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Business Officer Magazine
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Solving the Process Puzzle

The University of West Georgia applied a continuous improvement model that has netted real results in efficiency, teamwork, and approach to change.

By William Gauthier, Dan Lewis, and Michael Renfrow

Editor’s Note: The business and finance division of the University of West Georgia captured several nods from SACUBO’s 2006 best practices. The following article is based on the division’s winning initiatives for continuous improvement.

Such was the case with the business and finance division of the University of West Georgia, Carrollton, in 2001, when it faced increased technological requirements, new personnel, process modifications within the university system, and a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation. Division leaders decided to try a process improvement model known as business process redesign outlined in Business Process Redesign for Higher Education (see sidebar, "A Resource for Process Re-engineering"). We chose this system specifically for its strong focus on process improvement, measurement tools, and simplicity of application. The initial results would ultimately lay the groundwork for similar work in 2004.

In our first experience adopting this model, the division identified 75 business processes in diverse areas including auditing functions, auxiliary enterprises, budget services, business information systems, campus planning and facilities, office of the controller, human resources, public safety, and purchasing. Representatives from each area were selected to prioritize, group, and rank the processes to determine which could be evaluated and improved within 10 months. Eight processes were selected and evaluated by cross-functional teams composed of 48 internal and external staff members. The process redesign teams were trained to map the flow of each process and then began the arduous task of reviewing how and why things were done and whether they could be done more efficiently.

These efforts resulted in improved efficiency, renewed teamwork, a deliberate approach to change, and increased value to business and finance customers. Based on these initial outcomes and enthusiastic support from management, the division decided to introduce a second chapter of business process redesign in 2004, following the three phases outlined in the NACUBO resource.

Phase I: Discover Target Areas

The thrust behind this first phase of business process redesign is to: Build sponsorship, lay the foundation for change, identify and prioritize opportunities to improve the institution’s administrative process radically, and create the business case for change.

Prior to starting this next continuous improvement initiative, business and finance staff reviewed the initial list of processes they had identified in 2001 to determine where they had left off and if newer technology had been introduced to help make particular processes more efficient. In revisiting business process redesign this second time, the business process redesign steering committee, composed of senior division leaders, identified 10 processes to map and rework within a 10-month time frame.

A Resource for Process Re-engineering

If you’ve been puzzling over process redesign at your institution, consider turning to the pages of Business Process Redesign for Higher Education (NACUBO, 1994). The publication outlines the background and conceptual framework of the re-engineering process, while helping you understand how to apply this approach in your specific situation.

Detailed examples illustrate what a streamlined process looks like; what tools are implemented and their impact; and what benefits can be expected in cost, quality, service, and other criteria. The 192-page book is available in softcover at $39 for members and $59 for nonmembers. To order, visit www.nacubo.org/x43.xml.

They selected these 10 processes based on process flow, transaction activity, and technology availability. The process redesign teams were expanded to include division members, faculty members, and even a representative from the University System of Georgia, which provides parameters to the 35 institutions funded by the state. Having established a 10-month deadline for completion, the committee scheduled meetings to review the processes, evaluate alternative methods and technologies, and develop action plans for implementing change.

Following is the list of processes earmarked for redesign and some of the eventual outcomes that were realized.

  1. Purchasing cards. We reviewed pre-approved acceptance levels for purchasing cards used for a variety of administrative and departmental purchases and increased the level to $500.

    Eventual outcome: This eliminated the need for paperwork transactions associated with purchase orders less than $500, resulting in a 50 percent reduction in transactions from the previous year and an estimated savings of $50,000.
  2. Budget process. We mapped the facilities and grounds plant-allocation process and reviewed nonvalue-added steps.

    Eventual outcome: The process was changed to running plant allocation at year-end rather than month-end. This modification resulted in a labor savings of six days per month (otherwise calculated at 72 days per year or 576 hours total), which translated into 28 percent of working days.
  3. Return to work. We evaluated light duty and transitional options to determine—for the benefit of employee and employer—the best methods for the return to work of an employee injured on the job and with limited capability.
  4. Program management. Campus planning and development personnel evaluated the process for internal construction projects.

