jobs. “We’ve recently been hard-pushed to complete an audit and they were able to help us as an interim measure to manage the accounts of some of our academies. EduFin go the extra mile; they spoke for free at our conference and very rarely have I picked up the phone to them and they haven’t been able to meet our needs because they know what works and what doesn’t.”

EduFin-branded reporting package

“EduFin also has its own month-end, excel-based reporting package, which I’m going to roll out here,” he says. The system includes key areas of management accounts and pulls in the relevant numbers from the system to allow academies to comment on debtors, creditors and bank tabs linked into accounting software.

The package pulls out info in a user-friendly way for academy staff to comment on in simple fashion. “It is a standardised template, which I’ve been looking for some time to find, so all our academies can now use the same system,” Suthan enthused.

“EduFin as a whole is very good for the academy sector,” he adds. “Its team has an in-depth knowledge of PS Financials that is hard to find. They’ve been excellent in their ability to link that system to our accounts and make it work for us – and all our academies.

“They respond quickly, efficiently and without fuss no matter how complex the task and I need that. There aren’t many others on the market with the attitude and aptitude to do that.”

And what of the new hosting system’s price tag? It was actually half the cost of The Elliot Foundation’s old one.