More Great Ideas That Changed the Business Office
Members share their personal take on why they’re able to work better and smarter because of significant new ideas in the last 25 or more years.
Edited by Nancy Maguire
In honor of NACUBO's 50th anniversary in 2012, Business Officer asked readers to tell us what watershed events have had the most far-reaching effect in shaping your professional experience—and you told us about a range of processes, concepts, and technology. In addition to your responses that appear in the July/August 2012 issue of Business Officer here are more.
Streamlined student loan process
The creation and implementation of the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program has had the most significant impact on my work in my neary 30-year career. The ability for us to control origination and disbursements of student loans—which represent nearly half of the tuition and room and board income of the college—has significantly reduced workload, improved cash flow, and has allowed us to provide better service to students and families. In addition, the streamlined program has provided the opportunity to reduce the cohort default rate to below 3 percent.
Eileen K. O'Leary, Assistant Vice President for Student Financial Services
Stonehill College, Massachusetts
To outsource or not to outsource
In this time of economic uncertainty, universities and colleges are forced to look at their financial positions while improving service expectations. Although outsourcing is a concept many administrative personnel dislike, I was asked to consider it for the university's public safety and see if I could improve service quality while cutting costs. My initial response was to put out an RFP and feelers for outsourcing but in a three-option model: (1) total outsourcing, (2) a hybrid model using both in-house and contracted personnel, and (3) minimal outsourcing to fill in nonessential duties. We crunched numbers, solicited opinions, and gathered buy-in from various stakeholders. We then decided on a total outsource model, using service quality (as opposed to price) as the benchmark to fill our needs.
Randy Merced, Director of Public Safety
University of the Arts, Pennsylvania
Big savings on utility costs
Back in the early 1990s, my institution partnered with Honeywell Corp. in a guaranteed energy savings program. Honeywell's proposal included an upfront capital investment of more than $1.6 million and guaranteed substantial annual energy savings of up to 40 percent of our utility costs. The project included an extensive retrofit of all light bulbs and ballasts, installation of variable frequency drives to better throttle pumps and motors, reduction in water usage, and the installation of a digitally controlled energy management system. The project was a huge success, achieving annual savings that exceeded the guarantee. We presented the project at the NACUBO annual meeting in Minneapolis in the mid-1990s.
Michael Giampietro, Vice President for Administration
and Finance and Chief Financial Officer
Bay Path College, Massachusetts
A governance framework
When managing a visible new initiative, I use a governance framework I call "program assessment PLUS." The "PLUS" involves articulating and obtaining from the board upfront agreement on mission-advancing objectives and approach. Two recent examples are a landmark financial aid program, and a new debt program. I obtained board approval on objectives, principles, risks, success metrics, and monitoring mechanisms, and the framework was invaluable in guiding program development. More importantly, when circumstances and leadership changed, the framework allowed us to focus board discussion on which component should be changed: objectives in one case, and in the other case, new risks we mitigated.
Yoke San Reynolds, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
University of Virginia
E-mail as game-changer
Not everyone will agree with this assessment, but I believe that overall, e-mail is the single idea that has most affected, for good, my work in higher education business affairs. The ability to keep multiple people easily informed of progress on projects, and the opportunity to quickly respond to move a question from "asked" to "answered," are positive developments that make it easier to keep the work of our areas moving forward. These features of e-mail changed forever the way our work is done—indeed, I would guess that very few of us can even remember whatever it was we used to do!
Peggy Plympton, Vice President for Finance and Administration
Lehigh University, Pennsylvania
Electronic data possibilities
Unquestionably, it's the electronic spreadsheet. Nothing else has so revolutionized the ability to go far beyond what we used to be able to do with figures and data. Compared to paper spreadsheets, what is possible today is beyond easy description in its sophistication, vast abilities, and ease. A thousand times more is now possible with probably less than one-tenth the effort and time. It changed pretty much everything—for the better!
David Davis-Van Atta, Director of Institutional Research
Vassar College, New York
We deployed the Performance Information Procurement System to contract for food service, networking, and sports marketing. This system generated $52 million over 10 years, more than the previous service contracts. Read more about our Performance Based Studies Research Group at www.pbsrg.com.
John Riley, Executive Director of Purchasing and Business Services
Arizona State University
Improved audit process
Our institution uses SCT Banner for its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Unfortunately, we do not have the information technology personnel necessary for us to be able to generate summarized financials (like we would present for our year-end audit) straight from Banner. Our tax preparers were using CCH'S Workpaper Manager product to prepare our tax returns; with this system, you can group your general ledger accounts for financial statement presentation and import balances each year. A few years ago, our CFO decided to buy this software with enough licenses for our staff to prepare audit workpapers, review them internally, and provide them to our auditors for the audit. It has dramatically reduced audit time and has even become a great tool for us to prepare regular internal financial statements. We are even considering using it for our budget modeling process.
April V. Davis, Senior Accounting Manager
Houston Baptist University
Huddles build a positive environment
Our department has implemented weekly huddles, in which we all get together as a group every Friday morning for 15 to 30 minutes. Employees volunteer to lead one month of huddles, and this Huddle Lead is responsible for selecting an interesting topic. Since we all work in different administrative and programmatic capacities, the topics are not usually technical in nature. Sometimes we have interesting guest speakers, other weeks we do ice breakers and learn more about each others' interests and backgrounds. We also announce various university events to help keep employees informed and involved. Depending on the time of year, we may also discuss annual benefits enrollment or fiscal year-end processes and deadlines.
Since we are all busy during the week with our individual responsibilities and tasks, we've found that the value of these huddles is that we interact with each other outside of those daily tasks. This helps create a positive, sociable work environment, lending itself to higher productivity and lower turnover.
Hillary K. Harding, Department of Surgery Administrator, Finance and Operations
Emory University School of Medicine, Georgia
The right hires
Regardless of ever more rapid changes in technology, or advanced theories of management and leadership, or innovative strategies related to fundraising and investment management, I come back to the notion of hiring good people. Creating a deliberate, thorough process for considering new personnel is well worth the time and effort. My thinking on this has been greatly influenced by getting the hiring decision right over the years-and even more influenced by getting the hiring decision wrong. I have found the book Hiring Smart: How to Predict Winners and Losers in the Incredibly Expensive People-Reading Game by Pierre Mornell (Ten Speed Press, 2003) to be a great resource.
Brad Williams, Executive Vice President
Simpson University, California
Mentoring the next generation
I have benefited immensely from the mentorship of several senior financial executives during my career as a business officer. These mentors have helped shape my development, provided sage counsel at various points in that development, and acted as a pressure-relief valve and independent source of guidance during difficult decisions or circumstances. These mentorship relationships have developed into lifelong friendships as well and have been very rewarding. As these mentors begin to retire and my career continues to grow, I realize that the baton is being passed and it is incumbent upon me to provide mentorship to the next generation of future leaders.
Michael J. Lochhead, Vice President for Administration and Finance
College of the Holy Cross, Massachusetts
NANCY MAGUIRE is a project management specialist at NACUBO.
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