News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Abby Kinney

abby kinneySince 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

Abby Kinney has made a career out of efficient technology purchasing. During the shared services restructuring in 2015, she became the University’s IT category manager in the Purchasing Department, but her connection to SMU and coordinating technology purchases has a decades-long history.

“I graduated from SMU in 1986 with my BBS in Accounting and went to work with a regional investment securities firm as an analyst supporting the research group,” says Kinney. “I soon transitioned to helping with the purchase, installation and support of all their computers. I eventually moved to managing a team that supported the computers, phone systems and services, and data services for the main office and 42 branch offices.”

Kinney came back to SMU in February 1995 and started as a desktop support consultant as part of Project Pegasus, an initiative that issued desktop computers to all faculty and staff. “I completed my master’s in MIS in 1996,” she says. “I eventually became manager and then director for the User Services team and was responsible for buying computer technology for half of the University after the campus computer store closed in 2013.  During the OE2C project, I participated in the Purchasing Initiative, and when the possibility of centralizing technology purchasing came up, it was something I definitely wanted to be part of.”

In her current role, she purchases technology-related hardware for the entire campus (desktops, laptops, displays and accessories), tracks technology spending for the University and assists with RFPs for hardware, software and tech maintenance. Though she has moved from OIT to Purchasing, she still works closely with her former department.

“I have learned a lot about how the entire Purchasing team helps the campus with the procurement of the variety of goods and services the University uses, how the RFP process works, and how the IT procurement role can benefit the campus,” says Kinney. “The most significant advantage is the cost savings that we have been able to help SMU realize by purchasing the University standard computers in volume for the ongoing computer refresh process, saving more than $100,000 in FY17.”

Kinney says another key advantage of the structure is increased awareness about technology savings that helps individual departments spend their budgets wisely. “I get to continue working with everyone on campus to help them with their technology needs and ultimately help the University save money.”

As for challenges, the biggest one has been “keeping up with the demand, especially around fiscal year-end and the start of each semester,” she says. “Since moving to Purchasing, I now buy for the entire campus and the number of items I purchase each year has doubled, to more than 6000 items annually.”

Going forward, Kinney says there are many process improvements she would like to make in the technology purchasing process. “In partnership with OIT, I’d love to create a website with all purchasing information and Technology Fund eligibility details, create a web-based order form to help guide people through the ordering process, and provide more visibility to the purchaser on the status of an order in process.

“I’d also like to look more strategically at Technology purchases to see if SMU can realize any additional savings with software licensing and maintenance contracts. I’m proud of the cost savings we’ve established so far, and look forward to making them even better.”

Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Curt Herridge

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

Curt Herridge loves to solve problems. “There is something special about finding a solution to a technical problem,” he says. Whether it is building a first-ever data mart for SMU, managing a system outage or saving the University time and eliminating paper usage, he is always up for the challenge.

Curt came to SMU in 2007 to help the University migrate to its current electronic imaging system, ImageNow (AdminImages). He moved from systems administration to team leadership the next year, completed his MBA at Cox in 2010, and was named director of data and integration services in early 2015. Then, when SMU restructured the Office of Information Technology (OIT) in 2015 as part of the OE2C initiative, Curt was promoted to director of software applications.

“In this role, I am responsible for the implementation, operations and maintenance of enterprise software like PeopleSoft (my.SMU, SMU financials); departmental applications in partnership with individual departments; website development and support; and database management,” he says. “The goal of this new structure was to try to organize all teams that support campus software applications into one department, thus streamlining methodologies.”

In their first two years of work, he and his software applications team have achieved significant results for SMU. “We estimate thousands of hours have been saved with the introduction of electronic payroll authorization forms, grounds use forms, additional new payroll forms and others,” says Curt. “We are now automating forms like the one for pre-tax parking deductions. To accomplish this, we partner with a department and move a paper-based form to something electronic. I think it’s truly awesome to save time (and paper!) with technology.”

