This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations.
Melanie Bailey has been saving time for SMU employees ever since she took the new post of senior contracts administrator in SMU’s Business and Finance office in March 2015. She, and a team of 29 contract leads in academic and business units across campus, are the key reasons why processing contracts at SMU now typically takes two days instead of 44.
“We are part of a new system that was begun in April 2015 as a result of the OE2C Contract Administration initiative,” says Bailey. “Before then, almost all contracts had to be processed by Legal Affairs and, due to their huge workload, contract turnarounds usually took a good six weeks. Under the new system, all contracts go directly to the appropriate lead in each campus department, and they funnel them to me. I review each one and, when needed, I may also consult with Risk Management, OIT, Research Administration, Legal Affairs or other areas for additional review. As a result, our average turnaround time for getting contracts processed is now just two days.”
SMU enters into a wide variety of contracts every year: zero-dollar value contracts, multi-million-dollar contracts, revenue generating contracts and more. Each brings a different level of risk to the University, and Bailey and her colleagues evaluate them individually.
“Most people are surprised by the sheer number of contracts required to conduct University business,” says Bailey. “Since our new procedure started, we’ve processed 2,530 of them! There is no ‘down time.’ Even when the workload feels overwhelming, I figure it out, break it down task by task, get one done and move on to the next.”
The contract processing system is aided by new software, which helps Bailey and her team filter the contracts into categories and also allows for electronic signatures. Paper contracts no longer have to be manually passed around campus for signatures, which speeds up the approval process. Bailey is currently working with OIT to identify even better software with more advanced capabilities, which she hopes to implement within the next year.
Bailey says she is proud of the time-saving results her team has achieved. “We can now handle approximately 90 percent of contracts without involving Legal Affairs, freeing up their time to spend on other important issues. Across campus, we enable colleagues to focus on SMU’s academic mission and not continually spend their time tracking down where their contract is or what the status of it is. The majority of the credit goes to our 29 contract leads, who work extremely hard every single day to get the contracts taken care of for their academic units and business units. The contracts initiative would not be as successful as it is without them and without the help of Sandra Tefft, who serves as my back-up when I am out of the office.”
Time savings for SMU, and for Bailey
Bailey first arrived at SMU in 2008 looking for a better work-life balance. She had been a paralegal in Dallas working in medical malpractice defense, construction litigation and business litigation, preparing for and attending trials for a number of years. While she loved her job, it required long nights and weekends away from her young children. Finding a position as a legal assistant in SMU’s Legal Affairs office gave her back the family time she was missing. And, her work helping manage contracts in that department paved the way for her current job.
The results of her work are personally meaningful as well. “The best part is the sense of accomplishment I feel when I’ve helped make improvements possible. That includes, for example, the contract that lets an academic unit hire a consultant who will have an important impact on the teaching of students; the contract that will impact our student athletes; the contract that will reach out to a group of students for enrollment services; the contract that will bring new technology into the classrooms; the contract that will bring better health benefits to faculty and staff; the contract for student organizations for help with a charitable cause. What’s important to me is what the contract will deliver to SMU’s students, faculty, staff, alumni, future students, guests and others.”
Looking ahead, Bailey says she has several goals. “As new inefficiencies are identified in processes and workflows, I will work to continue to suggest new processes and make improvements,” she says. “I look forward to helping departments across campus develop new ways to implement standard contracts to make the process easier.”
And she remains grateful for the advantages of her new role. “I have the pleasure of working with great colleagues throughout campus who have the same goal in mind: to get contracts done quickly, meeting the business needs of their department while keeping in mind the best interest of the University. And for myself, even after the transition into my new position, I have been able to maintain the work-life balance that first brought me to SMU!”