Inspire Partnership, based in South-East London and Kent, has added IMP Planner – budgeting and forecasting software which is designed specifically for multi-academy trusts (MATs) – following the Trust’s near doubling of size during the current academic year.
The MAT, which increased from five to nine primary schools on 1st March and now has ‘hubs’ in Croydon, Medway and Greenwich, turned to IMP Software after incoming Chief Operating Officer Julie Lombardo identified a need to “strengthen financial management” in the Trust.
“We were looking for an easy way to forecast accurate financial performance in all our schools using a tool that would be directly linked to our existing finance system,” Julie said. “Forecasting software that involves minimal input from users is not easily available – I held similar roles at 15 and 27-school MATs previously and I always felt that there was a huge gap. I needed to find a tool that would allow MAT reporting and forecasting to be done, and this was a fairly urgent requirement given our growth. IMP fills this gap and gives schools the opportunity to focus on managing the most important aspects of financial monitoring and budgeting, including that all-important forecasting.”
Julie, who is now completing the implementation of IMP Planner across the Trust, explained the “critical issue” driving the need for such a system. “The problem is, in general, the education sector focuses too much on historical financial reporting, not where we need to go in the future, and the ability to understand what impact decision-making today has on the financial position in the future is often missing,” she said.
“As MATs we are all mindful of not running into deficit, but this can be easily done if the sector is not looking forward. School business managers are invariably involved in multiple disciplines and to provide accurate forecasts they need a very simple tool. To forecast they require historical information, budgeting information and an effective system to be able to change and reflect the current position quickly and regularly – they should be able to review and reforecast the budget and bring that information into their finance system easily and accurately.”
This is also a requirement for Trustees, Julie added: “Boards need financial information to make decisions and reflect the level of risk – if they do not have the future picture, how can they make decisions without understanding the risk? We now have an effective method of making comparisons across schools and understanding trends. IMP Software is an integral part of what we are looking to do and success from our relationship with them will be a regular set of accurate, timely management accounts across all our schools – and an updated forecast each month, together with a set of reports for different stakeholders drawing on IMP Planner and our finance system, which are totally integrated.”
Despite introducing IMP Planner during ‘lockdown’, Julie praised the organisation for its approach throughout this challenging period. “The implementation phase has been great, the process has been easy, and IMP have very clearly defined what is needed from us,” she said. “The turnaround has been remarkably quick – one call to go through set-up and discuss the parameters, so not a huge time commitment for me at all. The system was released to us and our school business managers had their first training session in early May. Navigation around the system is easy and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It was also very evident, in that session and afterwards, that IMP are happy to spend as much time training our colleagues as is required in order to support them.”
Julie also revealed that IMP Software’s “commitment to improving the product” had impressed her. “The team are always listening and taking things on board – the way they continually develop IMP Planner is phenomenal,” she said. “I would absolutely recommend the process we have been through so far. Our experience has been extremely positive and I have no reason to think that will be any different going forward. It is really important to stay on top of forecasting and IMP Planner will help us achieve that.”
IMP Software co-founder Will Jordan said: “Our whole product is built around the pain of MAT budgeting and supporting Trusts like Inspire Partnership which have identified an issue that we can help to address, in this case forecasting. We are now working with 30 MATs – both small-to-medium sized and large Trusts – and over 350 schools. Having worked with Julie in her previous roles at larger MATs, it is a privilege to be appointed by Inspire Partnership and have the opportunity to support the central team as well as individual business managers in each of the nine primary schools.”