Curt says his team also tested a method to build a data mart, which is basically a mini data warehouse, from scratch in conjunction with the Simmons CORE group (Center on Research & Evaluation). “The goal was to automate loading of data that had traditionally been moved around in a huge spreadsheet having literally hundreds of columns. We entered into this project with the knowledge that it was completely experimental, and it’s been exciting to see how the work has expanded the skillset of our team and increased our contribution to University research. Now we are working to address our capacity in order to build a data warehouse for SMU.”

Of course, challenges have occurred along the way. “We had a fairly substantial system outage in October 2015, which began on a Saturday,” he recalls. “But our newly formed leadership team was able to band together and perform a massive recovery operation. In fact, some of the practices we developed during that long week still stand us in good stead today.”

In the months to come, Curt and his team will expand the use of technology that is more mobile-friendly. “You may have noticed a change to my.SMU,” he says. “We will continue these critical changes over the next year.”

“We also heard loud and clear that Sitecore, the software that runs, needs to offer more training and an easier way to make edits,” says Curt. “We have scheduled personalized clinics, updated documentation, and are working on a new set of templates designed to help the brand of SMU move forward.”

Curt says these problems are not easy to solve, but the challenges make the accomplishments even sweeter. “It requires us to have great teams, great partnerships with others on campus, and a willingness to do things differently than before,” he says. “I am proud of the progress we have been able to make together in our first two years, and I’m looking forward to continuing improvements for the campus in the coming year.”


An Update on Data Warehouse Work at SMU 

SMU is often required to report information and make decisions based on institution-wide data, but accumulating that data can be extremely time-consuming and difficult. Even for questions as simple as what defines an academic department, degree or major across the University, it’s often impossible to compare and contrast data from school to school or to report accurately across the University due to discrepancies – for instance, some departments list “majors,” others “concentrations,” still others “tracks.” And for more complicated issues, such as those involving student retention or substance abuse or university admissions, the problems of siloed data in different forms in myriad departments mean months of labor by teams of people just to gather basic information.

To combat this problem, the Office of Operational Excellence launched a Data Warehouse Initiative in June 2016. The purpose of a Data Warehouse is to take large amounts of data, from different sources on campus and in different formats, and transform it into consistent, accurate and useful information. The ultimate goal is to enable SMU faculty and staff to access information more effectively to make better strategic, data-informed decisions.

Organizations and universities nationwide use data warehouses to transform thousands of bits of data into coherent information. Basically, a data warehouse is a relational database designed for reporting and analysis rather than for transaction processing. A data warehouse pulls from systems across the university, simplifies, consolidates and transforms complex, unmatched data into usable, consistent data that can flow easily into analytics and visualization tools from which organizations can generate usable information. All parts of the organization then have the ability to draw from a rich, trusted information source.

Led by Patty Alvey, director of Assessment and Accreditation for SMU, the Data Warehouse Initiative team spent its first six months doing extensive research on data warehouses, interviewing other universities about their experiences, and reviewing all of SMU’s data holdings, processes and systems. The team confirmed that student data, financial data, alumni data, donor data and a host of other data sets exist in different locations and formats all over campus, making it difficult to conduct good strategic research and planning. More than 150 separate data sets were identified – examples include faculty teaching loads, student academic progress, semester course offerings, student fraternity and sorority affiliation, and many more.

To begin the process of synthesizing all this data, in spring 2017 the team recommended and the Operational Excellence Executive Committee approved the establishment of a Data Governance model based on a similar successful model at the University of Notre Dame. It includes a Data Governance Steering Committee of 22 senior administrators to discuss overarching data needs, and a Data Governance Committee of 34 people who are involved with data management on a daily basis. Both committees are led by Michael Tumeo, director of Institutional Research at SMU, and include representatives from all areas of the University.

