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Business Officer Magazine
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Celebrating Innovation

The series on the 2010 NACUBO Innovation Award recipients concludes with the University of Central Oklahoma's student health clinic partnership and the University of Washington's infrastructure for global efforts.

By Margo Vanover Porter

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Partners in Sickness and Health

Given the choice, Steve Kreidler prefers to concentrate on the University of Central Oklahoma's core competency—education. 

"I don't really want to run a bunch of businesses that are outside of our core competency," explains the executive vice president of the Edmond-based institution. "We know how to educate. I want to do everything related to education and as little of the other as I can, particularly if somebody else can do it better for a lower price." 

That's why the University of Central Oklahoma recently recruited a partner for its student health clinic, a concept for which the institution captured a 2010 NACUBO Innovation Award. In a recent interview with Business Officer, Kreidler explains how he turned an ongoing "point of pain" into a community-based clinic associated with a major hospital.

What gave you the idea to seek a partner for your health clinic? For the last decade, partnering has been our motto at the University of Central Oklahoma. For example, we lost money selling books in our bookstore until we found a partner. Now Barnes & Noble gives great student discounts and offers inventory control. We also lost money making and selling our own food until we found a partner.

Most importantly, the changes in the world of health care were—and are—creating challenges that we did not feel competent to manage. We needed a partner who would traverse the new waters in health care with greater effectiveness.

Was it that much of a stretch to think that a university in a metropolitan area with great health-care providers might call them up and ask, "Do you want to bid on our business?"

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What did they say? "Absolutely." They said, "You've got 17,000 students who could be referrals for our hospital system. Yes, we want to partner with you."

What did you hope to accomplish? We were supplementing the student health clinic with about $750,000 a year on top of what students paid. We wanted to know if we could decrease our costs and increase service. We looked for a health-care provider partner that inspired a high level of confidence.

How did you select the partner? We used the parameters of our request for proposal. In addition to the basics, we asked providers what other services they could provide. By choosing Mercy Health Network, we ended up with a partner that could enhance our existing offerings. For example, the main hospital is located about 10 miles from our campus, but Mercy is now building a 200,000-square-foot facility aimed at health and wellness about two miles from our campus. We're also doing joint research.

Is the clinic just for students? No. Mercy wanted the clinic to serve anybody in the community who would like to pop in. That's a plus, because the better the clinic does, the better our partnership.

How so? We place a guarantee of a certain amount into the clinic's operation every year to cover losses. That's part of our continuing cost while they build up the business. Once the business is built, we won't need to supplement it. 

Are you saving any money? We've saved about $450,000 in operating expenses. To keep the cost low to students, we're very happy to supplement the clinic.

What would you change if you could? I only wish we had done this sooner.

What's the most innovative aspect of the project? The idea of adding joint research. We have student undergraduate research opportunities partnered with faculty members in an area that we're trying to promote as a university, which is service to the disabled. We offer an Olympic and Paralympic training center here, and our partner is enthusiastically helping us write joint grants to do more in this area. Asking the hospital, "Wouldn't you like to be part of this great research?" was creative because it was outside the lines of the business officer's responsibility.

What are takeaways for other institutions? Business officers should determine whether they have a pain point they would like to resolve and then ask who might benefit by solving that problem. I'm always looking for partners to share in the risk.

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Internal Network Supports Global Vision

Between 2002 and 2006, the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle experienced a boom in grant support for global health activities, thanks to federal funding for an international training program in HIV/AIDS as well as other support for international global health initiatives.

Great news, right? Except the scope and scale of these initiatives were beyond anything UW administrative units had previously encountered.

*"Operational questions, such as 'How do we open a bank account as an NGO in Namibia?' were coming forward that administrative units had never been asked, nor could answer," explains Ann Anderson, associate vice president and controller. "We needed a centrally coordinated initiative to respond to the international operational challenges that our research units were experiencing."

To develop an administrative infrastructure for UW's global vision, V'Ella Warren, senior vice president for finance and facilities, chartered the Global Support Project. Business Officer recently asked Anderson to describe the project, which received one of NACUBO's 2010 Innovation Awards.

Tell us more about your Global Support Project. It's a comprehensive network of collaborative partnerships with a range of campus entities, including the provost's office, academic schools and colleges, central administrative units, attorney general's office, and internal audit.

What about the cost? Our primary costs are contributed time by those who directly participate on the Global Support Project team, which includes key central administrative representatives and academic unit representatives with significant international activities. We did appoint a dedicated project manager and received permanent funds for the position. Other costs, such as legal expenses in support of our efforts to establish overseas entities, have been borne by the sponsored programs that directly benefit.

How could another institution implement a similar project? This is a challenging question because every university is configured differently. That said, I can offer five recommendations:

  • Identify an individual in the business office who can facilitate the resolution of international operational problems.
  • Create single points of contact in each business unit who are international specialists for that process. Publish this list.
  • Create a Web site that addresses how to resolve operational challenges in international work.
  • Select a cross-campus team of customers, business units, and provost office representatives, and ask them to identify issues to be addressed.
  • Keep the president, provost, and executive vice president informed of your progress so you have senior-level buy-in and sponsorship.

If you could, what would you do differently to improve the project—from idea to implementation? It's a general axiom that you can never communicate too broadly about new initiatives and resulting improvements. The same is true for our project. We need to redouble our efforts to communicate the resources available.

What is the biggest obstacle to innovation in an institution? Not having a successful change model that can be used to create innovation and improvements. At the UW, we have successfully implemented quality improvement methodology.

How can business officers create an environment that encourages innovation? A sustainable change model is critical. A focus on customer service is essential. Celebrating and recognizing innovation is an additional component.

How can you motivate staff who are tasked with doing the project to make it a priority, especially if it represents an addition to the existing workload? At the UW, we've found that focusing on processes is a powerful tool for making the workflow more efficient and effective. This often has the effect of freeing time to focus on new tasks. Another approach is for business officers to reprioritize so that some existing work is either redirected to a different unit or stopped.

Maintaining focus through communication, data monitoring, performance reviews, and recognition systems have proven to be effective motivational tools for us.

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, has written the articles in the "Elegant Solutions" series. She covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

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