A Look Back at Operational Excellence: Supporting the Academic Vision

Since the announcement of the Operational Excellence for the Second Century (OE2C) project in March 2014, the Office of Operational Excellence has made great strides in investing in academic growth at SMU. In a memo to campus explaining the project, President R. Gerald Turner said, “The changing national landscape for higher education trumpeted daily by the media creates opportunities as well as challenges. If we broadly examine our operational practices and plan wisely, we can develop the course of action that keeps us firmly on track toward our strategic goals:  ever-increasing academic and faculty excellence and student quality combined with our unique campus experience.”

Since that time, the Office of Operational Excellence has overseen 17 major initiatives to examine the efficiency and cost effectiveness of campus processes. Some initiatives, such as those dedicated to Finance, Facilities and OIT, were broad and resulted in Shared Services across campus. Others, like Procurement, have been focused on identifying ways our campus community can save money in targeted categories by harnessing the purchasing power of the entire University. Additional initiatives concentrated on areas where there was an opportunity to streamline work, including graduate application processing, repurposed property and event management, among others.

The total savings realized by the Office of Operational Excellence crossed the $20M mark in SMU FY17. The reallocation of these funds for academic purposes is ongoing, and President Turner presented an update at the March 2018 Faculty Senate meeting.  “We have set aside a million for academic initiatives and a million for undergraduate equalization, primarily oriented to Dedman College and some of the service functions it provides to the rest of the institution,” President Turner said.

A large percentage of the annual funds going to academic initiatives will be dedicated to SMU Libraries. This includes funding for digital preservation software and long-term data storage, as well as a new position in technology (Head of Library Systems) that will report dually to the Dean of Libraries and Michael Hites, SMU’s Chief Information Officer. These funds will also be used to increase the library’s annual collections budget by 15 percent. “This is the number one request of a lot of the faculty and the Dean of Libraries,” President Turner said. “We are pleased that our savings from Operational Excellence can finally help us make this possible.”

With these newly allocated investments, the total spending from the Operational Excellence initiative is just under $15M. “As we go into FY19, there is a little over $3 million in additional annual funds available to commit to the University’s goals for academic quality,” President Turner said. “An additional $1.9 million will be available beginning in FY21, after we realize the energy savings of new, efficient equipment installed on campus.”

The work to redistribute funds from SMU’s administrative operations to its academic vision required significant input from employees. “We appreciate all of the SMU faculty and staff members who served on initiative teams, made recommendations and gave feedback to our Operational Excellence work,” said Chris Regis, Vice President of Business and Finance. “The work to strengthen SMU’s financial positon required a great deal of perseverance from everyone, but the results help us counteract the economic realities facing all institutions of higher education.”

After July 2018, the Office of Operational Excellence will close, but the University will continue to look for ways to reallocate spending from operations to its academic vision. The Operational Excellence Executive Committee will meet once a semester to review metrics from initiatives and make sure efficiencies and cost savings gained continue to make progress. The committee will continue to review how the funds are spent and will look for additional opportunities to invest in the future of SMU.

If you have ideas for further cost-saving measures or ways to improve processes at SMU, submit them online using this form.


Operational Excellence: April-May 2018 News and Highlights

The Repurposed Property Initiative encouraged faculty and staff to sign up for the listservs that offer free furniture and office supplies no longer needed by other campus departments. The listservs can be especially helpful to those cleaning out and stocking up their offices at the end of the semester. Staff spotlights continued with a story on Tracy Horstman, new director of space management. And a year-end report was posted in late May recapping the progress of myriad Operational Excellence initiatives in 2017-18.

Featured News

Free Furniture and Office Supplies Available Through Listservs

SMU Staff Spotlight – Tracy Horstman

Operational Excellence Progress Report: 2017-18 Year in Review

2017-2018 Year in Review

Operational Excellence Progress Report: 2017-18 Year in Review

The focus of the Office of Operational Excellence is to improve operations at SMU and, through its pursuit of continuous improvement and organizational efficiency, to identify savings in administrative costs that can be reallocated to academic purposes. Annual savings from the ongoing initiative work are currently more than $20 million, and are supporting areas including the University Research Council, Central Libraries, High Performance Computing, graduate fellowships, and interdisciplinary studies, among many others.  A complete listing of the financial allocations to date can be found on the Savings Tacker.

SMU continues to implement initiatives begun over past years, and has established continuous improvement teams to examine other ways – suggested by staff, faculty and students – to improve administrative functions and reallocate funds to the academic mission. 

Ongoing Initiatives

Access Control – This initiative will improve the administration of requesting, approving, processing and returning keys, cards and codes for faculty, staff and student employees related to access to building, rooms and offices.  A fully automated process has been recommended, and implementation will occur over the next three years.

Account Permissions – The goal of this initiative team was to reduce the amount of time between the request submission and the assignment of permissions (i.e. access to PeopleSoft and other programs) for faculty and staff.  Processing time has been reduced from nine days to approximately four days.

Contract Administration – The Contract Administration initiative sought to streamline processes related to contract review and approval. At the team’s recommendation, a Senior Contract Administrator role was developed, along with contract leads in each school and administrative unit. A new electronic tracking and database tool, Cobblestone, monitors contract processing and volumes and ensures best practices are followed.

Data Warehouse – The Data Warehouse team explored implementation of a data warehouse at SMU. The team conducted a thorough review of the University’s data holdings, processes and systems. The team found discrepancies in how data was entered and defined by campus users, which highlighted a need to better define and organize data. Additionally, challenges were identified regarding inconsistent definitions, lack of integrative reporting, and the absence of robust data visualization capability. At the team’s recommendation, two governance committees, along with a Director of Data Governance, were approved.  The emphasis will now be on the creation of smaller, focused Data Marts.

Event Management – The Event Management team explored ways to improve the process of scheduling events on campus and arranging for related services.  The Use of Campus Grounds Form is now online. The team addressed policy and a consolidated events website and developed an “Event Team” comprised of representatives from each school and major unit.

Exit Process – This team is streamlining and improving the employment exit process from the University for faculty and staff by developing an electronic process, standard operating procedures and enhanced communication between supervisors and HR.

Facilities – The Facilities initiative focused on service delivery, space utilization, and energy usage through three sub-teams.  The Service Delivery team helped define a newly structured organization. A permanent space planner was hired to develop formal space utilization policies to move the University closer to higher education best practices. The Energy Usage team helped to identify a set of strategic energy infrastructure investments that should reduce SMU’s overall energy costs.

Finance – The Finance initiative was comprised of three sub-teams, each of which identified multiple opportunities to improve service and reduce cost. The Service Delivery team identified the fragmentation and overlap of finance work. The information it collected and analyzed was used to further streamline finance activities and redesign processes, enabling user-friendly services and more strategic decision-making among university leaders. The Data and Analytics team worked with finance leaders across campus to identify key information gaps and design a reporting system capable of providing critical financial information to budget owners and campus leaders. The Budgeting team, tasked with improving the budgeting system and procedures, redesigned budgeting to improve transparency and enable cross-unit strategic initiatives.

Graduate Application Processing (GAP) – Through the implementation of SLATE, an  applications processing software,  and consolidating the processing of graduate student applications,  the processing time and tracking for the Lyle School of Engineering, Dedman College, Meadows School of the Arts, Simmons School of Education, Cox School of Business and Perkins School of Theology has been streamlined and improved.

Hard Campus Mail Opt-Out – At the request of many faculty and staff, the ability to opt-out of hard campus mailings was developed by this team.

Human Resources – Process improvements for multiple areas of Human Resources have been implemented.  These processes include more extensive use of electronic forms, including Payroll Authorization Forms and a Performance Review System; new recruitment processes to reduce administrative burden on hiring staff; implementing a complete Classification and Compensation Study; and partnering with Kelly Services for the provision of temporary workers.

Information Technology (IT) – The IT initiative focused on analyzing operational and academic computing. The initiative team recommended unifying IT services across campus, increasing support for academic technology, and maximizing use of PeopleSoft functionality. All IT services are now unified under the Office of Information Technology, with the Chief Information Officer reporting directly to the University President. As operational services are consolidated, additional resources will be available for academic technology, including high performance computing and unique faculty teaching and research needs. 

Procurement – Initially, the procurement team identified “fast-track” opportunities that could be quickly implemented to achieve savings. These categories included office supplies, printers and cell phones. Additional savings opportunities have been identified in travel and professional memberships, meals and entertainment, advertising and promotion, event services, security services, and computer equipment, among others. Ongoing development of RFPs (Request for Proposals) by the Category Managers within Purchasing help ensure best prices for goods and services.

Property Re-Purposed – This team developed and formalized the process by which University-owned property, including furniture and office supplies, can be re-purposed and utilized by other departments on campus.  Faculty and staff can join listservs devoted to each category.

