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.


Operational Excellence: February-March 2018 News and Highlights

In February and March, two stories highlighted news from the Purchasing Department. One featured the ongoing savings – $1.7 million a year and counting – that the department has achieved through carefully negotiated contracts with vendors in such areas as printing, promotional items and event services.  The second story continued the series of employee spotlights with a focus on Brian Cook, purchasing agent for SMU and the procurement card administrator and coordinator for all requests for proposal (RFPs) for the University.

Another key story in March was a letter from President Turner and Provost Currall summarizing new allocations to SMU’s budget in FY2019 made possible by OE2C savings. These will include an increase in the library collections budget, new positions to help faculty apply for grants, an Innovation Seed Fund and much more. The most recent operational metrics were posted and the Operational Excellence Savings Tracker was updated to include the expenditures, some of which will be recurring and some of which are one-time allocations.

Featured News

Changes in Purchasing From Contract Savings Plan Result in Additional Annual Savings for SMU

SMU Staff Spotlight – Brian Cook

SMU’s Financial Investments in the University’s Academic Quality and Stature

Operational Excellence Savings Tracker Updated


SMU’s Financial Investments in the University’s Academic Quality and Stature

By  R. Gerald Turner, President

Steven C. Currall, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

In making financial allocations for the fiscal year 2019 (1 June 2018-31 May 2019), the University’s leadership has made a number of new allotments that expand upon previous financial commitments to enhance the academic quality and stature of SMU.

The purpose of this memo is to inform the SMU community that, in terms of sources of funds for this round of new allocations, nearly $5,100,000 have come from financial savings that were previously captured through SMU’s Operational Excellence (OE) initiative (formerly “OE2C”), with an additional $200,000 for fiscal year 2019 funded from other resources.

As the strategic basis for our new fiscal year 2019 allocations, in 2015 the University issued, “Launching SMU’s Second Century, Shaping Leaders for a Changing World, 2016-2025 Strategic Plan.”  The plan’s Goal Number One is: “To enhance the academic quality and stature of the University.”

Informed by the Second Century strategic plan, and through an extensive campus-wide dialogue about academic quality that began in early 2017 and concluded in mid-January 2018, the University is coalescing around a shared understanding of the academic priorities that will enable us to fulfill Goal One of the strategic plan.  Those priorities will further elevate SMU as a premier research and teaching university with global impact.

Based on extensive consultations with Vice Presidents, Deans, the Faculty Senate, and open meetings with faculty and staff, the entire SMU community has contributed to the dialogue about academic quality. Key to the consultation process, several faculty-led task forces were commissioned by the Provost to provide extensive thinking and direction on the following core topics: (1) Scholarly Research and Creative Impact, (2) Creative and Interactive Technology, (3) Data Science and Analytics, (4) Future of SMU Libraries, and (5) General Education Review (core undergraduate curriculum).

The fiscal year 2019 budget allocations were reviewed and approved during the University’s annual budgeting process and the OE allocations were reviewed by the Executive Committee of the OE initiative. This aligns with the process of utilizing the OE funds, as described on the OE web site:

Examples of new fiscal year 2019 financial allocations from OE funds that advance the University’s academic mission are:

  • Central University Libraries: 15% increase to collections budget
  • Central University Libraries: Digital preservation software and long-term data storage
  • Central University Libraries: New Head of Library Systems staff member
  • Undergraduate Teaching Equalization Fund: Support for Dedman College’s University Curriculum required courses
  • Office of Research: New Research Grant Management Specialist staff member
  • Office of Research: New Research Grant Compliance Coordinator staff member
  • Office of Graduate Studies: New Director of Doctoral Student Enrollment staff member
  • Office of Graduate Studies: Nearly 100% increase in funding for graduate student academic fellowships
  • University Research Council Grant Funds: Nearly 30% funding increase
  • Innovation Seed Fund: Phase I investment of $2,000,000 to elevate SMU’s intellectual footprint and attract sustainable philanthropic and/or grant revenue (more information on the Seed Fund will be released later this spring)
  • Academic Information Technology: Provide greater technology support to faculty with three new positions for high performance computing, data science, and internet of things (e.g., research equipment) software developer
  • Campus Classroom Technology: Nearly 30% increase for classroom technology upgrades

Thank you for your vital and ongoing input on how SMU can continue to become ever stronger with respect to academic quality. We are excited to reinforce the University’s positive momentum and to demonstrate our institutional commitment toward further strengthening academic quality with these recurring and one-time investments in fiscal year 2019. Because OE funds are to be reinvested in academic programs and activities, the University is planning for a multi-year strategy for optimal allocation of those funds.  Further investments in academic quality will be made in subsequent years.  We will inform the faculty and staff throughout the process.

As per the process outlined in the October 2017 discussion draft paper entitled, “Enhancing the Academic Quality and Stature of SMU,” and reinforced throughout the campus dialogue period, the University’s leadership team is currently working to complete a summary paper that describes our future plans in more detail. Later this spring, we will share a copy with the University community.

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