    Eventual outcome: We streamlined the existing method of oversight from two coordinators to one.
  5. Civil operating procedure for students. We benchmarked the existing arrest process and redesigned it to comply with requirements of city and county law agencies.

    Eventual outcome: Procedural changes eliminated nonvalue-added steps.
  6. Private branch exchange. We evaluated the existing telephone system on campus. Eventual outcome: We replaced the previous system with a private telephone network, resulting in a 30 percent savings from the previous year.
  7. Chemical management. The risk management and environmental health and safety department evaluated and redesigned the existing chemical waste disposal process.

    Eventual outcome: We applied newer technology to the process and required greater accountability from generators of waste. Benchmarking with two other institutions allowed for the development of a Web-based system that links material safety data sheets with existing chemical inventory, producing a one-time program savings estimated at a minimum of $225,000.
  8. Higher One Card. We introduced the MasterCard debit card to replace several existing processes.

    Eventual outcome: By serving as a primary bank account, the Higher One Card allows cardholders to access cash from ATMs, write checks, send and receive money electronically, and monitor accounts online. Students can now also receive financial aid refunds electronically.
  9. Meal plan registration. We reviewed and changed the process for student food plan registration.

    Eventual outcome: By requiring meal plan registration prior to class registration, related meal plan costs can be included in registration fees.
  10. Georgia Oglethorpe Award application. We revised the process of applying for this award—based on Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria.

    Eventual outcome: The application process and related Baldrige criteria serve as a template for campus planning and facilities to implement future continuous improvement efforts.

Phase II: Redesign Workflow

Tracking Satisfaction

In addition to reviewing specific work processes, the business and finance division of the University of West Georgia decided to gauge the satisfaction of its customers to further improve overall business process redesign efforts.

After researching what we needed to assess, a staff team evaluated online measurement tools and selected Zoomerang, an inexpensive solution, to implement campuswide surveys. We conducted assessments for human resources, public safety, controller’s office, auxiliary enterprises, budget office, and student financial services to obtain feedback about how specific processes affected the business and finance areas. The results from those assessments were posted on the division’s Web site, formulated into goals and action plans for improvement, and used to inform additional staff training.

After identifying and prioritizing opportunities for improvement, the redesign steering committee moved to the second phase of our business process redesign initiative: Analyze the selected processes in detail, identify technological solutions to enable change, innovate, redesign, and develop implementation plans.

Using Microsoft Visio software, each process was mapped and evaluated for value versus nonvalue-added steps, listing those activities that are essential to the customer. The cross-functional teams performed a process flow analysis to determine what steps in each process were necessary and where technology could maximize efficiency.

The review performed by the risk management and environmental health and safety department on chemical management is one example of technology-driven change. Risk management, a department within campus planning and facilities, is responsible for the protection of university students, visitors, faculty, and staff through training, education, hazard abatement, and environmental health and safety information dissemination. Additionally, the department ensures that all activities conducted on campus meet and exceed requirements set by local, state, and federal agencies.

The mapping of the chemical management process revealed that all departments that handle chemicals were responsible for identifying and labeling all chemicals, ensuring that waste containers were properly maintained in a designated area, and notifying risk management when the waste would be ready for disposal. Environmental safety personnel were required to research chemical hazards, prepare internal manifest forms, determine waste codes and hazard classes, create chemical disposal inventories, collect and transport wastes to a central location, manage containers until disposal, determine monthly generator status, and maintain records of disposal. This process was time consuming and required from five to eight hours per collection. In light of the inefficiency, the potential for noncompliance with protection and disposal regulations, the penalties associated for being in noncompliance, and the technology options that were available to enhance the service, environmental safety personnel welcomed the decision to implement new processes.

