How Much Change Can a University Absorb at Once?
Most universities have trouble bringing one major initiative to a successful conclusion. What would happen when a major university tried to do 11 initiatives simultaneously?
At the University of Kansas, disruption has been in the air for more than two years. The university is making changes to the following processes: budgeting, procurement, strategic sourcing, human resources, facilities, construction management, enrollment management, information technology, libraries, and research administration. On top of those, it is also implementing a system of shared service centers, which involves shifting functional experts in areas like accounting and HR to new positions around the campus.
“In analyzing our operations and looking for opportunities to be more efficient, we felt we had picked all of the low-hanging fruit,” Diane Goddard, the Vice Provost for Administration and Finance told a jam-packed session at the 2014 annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Business Officers in Seattle. “We knew we were going to have to take on the hard things to make real change.”
Kansas brought on Huron Education to help write business cases for the changes, and Huron has helped manage 8 of the 11 initiatives.
Huron consultants soon realized that many of the processes that Kansas wanted to change were inter-related, so it made sense to try to change all simultaneously.
“If you had taken this on in a siloed approach, you would have had to re-wire the whole process anyway,” said Michael K. Phillips, a senior director for Huron Education. “A tight coordinated team, a lot of communication, and a lot of people working together is how all of this is being accomplished.”
In order to kick-start the process and gain momentum, the Kansas team looked for quick wins that would demonstrate to the campus that change would be meaningful. Much of the early demonstrable progress was in revamping strategic sourcing, said Barry Swanson, Associate Vice Provost for Campus Operations. Staples agreed to give KU a $2.1 million signing bonus in return for an exclusive supply agreement, Fisher Scientific made a similar deal with Kansas and paid the university $600,000.
KU leaders were careful to emphasize that savings would get re-invested in academics, which helped capture the support of faculty.
“The faculty love our traditions, they love our culture,” said Goddard. “You have to find those strengths and build them up while you are changing everything else.”
Kansas also used the simultaneous initiatives to reshape some departments.
“Central IT wasn’t a very healthy organization,” said Bob Lim, the university’s Chief Information Officer. “We didn’t have a strong track record of successfully delivering solutions.” Now after completing several cross-campus strategic initiatives and refining multiple networks so they can “talk” to one another, the image of the IT department has been redefined. “IT is seen as a nimble, helpful partner that delivers value,” Lim said.
The university is still working through a number of the initiatives. For example, it has implemented just two of the eight planned shared services centers. It will take another two years to roll out the remaining centers, said Jason F. Hornberger, an assistant vice provost.
The process has been bumpy, he agreed. “People are going to be unhappy the first few weeks, the first few months. I haven’t always been the most popular guy on campus. But as people are seeing the benefits of deeper expertise around the university, they are coming around to understanding why we are doing this, and supporting it.”Read More