News Column

William & Mary Business Innovation Effort Progresses

September 3, 2014



WILLIAMSBURG, Va., Sept. 3 -- The College of William and Mary issued the following news story:

Savings in building maintenance contracts. Reduction of steps to fill a vacant position. Cost avoidance through expansion of cloud-based computing storage in Information Technology (IT).

These savings and process improvements are early results from work this summer on William & Mary's Business Innovation initiative. Through this initiative, the university is reviewing business processes in a comprehensive effort to improve effectiveness and efficiency.

The effort is guided by a 13-member steering committee, co-chaired by the provost and the vice president for strategic initiatives and including faculty, staff, a student and a member of the Board of Visitors.

"This is exactly what we hoped to find," said Provost Michael R. Halleran. "Although we know William & Mary's administrative functions operate well already, we always are looking for ways to improve them. The Business Innovation initiative provides a structured approach to that process and helps to ensure the university's resources are focused on its strategic priorities."

Since last spring, Facilities Management has used the Request for Proposal (RFP) process in procurement to engage specified contractors to do specialized work such as painting, HVAC, electrical and similar trades.

"This work began independently of the Business Innovation initiative, but it has become a model for what is possible by taking fuller advantage of procurement processes," said Greg Johnson, director of procurement services. "The estimates at this point show a savings of $260,000 annually, that can be used for some of facilities' unfunded but pressing needs.

"We were able to provide the same quantity of work, equal or better quality but lower prices by following industry best practices," he continued. "Additional analysis as part of the business innovation initiative suggested additional opportunities for savings can be found in other areas."

One of the goals of the overarching Business Innovation initiative, officials said, is to free-up resources and to create an operationally more effective institution with simpler processes and more responsive systems.

"Part of this effort is about finding ways to streamline processes without compromising quality" Halleran said. "The recent reduction in the number of steps necessary to fill a vacant position is an excellent example of this."

During the initial phase of the Business Innovation project, the consultants, Censeo Consulting Group, conducted a number of interviews across campus that brought to light that the steps required in the current process with Human Resources (HR) for filling vacancies added to processing time. To reduce these administrative burdens, HR has eliminated the need to approve a position description if the position itself has not changed and is simply being refilled. This change eliminates eight process steps, six of which required submissions and approvals.

"If we can apply a similar pragmatic model to map workflow across campus with respect to other personnel actions," said John Poma, associate vice president of human resources, "we can create real time-savings and reduce frustration for our employees. In fact, as a result of the consultant's assistance with the mapping of workflows, HR has recently identified another step out of a 12-step hiring process that can be eliminated. By working more closely with the hiring official at the beginning of the recruitment process, HR can set compensation with one approval step rather than requiring two separate approvals."

In addition to the HR process improvement and the contract cost savings, another summer pilot project identified opportunities for savings and cost-avoidance in IT.

"The university's need for data storage and computing capacity grows substantially every year," said Chief Information Officer Courtney Carpenter. "Moving some of that storage and computing capacity from on-site servers into the cloud will improve the speed of our on-site systems and save the university hardware and maintenance cost associated with on-site server storage."

Carpenter added that estimates suggest that use of cloud-based systems in this manner eliminates the long-term need to build a data center that would cost several million dollars.

With the pilot projects completed, the Business Innovation effort will now be expanding with the launch of a campus-wide survey of the same kind completed by Advancement and the Mason School of Business. The electronic survey will be launched in staggered waves during the coming weeks, beginning in mid-September.

"Based on the value of the exercises conducted this summer in Advancement and the Mason School of Business, we saw that it would be worthwhile to expand the survey university-wide," said Henry Broaddus, vice president for strategic initiatives.

The campus-wide survey, like the pilot programs this summer, will be conducted with the assistance of Censeo. Prior to the launch of this summer's pilot projects, the Business Innovation Steering Committee worked with the consulting group from January through March to complete an initial assessment of key business processes, including HR, IT, facilities, procurement and finance.

"The intent of the campus-wide survey," added Broaddus, "is to learn more about what people see as barriers to their effectiveness and to foster long-term thinking about organizational structure."

"This process has the potential to not only improve our financial health but to also improve faculty and staff satisfaction through streamlined processes and improved support systems," Halleran added.

While officials said the results of the campus-wide survey will be ready by the first of the year, they noted the overall Business Innovation effort is more long-term and will extend over several years.

"Throughout the process," Broaddus added, "the Steering Committee will be refining opportunities and tracking results. Members of the William & Mary community are invited to learn more about the initiative and to provide feedback through the Business Innovation website.

"Business processes are not the main things William & Mary does," said Broaddus, "but we want William & Mary to excel at them in order to support our educational mission that much better. We want to become the model for a university where opportunities for cost savings, process improvements and long-term efficiencies are discovered in a systematic and ongoing way."

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