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.

2016-2017 News Year in Review

Operational Excellence Progress Report: 2016-2017 Year In Review

One of the largest milestones for Operational Excellence in FY17 is SMU crossing the $20 million mark in annual savings as a result of Operational Excellence for the Second Century (OE2C) initiatives. Of the $20M saved, currently $14.1M (70.5%) has been committed for new uses. The largest portion of the $14 M is going to general academic reinvestments (27.9%). Another 41% is being distributed to the University Research Council, Research Staff Support, Academic Fellowships, High Performance Computing, the Academic Initiatives Fund, Undergraduate Equalization Fund, an Interdisciplinary Institute and the OIT Academic Technology Group. For more information, visit the Savings Tracker.

Currently, 34 doctoral students are receiving University Ph.D. Fellowships supported by funds that were saved through OE2C, and examples of their research were highlighted.

The University Research Council now has an additional $100,000 a year to allocate to faculty research and travel, more than doubling its previous budget for faculty grants, thanks to funds saved from OE2C. Grant applications are reviewed each semester by the URC.

Other funds saved through OE2C have helped expand SMU’s high performance computing (HPC) capacity, making sure the SMU Center for Scientific Computing is open 24 hours a day for faculty research.


Five new Operational Excellence Initiatives were launched in FY17:

Access Control – An Access Control Initiative has been undertaken to improve the process by which faculty, staff and student employees request and receive access to campus buildings and spaces. Team members evaluated best practices from other organizations to help streamline current procedures involving keys, cards and codes.

Account Permissions – An Account Permissions Initiative has launched to streamline the process for getting new employees set up with accounts they need to do their jobs. The initiative will greatly reduce the time it takes for them to get permission to access PeopleSoft, my.SMU, email, TimeAccess and other necessary workplace tools.

Exit Process – Currently an employee’s exit process requires interaction between a minimum of six offices and the process is manual and managed through email, with no streamlined electronic way to coordinate between various departments. The Exit Process Initiative was created to better understand the current system and identify ways in which SMU can more efficiently process departing employees.

Repurposed Property – An initiative team was assembled to improve and formalize the process by which University-owned furniture and office supplies can be repurposed and used by other areas on campus. Thanks to the team’s efforts, staff and faculty can now sign up for a new surplus office supply listserv, an effective cost-saving recycling measure. Everyone who joins can send and receive email notices of free surplus office supplies across campus in new or gently used condition, available on a first-come, first-served basis. A similar exchange for larger physical assets including campus furniture was launched after the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year.

Staff Recognition – In May, the Office of Operational Excellence launched the Staff Recognition Initiative to identify, evaluate and streamline existing and potential outlets for creating a culture of honoring staff excellence. The team began implementing ideas at the end of August.

Ongoing Initiatives continued to identify ways to streamline processes and save money:

Event Management – Following months of research, the Event Management Initiative team began implementing improvements to event planning on campus. The Use of Grounds form, which was a paper form that had to be physically carried to different departments, is now managed online, and a one-stop website with all the information needed to plan an event, for both on- and off-campus users, is being developed.

Procurement – Streamlined purchasing practices enabled SMU to save $84K on technology and pushed the University to the $20M mark for savings from the OE2C project. A Concur User Group has been established and will meet quarterly to help identify ways that Concur, the University’s new system for managing travel and expenses, can be improved and used more effectively by faculty, staff and administrators. Meanwhile, ongoing Concur cost comparisons by Purchasing have shown that in almost every case, prices for hotels and flights available through Concur are equal to, or cheaper than, rates for those same hotels and flights available through other travel sites.

Finance – The Payroll, Accounts Payable and Grant and Contract Accounting areas of the Finance Department are now offering more personalized service and new electronic solutions. These include electronic authorization payment forms, more frequent processing of direct deposits, and designating grant/contract accountants for each school and area.

Data Warehouse – In early April, President Turner announced that the University is complementing its exploration of a data warehouse with the creation of a Data Governance committee structure. The work will be overseen by Michael Tumeo with the support of the Data Governance Steering Committee and the Data Governance Committee. Both groups gathered for an inaugural meeting on May 25.

