It’s Like Christmas in April: Focusing on Efficiency and Improving Process/Procedure (PART ONE FAIRFIELD UNIVERSITY – LIVING A STRATEGIC PLAN REFRESH)

Fairfield University is undergoing a campus-wide effort to refresh the University’s Strategic Plan. There are ten task forces and what level of nerd am I that I am thrilled to be the chair of one; specifically, the Back Office Operations Task Force. As a Chief Information Officer, often a meeting mogul and business case provider, the opportunity to lead a charge identifying areas of improvement for the institution that should lead to a more efficient, more streamlined, and less duplicative environment is exciting.

Why would anyone not in higher education have an interest in this journey? A campus is similar to a business in that we have a comprehensive ERP system, rely on reporting/analytics, have customers (students), overhead and competition. In addition, the charge of this particular task force is: To leverage best practices and technologies to streamline and modernize our back office operations and lower our costs. What if, just imagine, our experience here in Connecticut elicits an ‘a-ha!’ moment for you directly or indirectly? No harm done, possible applause from your boss on recommending a cost-saving efficiency out of the blue. Worse things have happened.

We have a great group of collaborative, forward-thinkers on our task force. We have been assured no one’s feelers will get hurt if we point out that their area needs an overhaul. This is about identifying pathways to improvement, not rehashing past actions and deficiencies. Two meetings in and we’ve added three new members, agreed upon recurring no-pressure meetings, found several reports done by other institutions on similar projects (one in particular is spot-on), and dispersed a link to an online survey requesting input from the entire campus population. We are storing the responses in a database and will categorize them by the labels ‘Student Operations’ (think ‘Customer Operations’, my corporate friends) and ‘Business Operations’. A pervasive concentration spanning both labels is ‘Our People’ supporting training, professional development and continuous improvement efforts to build confidence and knowledge within our community.

Examples of Student Operations include Registration, Financial Aid, Residence Life, Bursar’s office. Examples of Business Operation include General Budget Strategies, HR, Procurement, Facilities/Energy Conservation, Printing, Duplicated Efforts, and Technology. More will come, some might drop off. In general, the only steadfast rule is absolute transparency.

We are now in the process of compiling and categorizing submitted ideas (including our own), preparing for the next meeting when we will start prioritizing and assigning a measurable (cost, time, savings) to each. This will inevitably be captured and live/breathe within an Excel-like environment so if you’d like to play along at home, use your white board to nail down the operational structure at your place of business, start brainstorming and identify labor- and/or time-intensive processes, high-cost areas, software or systems that might be disparate and duplicative. Jot this all down. Then stay tuned for next steps!

This is an update on the housekeeping phase, dealing primarily with logistics, structure and a loose, malleable plan that will most certainly morph into our final deliverable slated for December 2014.

You’ve completed the first installment of our experience. More shall come as we progress.

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