“Basically, data governance is looking at data that an institution owns as an asset, just like any other asset the business has – its buildings, its personnel, etc. And if you’re going to see it as an asset, then it needs to have active, intentional oversight,” said Tumeo. “As a University, we need to get a handle on what data we own and how we are using it.  That means looking at questions such as, what are the data systems that hold potential information? Where in these systems are the data stored? How do we link data together from different systems? Who is responsible for the data in those systems? Who has access, and what are the policies and procedures for accessing data?”

Since May 2017, the Data Governance committees have been studying data policy issues, common terminologies, data sharing and access, and business processes surrounding the input, maintenance, extraction and reporting of SMU data holdings.

In October, the Data Warehouse Initiative made several key recommendations in collaboration with the Data Governance committees, which were approved by SMU’s executive leadership.

“Newer thinking on data warehouses isn’t that you grow the whole thing at once, but that you pick a project and then get the data for that project together,” said Alvey. “That’s called a Data Mart – a smaller version of a Data Warehouse. Eventually, our all-encompassing Data Warehouse will be built from a series of Data Marts. We picked five Data Mart projects to tackle over the next several years, all of which are important in the University’s 2016-2025 Strategic Plan.”

The projects, in order, are Substance Abuse Prevention, Retention and Graduation, Admission and Recruitment, Academic Program Performance, and Research and Creative Scholarship.

Each project is expected to take about six months.

Michael Hites, who joined SMU this summer as the University’s new chief information officer, worked with the Data Warehouse team to identify the hardware and software needed to begin the Data Marts, as well as the personnel. “We will appoint a Data Architect to design how the myriad pieces of data live with one another and ‘talk’ to each other, and a Data Visualization Specialist to help the software tell an interactive and visual story,” said Hites, a member of the Data Governance Steering Committee. “The specialist will also train someone in each college on campus on how to use the visualization software. Both of these data professionals will support the schools and departments to answer their own important questions using the shared Data Warehouse.

“The Data Architect will help SMU create and build the best model, the best framework on which to hang our data,” Hites said. “Once that is designed, our own OIT experts in extraction, translation and loading will grab the data sets from different data repositories of the University and load them into the Data Mart so that the new, comprehensive data set can be easily used. The Data Visualization person works with the technical and departmental staff to develop intuitive and visual ways to interact with the data throughout the University.  The goal is to put data analytics in the hands of those who need it, beyond that of simple reports, statistics and graphs.”

Once the personnel are identified, the first Data Mart project will begin, with a targeted completion in summer 2018.

The Data Warehouse Initiative has now officially dissolved, and most of the team members have joined one of the two Data Governance committees, where work will continue for years. Six subcommittees have also been formed and are in the process of talking with departments across campus about data storage, definitions, existing reports, policies, access and stewardship related to the first Data Mart.

“Getting SMU’s data in line so that it can be linked and analyzed, and the schools have faster access to cleaner information – that’s the win, the most important result of this whole effort,” said Alvey. “Thanks to the extremely dedicated work of the entire team over the past 18 months, SMU is now positioned to make that goal a reality.”


Operational Excellence: October-November 2017 News and Highlights

A number of Operational Excellence initiatives are resulting in streamlined and/or cost-saving processes on campus:

  • The Account Permissions Initiative has created more efficient forms and a more streamlined process to get new employees set up with email, Sharepoint, my.smu and other work accounts. As a result, the time it takes to handle account permission requests has dropped from 9.5 days to only 4.6 days.
  • To help internal and external event planners who want to book SMU spaces, the Event Management Initiative team has created, a one-stop website with photos, location details, capacities and contacts for every major venue on campus.
  • The Access Control Initiative is creating a smoother, more unified workflow for granting SMU employees access to campus buildings and spaces and managing keys. The team will be establishing a fully automated process in three phases over the next two and a half years. The first phase, projected to take six months, will result in one process for both keys and electronic cards and eliminate the use of codes on doors, among other changes.
  • The Exit Process Initiative team has begun implementing changes to improve the exit process for employees who are leaving the University. The team is developing a standard procedure for the exit process to provide consistency across schools and departments; creating an electronic exit form for benefit-eligible faculty and staff; enhancing communication between managers and HR; and providing more education and training to manage terminations, pay papers and time keeping.
  • The Repurposed Property Initiative reports great results from its new office supply and furniture exchange listservs; hundreds of people have already signed up, and dozens of surplus supplies and furniture offerings have been shared and claimed at no charge.