Facilities – Effective June 1, 2017, the management of campus facilities and grounds was returned to the Facilities Office from Aramark.

OIT – During the summers of 2016 and 2017, the OIT Department made significant tech upgrades to more than 60 classrooms, including installing remote control technology, and it has begun testing several exciting new interactive teaching tools in selected areas. These new tools, such as cloud-based audience response systems, interactive projectors and wireless mirroring devices, will allow professors and students to engage in ways never previously possible at SMU.


Key performance measurements have been identified to track progress in administrative cost savings in numerous areas, including the OIT Help Desk and Support area, Facilities, Finance, Contracts, Graduate Application Processing and Purchasing. Leaders in each area were interviewed about the measurements – why they chose those particular metrics to evaluate progress, what findings most interested them, and what their main areas of focus will be as they move forward. Extensive charts and graphs were provided with detailed information about savings and progress in each area.

About a year after SMU implemented Shared Services in Finance, Facilities and OIT, the University conducted a campus-wide survey to understand how new workflows in these areas affected all employees. Of the 2236 employees invited to participate, 663 (30%) completed the survey and generated feedback on what each area was doing well and what they could do better. The results were given to the Shared Service centers to begin addressing.

Other News

Faculty and staff were notified that they can now opt out of receiving promotional brochures, flyers, invitations and other printed mail from campus departments, although they would continue to receive mail considered mandatory for all employees.

This summer, the Operational Excellence website featured a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who have taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations. Highlighted employees include Melanie Bailey, Yvette Castilla, Vali Dicus, Eric English, Windy Epperson, Rachel Mulry, Teena Newman and Jason Warner

Read More

2015-2016 News Year in Review

Operational Excellence Progress Report: 2015-16 Year in Review

In the past year, the Office of Operational Excellence has helped SMU make great strides in reallocating administrative overhead toward our academic mission. In that time, the University has steadily prepared for the future by centralizing common services, streamlining procedures and funding new initiatives, fellowships and technology to sustain the University, its students and faculty for decades to come.

In the past three months alone, several accomplishments have been recognized, including a projected savings of $17.4 million annually by the end of May 2016, which includes $3.2 million from Purchasing and Facilities initiatives. Several focus groups were conducted to help assess the effectiveness of Shared Service centers; an employee engagement survey was conducted with Shared Services staff members; and plans are underway to launch a campus-wide customer satisfaction survey in fall 2016. Metrics are being created for each initiative, and a new Event Management initiative will begin in summer 2016.

The Progress Report below, recently shared with the Finance Committee of the SMU Board of Trustees and the Council of Deans, shows highlights for 2015-16.

Travel and Entertainment

  • Contracted with new travel management agency Christopherson Business Travel and implemented new expense management system Concur campus-wide in June 2015
  • Concur utilized for travel booking and personal reimbursement
  • Customer satisfaction of 3.4 (on scale of 5) is highest to date
  • Developed metrics for tracking travel and expenses in order to negotiate with airline, hotel and rental cars for possible discounts and price advantages

Contract Administration

  • Senior Contract Administrator position established, reporting to the VP for Business and Finance
  • Contract lead established for each school and unit
  • Implemented Selectica and DocuSign to process contracts
  • To date, more than 300 contracts now go directly to Purchasing instead of Legal Affairs
  • Developed additional standard contract templates to improve processing time; average processing time is two days
  • Overall, reduced the number of contracts going for legal review by over 85%


  • Realized maximum savings through office supply contract with Staples through direct billing, prompt payment and rebate program
  • Category Manager established for IT to execute consolidated purchases in hardware and software
  • Over 400 cell phones eliminated
  • Over 1,200 printers no longer supported centrally
  • Created roadmap for realizing additional savings through FY 2018

Graduate Application Processing

  • Lyle School of Engineering and Dedman College graduate application processing brought under the general Office of Admission and now utilizes a Shared Services scanning and imaging center to process thousands of documents
  • