In previous blogs we have written about shared services and the recent presentation by the Education Advisory Board about the challenges with costs and effectiveness of support services in American universities. The presentation also outlined the progress made in shared services implementations in a small but growing number of universities in the United States.
One of the four themes in the TransformUS action plan will be to develop and implement a new design for our administrative and support services, a design that is fashioned on a shared services model, where services will be performed where it is most effective and efficient to do so, either in colleges and units, clusters or centrally. Shared services requires that each functional service be vertically integrated and services be provided seamlessly across all of the university’s functional areas.
Why do we want to create a new design of our support services? And why is shared services being proposed as a solution to improve university services and make them more scalable and efficient? This blog will provide some of the background and the rationale developed over time that has led us to propose development and implementation of a shared services model.
In 2010, Price-Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) was commissioned to support the Service and Process Enhancement Project (SPEP), with the goal to assess the university’s services and provide recommendations for service improvements and possible efficiencies. This task was supported by the review of over 2,700 documents, reports and data files, along with one-on-one interviews and group workshops with faculty, staff and students. Their findings about our support services were described as follows:
- there is a general disconnect between administrative service expectations of the colleges and schools and the level of service that is considered standard by the administrative units;
- a lack of organizational design is creating confusion around roles, responsibilities and processes, and a lack of standard roles and responsibilities for similar positions across the university results in different staff skills and capabilities to deliver the same service;
- the fragmented organization design of administrative services creates varying service levels across the university; and
- colleges, schools and administrative units are taking on processes and functions without a strong understanding of the university strategy and there is no current approval required for any college or administrative unit to replicate currently provided administrative services.
In reviewing PWC’s recommendations, it was recognized at the time that organizational design of the administrative and support services would be an exceptionally valuable project for the university to undertake. However, at the same time it was understood that this would be a monumental and formidable task that would take years to complete, as it entailed creating a new organizational design for the university’s support services.
At the beginning of the budget adjustments work in 2012, in response to this report and input from our community regarding possible budget savings, it was determined that organizational design would be one of the seven main areas for our budget adjustment efforts. The comments from our community about administrative staff growth and the evidence of our growth in costs without a corresponding enhancement in services or coordination of services became factors in us continuing to identify this as an area we would continue to explore. During this period we also completed an analysis of our workforce, including assessing and reviewing an estimated growth of our administrative and support staff of 40% from 2002-03 to 2012-13. More information about our workforce is available at: http://www.usask.ca/finances/project_overview/understanding_our_workforce.php.
With the recommendations of the Support Services Transformation Task Force in 2013, the importance of creating a new design for university support services was reinforced and further heightened. The task force report included the following observations and recommendations:
- The task force noted many inconsistencies in how support services such as information technology, audio‐visual technology, classroom technology, web technology, facilities management, marketing and communications, development and alumni relations, support for research, human resources, and financial services are delivered to and accessed by users – faculty, students and staff – throughout the university.
- It is evident that these support services have evolved over time and there is uneven resource allocation to units and varying levels of service delivery. Although there were a number of strengths in the support services, the task force observed overlap in mandates, duplication of services, confusion regarding who to contact for help, and overall inefficiencies in the delivery of many of these support services.
- The university should review the existing balance between services delivered and accessed centrally, and those delivered within units. This balance will differ depending on the nature of the support service, as sometimes it is more efficient to deliver a service centrally whereas in other situations it is more efficient, if not essential, to deliver the service at the local level. The university must determine the appropriate balance of service delivery for each support service, and must also ensure the appropriate nature and level of central oversight and coordination of services delivered locally.
In response to past evidence and validation by the support services task force, we will be announcing a shared services initiative this week as a major theme of TransformUS. This bold initiative will require the support and participation of all of our administrative and support staff. It is important to note that our current services are not broken because of a lack of dedication or skills of our current workforce. The challenges and failures of our support services result from the organizational design of our services. We must create a new structure for our support services, one that works for our students, faculty and staff.
Greg and Brett