News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Melanie Bailey

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!”

News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Vali Dicus

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.

SMU is a family affair for Vali Dicus (’84). “Both of my twins, Beau and Cady, my husband, father, brother, two nephews, and one niece are also alumni of SMU,” said Dicus. “SMU is more than just a job to me. It has been a part of my life as long as I can remember.”

After finishing her B.B.A. at SMU, Dicus went to work for Arthur Andersen and completed her CPA, allowing her to audit many types of businesses. She later held posts with Greyhound and Allied Pilots Association and then spent years doing contract work for numerous companies while raising her family. In 2004, after serving as co-chair for her 30th SMU reunion, she got to know some of the Development and External Affairs (DEA) staff. “The next year, DEA needed temporary staff to help with homecoming and asked me if I would be interested,” said Dicus. “This led me to doing temporary work for SMU in various areas of DEA until I took a full-time position as the coordinator for the DEA Integrated Marketing department in July 2009.”

Her roles at SMU continued to evolve and change. “In 2014, I had just moved from being an accounting specialist for DEA to serving as the assistant financial officer for Residence Life and Student Housing (RLSH),” said Dicus. “Within a couple weeks, my position was pulled into Shared Services, where my additional duties included Benefits accounting and implementing the new TouchNet eCommerce system. It was a challenge taking on those new responsibilities! I worked hard to learn everything and stay focused and organized.”

“She is a true unsung heroine,” said colleague Bobbie Watson, financial reporting accountant in the Controller’s Office. “She almost single-handedly helped many areas on campus convert to TouchNet credit card processing over a very short period of time, while juggling two or three other demanding jobs simultaneously, including RLSH support and an assignment in Benefits.”

Then, last fall, several positions opened up for financial business managers in the Academic Support unit of Budget and Finance. “Although I hated to leave the work I was doing, I had always hoped that one day I would have the opportunity to take on a higher level role for a school or division, and I decided to apply for one of the positions,” said Dicus. “My new position as financial business manager for Simmons School of Education and Development allows me to handle financial reporting and budget management for the entire Simmons school rather than smaller pieces as I have done in the past.”

Dicus said she has learned a great deal in the reorganization. “The Shared Services initiative gave me an opportunity to use and improve my skills,” she said. “I appreciate the fact that the Business and Finance leadership took the time to look at my background as a whole when the Shared Services initiative started. This change gave me the chance to learn and do things I would have never been able to do under the old structure. I was able to do multiple jobs that had totally different subject matter. Since I love to multitask, this was good for me. In my newest role, I am looking forward to handling more analytical issues.”

On her experiences working with various departments across campus, Dicus said, “I had been working in DEA for around 10 years and loved the people. I was really sad to leave that group and thought I would never be able to create those kinds of relationships in a work environment again. However, each area I have been in during the transition has been great. I was only in RLSH for a short time but made some wonderful friendships. The group in Shared Services proved that accountants can have a sense of humor! Although I haven’t gotten to know the people in Simmons very well yet, I have come to the conclusion that SMU is full of fantastic people.”

Dicus believes having all the financial staff work under the same umbrella is a good thing. “We now have a peer network and can develop procedures to do things in a standardized manner across campus,” said Dicus. “When I was in DEA, I was hesitant to approach Business and Finance staff. Now that I am part of the same unit, I feel more comfortable asking questions and have a better understanding of the bigger financial picture. As financial business manager of Simmons, I want the Simmons faculty/staff to feel that I am ‘serving’ them and am a part of their team, too. Also, I think the new structure could give the leadership of Business and Finance the ability to create more opportunities for a career path for financial staff.”

In her new role, Dicus will become intimately acquainted with the financial matters at Simmons. “We have a new dean, Stephanie Knight, starting in August,” she said. “I want to understand her expectations from Shared Services and do my best to provide her, and the entire school, with what they need.”

News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Jason Warner

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.

Before coming to SMU in 1999, Jason Warner was a teacher who began infusing his teaching with technology in innovative ways that improved students’ learning and piqued the interest of his fellow teachers. His work in that role laid an early foundation for his most recent career advancement as director of SMU’s Academic Technology Services.

Academic Technology Services (ATS) is a newly reorganized and unified division of the Office of Information Technology (OIT) created through OE2C’s Shared Services Initiative. It specifically focuses on enhancing academic teaching and research with innovative technology solutions throughout campus. As leader of that division, Warner oversees a team of “technology change agents” who work alongside faculty and students in each academic unit.

“I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to rethink, reorganize and launch an entirely new SMU model for providing academic technology services,” says Warner. “Those used to exist in isolated pockets and fragments across campus. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made unifying IT services, especially those serving our faculty, which I believe continue to pave the way for more rapid and consistent growth and innovation in both instructional and research capabilities.”

Before the Shared Services Initiative, Warner served as the director of technology for the Meadows School of the Arts, where he managed a broad portfolio of technology services and solutions that were critical to Meadows faculty. Warner says, “As part of Shared Services, the academic technology support model we employed at Meadows became the blueprint for creating our new SMU Academic Technology Services team. Now, each school has its own tech facilitator and director who manages the school’s strategic needs and serves as the liaison between the school and SMU OIT.”

Warner’s transition into his new role has, he says, been a work in progress. “I’ve had to learn more in the past few years than I’ve had to learn throughout my entire career. In order to make progress, I have had to be willing to let go of and throw out comfortable models and methodologies. I’ve learned how to be a better manager and to rely more on metrics and data instead of anecdotes and emotions. I’ve worked to develop my own knowledge and experience so that I can serve SMU more effectively. Most importantly, I’ve learned to extend grace as people wrestle with change and I’ve learned how to ask for grace as well.”

His learning in the new position has had a great effect on OIT and SMU. In less than two years, Warner built a team that is able to manage and assist academic units while at the same time participate as a cross-functional campus service team. During the transition, his team successfully helped SMU migrate from Blackboard to Canvas and created an annual program to survey faculty and students to better gauge technology performance and needs. He worked with the Academic Technology Council, a faculty ­committee, to develop a groundbreaking classroom technology prototype experience that will launch in the fall and has overseen the project from its inception. “Above all,” Warner says, “I’m proud that our team is able to help faculty and students by providing sustainable, reliable and innovative technology for teaching and research.”

Grateful for the opportunity to grow in his career and excited by the prospect of working with Dr. Michael Hites, SMU’s incoming chief information officer, Warner has big goals for SMU’s academic technology. “ATS must provide and support the platforms and foundations for growth in hybrid and online learning to help SMU reach existing and new communities of students and learners,” he says. “We need to create and maintain clear paths for transformative research in areas such as high performance computing, digital humanities, and geographic information systems, and into new realms of scholarship not yet explored.  My greatest goal is to ensure that OIT can continue to deliver technology solutions that address the needs of academics – and that continue to adapt and change along with those needs.

“Technology isn’t an end, especially academic technology,” says Warner. “Technology is a rapidly moving vehicle, a powerful tool that enables specific ends and outcomes. At the end of the day, my career and my passions are devoted to the achievement and facilitation of academic outcomes. Fortunately, I geek out about the technology as well.  I have the best job on campus!”