Through comparisons with other institutions, the process redesign team discovered that many of the chemical management steps could be accomplished using Web-based technology. The team learned, for example, that other institutions had designed Web-based programs to enable generators of waste to prepare and download an internal manifest form that would automatically identify chemical information, waste codes, and hazards class of the waste. The programs also maintained databases on chemical inventories and the properties of each material safety data sheet.

As excited as team members were to discover that Web-based programs existed, they were disappointed to learn that such programs were custom-fitted to the specific institution and were expensive to purchase. However, discussions between the director of risk management, counterparts at the Medical College of Georgia, and the program designer led to an agreement that would produce an affordable program that could be implemented using the existing chemical data inventory. Using this program, environmental health and safety personnel were still accountable to inspect, weigh, transport, and store containers until disposal, but the time involved was reduced by four hours per pickup.

Phase III: Realize Better Business Solutions

Having identified and tested new solutions to the chemical management and other selected business processes, the redesign steering committee and cross-functional teams gladly moved to phase three: Finalize implementation plans, and then implement the redesigned process, including changes in polices, organization, work procedures, staff assignments, training, and technology.

The teamwork of the business and finance division employees powered a range of successes during the implementation, or “realize,” phase. However, dramatic changes in policies, procedures, or staff assignments were not necessary. Since the 2001 initiative had driven the development of software and related training sessions, the only requirement to get the ball rolling again in 2004 was to provide staff with the time to evaluate processes and determine how they could be improved.

Conversation Starter
What important processes has your institution streamlined or improved and with what result?
E-mail: carole.schweitzer@nacubo.org

To encourage empowerment, the teams were allowed to select the processes needing redesign. Why not? Nobody knew the processes better than those employees who were directly involved in performing the work. This decision not only encouraged team member buy-in but also addressed processes that were perceived by employees to be the most complex. If the employees felt that way, chances were the customers did as well.

The 2004 business process redesign assignments helped illustrate to employees that for change to occur in an organization, it must come from within. Each team summarized its efforts with revisions in policies, procedures, and staff assignments. In addition, a year-end luncheon included team presentations and brainstorming for the next round of processes to review. The results from both the 2001 and 2004 initiatives were posted to the division Web site for the teams to reference and the university community at large to review.

Maintain the Momentum

Perhaps an unofficial fourth phase of this business process redesign system might be “repeat.”

The use of this process improvement tool has provided our division with a template for future continuous improvement efforts. Employees have maintained the momentum. During the past five years, the individuals involved in these redesign efforts have dispelled any fear of change and have begun to examine all procedures in light of how they can be improved, simplified, or assisted by technology. The many results that our division has achieved with this effort are due in part to the support from senior leaders of the organization as well as to those employees who participated in the selection and redesign of processes.

Accomplishments since 2004 include:

  • The redesign of 23 processes (including those from 2004 and new ones from 2005) and the scheduling of 36 more for the 2006-07 fiscal year, which we have incorporated into our annual goals and objectives.
  • Development, implementation, and completion of customer service measurements in all business and finance division areas. A staff team researched and evaluated customer service metrics such as responsiveness, knowledge, courtesy, helpfulness, and accessibility (see sidebar, “Tracking Satisfaction”). Summaries developed for each area led to a divisionwide training seminar in May 2006 that focused on customer service, communication, change, motivation, and teamwork. The results of the seminar have evolved into a customer service initiative within the division that includes employee recognition, training, Web site redesign, and additional assessments.

As changes in technology and equipment continue to emerge, a method for evaluating how those changes will impact a process may help an institution build a foundation for excellence far into the future. While many process improvement tools are available, business process redesign is one that has worked well for us. Not only have we benefited from the redesigned processes, we have also experienced increased employee engagement and teamwork. Overall, we have identified a means to institutionalize continuous improvement within the division for the benefit of the university and all whom we serve.

WILLIAM GAUTHIER is vice president of business and finance, DAN LEWIS is coordinator of business and finance development, and MICHAEL RENFROW is assistant vice president of campus planning and facilities at the University of West Georgia, Carrollton.