Theme: Share services – work together across unit boundaries

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:

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

9 thoughts on “Theme: Share services – work together across unit boundaries

  1. I’m sorry to have to ask, but the latest blog post raises some serious questions about what has been done between 2010 and now:

    1. Was the university community informed of PWC’s findings?
    2. What immediate steps–beyond a workforce assessment–were taken in response to those findings, if any?
    3. If none were taken, why not?
    4. Most importantly, what is the administration’s best estimate as to how much money might have been saved had a response been undertaken with greater alacrity?

    For the sake of context, I do not consider “determin[ing] that organizational design would be one of the seven main areas for our budget adjustment efforts,” as we are now hearing in 2014 it finally will be as part of the TransformUS process, to be an actual response. I am very much hoping to hear that there was a much more fulsome response that I’m simply not aware of; otherwise, this will sound like more of what was identified in the Support Services Task Force Report as the administration’s tendency to be long on planning but short on delivery.

    I really hope to hear that I’m simply out of the loop on all the hard work that our university administration has done in response to the PWC report since 2010. Today’s blog post seemed to be more about gestures than actions, and so I’d really like to hear about the actions undertaken by our leaders before the TransformUS process even began.

    • Kevin,

      Please see the following link for more information:

      I recall that the SPEP process results were discussed at Council. and some efforts related to this review have already been started.

    • Kevin,

      The Service and Process Enhancement Project (SPEP) Phase I, completed in 2011, was an initial high level assessment and identification of opportunities for service and process improvements conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Their report can be found at: Based on the results, there were many strengths identified in the administrative functions assessed and no single major area of weakness where major savings could be easily achieved. Instead, there were 30 cross-stream projects identified that had been condensed from over 120 opportunities submitted through the Phase I study through the eight administrative streams and the university community. These 30 cross-stream opportunities are potentially areas where services could be improved or savings are achievable, depending on further analysis.

      Phase II of SPEP concluded at the end of June 2012, and included three initiatives selected for review and implementation. These were:
      1. Printing Re-structuring and Optimization: the central printing plant was restructured in 2012, resulting in approximately $600,000 in permanent savings. We continue to make progress in terms of the distributed print function, and will further pursue opportunities here through the Operating Budget Adjustments project;
      2. Communications Organizational Design: Communications across campus were restructured in 2012 to ensure we provide excellent services to colleges and units while ensuring central coordination and professional accountabilities.
      3. Payments and E-Procurement projects:
      a. Procurement and Payments – Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT): EFT was implemented for employee reimbursements and vendor and contractor payments in 2011 and 2012.
      b. Strategic Sourcing: initial analysis was completed for more strategic sourcing of goods and services on campus, and once the OBA initiative was established it was rolled into the Maximizing the Value of the University Spend strategy. Work continues on this project.
      c. Travel and Expenses: In 2013 an online process for travel bookings and expense reimbursement was implemented in select units on campus. All units have now been offered training for this process, and the roll-out across campus will be complete by December 2014.
      4. Prioritization: A fourth module was created to assess and prioritize the remaining 27 opportunities identified in SPEP Phase I. At the conclusion of this assessment, SPEP was rolled into the Operating Budget Adjustments project, and the prioritization was used to inform OBA priorities.

      Of the remaining 27 opportunities, many are in the process of being implemented or will be addressed through future OBA projects, including:
      • UnivRS research management system;
      • Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) system;
      • Organizational design (OBA strategy);
      • Fees for service and inventory management (part of
      Maximizing the Value of the University Spend OBA
      • Aboriginal engagement strategy;
      • Sustainability and energy management; and
      • Various administrative services that will be addressed
      through the OBA Shared Services project.

      • Thanks very much, Greg.

        Could you sum that all up in English for us, please? ;-) You’re using terminology there that many of us won’t understand.

        A precis in real-world English would be greatly appreciated!

        Thanks again, in advance,


        • Kevin,

          In 2011 PWC made 30 recommendations for service improvements and efficiencies. Since most of the 30 recommendations meant a significant investment in terms of time and resources, we decided to move forward on a limited number of recommendations based on a prioritized list. Hence, the reason we completed the printing, communications, and travel and expense recommendations initially.

          For the next phase we had prioritized three more initiatives to proceed forward with. When the operating budget adjustment groups were pulled together we folded the PWC recommendations into the budget savings ideas.

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