Staff Recognition – The recognition of staff was researched and documented. A comprehensive recognition program is under development.  The first event was a campus-wide Staff Recognition Celebration held in October 2017.

Travel and Entertainment – The Travel and Entertainment initiative sought to streamline processes related to booking travel and expense submission. An electronic booking and expense tool, Concur, has reduced travel processing time and is also used for all monthly personal reimbursement reconciliation. A Concur User Group was established to share suggestions and information between users and travel administrators.

Other News

Metrics – Metrics to track the progress of each initiative are posted on the Operational Excellence website on a quarterly basis.

Communications – Ongoing communications are provided through the Office of Operational Excellence website. An annual progress report, monthly news and highlights, and frequently asked questions can be found on the website as well. In addition, “Staff Spotlights” continued on the website to highlight staff members who have experienced job growth due to OE2C, and/or who have really “stepped up” due to changes within the organization.  Highlighted employees in the spring 2018 semester included Curt Herridge, Abby Kinney, Brian Cook and Tracy Horstman.

News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Tracy Horstman

Since last summer, the Operational Excellence website has been 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. Read more SMU staff spotlights

Tracy Horstman, SMU’s Director of Space Management, loves putting the right and left sides of her brain into action. “Space to me is a giant puzzle that requires both data-driven and creative processes in order to provide thoughtful solutions,” she said. “I like working with folks to come up with options that fit their needs.”

After earning a B.A. in interior design from the University of Iowa and an M.B.A. from the University of Kansas, Horstman spent the first part of her career in real estate development, notably design and construction management.  “Before coming to SMU in January 2017, I spent 13 years working at a public research university in the areas of space planning and programming, space management, and master planning,” said Horstman.

Horstman came to SMU for a position created out of the work of the Operational Excellence Facilities Initiative. Her responsibilities include:

  • Space data organization, accounting, analysis, and reporting;
  • Evaluating technical and visual plan data for space efficiencies, allocation, and modification;
  • Planning for short-term and long-term space needs in accordance with the University’s strategic initiatives; and
  • Assisting with the programming and space planning of new facilities, building renovations, and department relocations.

Horstman feels that space management at any institution is a sensitive subject and can be challenging.  “Space must be effectively and efficiently managed as it is a valuable and potentially finite resource, critical to SMU’s mission and financial stability,” she said. “Universities have had to implement processes to better utilize space simply because buildings are expensive to construct and maintain.”

In her short time at SMU, she is proud of the work she has done in the University’s space database, redefining more than 15,000 rooms per higher education guidelines.  Her work has provided a solid foundation from which to forecast and plan.  “After all, how do we know what we need if we don’t know what we have?” she asks.

Horstman’s goals for the future are ambitious and exciting for the University. “We are currently researching software options that will provide a bi-directional connection between our existing building plans and space database,” she said. “Not only will this provide accurate and consistent space data, but we will be able to visually gather all kinds of facilities data essential for planning and reporting purposes.  This allows us to be much more nimble and proactive so we can provide top-notch services to our campus customers.”

Horstman is also working with the University Space Task Force, a temporary work group that will finish in the summer.  Their charge is to work toward a recommended governance structure for University space, including roles and responsibilities, in addition to defined utilization standards for office, teaching, and research space.

“My goal is to build a robust and supportive space management program for SMU,” she says. “So far, we are doing all the right things to accomplish just that.”


Free Furniture and Office Supplies Available Through Listservs

As summer approaches, the Operational Excellence Repurposed Property Initiative hopes SMU employees will remember its new exchanges when cleaning out and stocking up. Both the office supply exchange and the furniture exchange are voluntary listservs where items can be posted and claimed for campus use for no charge on a first-come, first-served basis, enabling employees to keep waste and unnecessary expense to a minimum.

“We anticipate that both lists will ramp up as the academic year comes to a close,” said Karie Conklin, project manager for the initiative and assistant to SMU’s chief information officer. “We expect that office supply closets will once again be cleared of old, unused office supplies and that office personnel will choose to post their items via the surplus office supplies list.  We also believe that as new furniture is ordered, departments will seek out the property exchange list to post the old furniture.”

As faculty and staff approach the end of the fiscal year and gear up for the year to come, the exchanges are a great way to keep unused supplies and furniture out of landfills and prevent duplicate purchases for the University.

Registration for both listservs is ongoing. To join in the cost-saving and waste-reducing action, subscribe to the office supply exchange and the furniture exchange.