Some of the funds saved through Operational Excellence initiatives have been used to upgrade classroom technology. Six classrooms received cutting-edge “prototype” technology based on different teaching formats used in those rooms – seminars, lectures, team-based teaching or case-based instruction. The new technology includes wireless screen mirroring, increased interactivity and expanded student device connection.

The Operational Excellence website also continued its series of spotlights on staff members or teams who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations. The team highlighted in November was graduate admissions, which has moved to a shared services model and now handles grad applications for five of the seven colleges.

Featured News

Minimizing Delays: New Account Permission Request Forms

Streamlining Events: SMU’s New Site Features Venues, Campus Partners and More

Access Control Recommends Fully Automated Process For Campus Spaces

Exit Process Initiative Begins Implementing Recommendations

Repurposed Property Initiative is Building Offers Since Launch

Innovative Classroom Technology Funded By Operational Excellence

Team Spotlight: The Progress of SMU’s Graduate Application Processing Initiative


Exit Process Initiative Begins Implementing Recommendations

Last spring, the Office of Operational Excellence created the Exit Process Initiative to streamline and improve the employment exit process from the University. Since that time, the Initiative Team, led by Sheri Starkey, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, has been working to look at the exit process through the eyes of all involved, document the process, identify areas for improvements, and create a new electronic process for benefit-eligible faculty and staff.

To address the opportunities they identified in the process, the team created a series of recommendations and future opportunities that are currently being implemented:

Develop Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the exit process – The SOP will include identification of all responsible parties and roles for the exit process, Identification and definition of terms used, outline of the complete timeline and distribution of the termination process. This new SOP will give SMU consistency across departments and schools, improved response time and efficiency and reduced financial and compliance risks.

Create electronic exit form for benefit-eligible faculty and staff – the new forms will use Gideon Taylor forms software and will use a third party vendor to facilitate implementation. The new form will provide the University with a consistent exit process for faculty and staff, expedite notifications to terminate access and the clearance process, automate the termination and increase efficiency and completion time. Until the new forms are complete, the existing faculty electronic form will be revised to provide users with a more efficient experience until the new process is complete.

Enhance timely communication between supervisors and HR regarding termination procedures for faculty and staff – The communication plan includes new monthly messages to supervisors to prompt termination reporting and share importance and impact of timely and accurate time sheet entries and approvals. The SMU Manager Blog serves as the main vehicle for communication and will be home to checklists and FAQs for employees leaving SMU and managers. Increased communication about the exit process will improve awareness of policies and best practices and reduce the risks associated with processing late terminations.

Identify liaison within each business unit and school to provide education and training to manage terminations, pay papers, and time keeping – In 90% of exits, the structure exists and is working well. But creating liaisons offers HR the opportunity to work with business units and schools to train and educate on managing terminations, pay papers and time-keeping.

While the larger recommendations are being implemented, the team developed some quick fixes to jumpstart improvements in the exit process. Concur approval delegates will be initiated and HR will establish a master time approver at the point of termination. They will also use PeopleSoft to identify H1b visa employees to manage timely and appropriate visa status and track exiting employee rehire eligibility.

Moving forward, the Initiative Team believes there are additional opportunities associated with terminating access rights for those with access to University-wide systems and communications platforms. They will also work with the Access Control Initiative to develop a centralized inventory for all recoverable items provided to employees such as computers, tablets, phones/pagers, keys,​ uniforms​, vehicles, P-Cards/Credit Cards, ​Org subscriptions​, other misc. equipment. The initiative team will also review the reporting and approving of time, vacation accruals, temporary employee exits and the exit survey currently used when terminating staff.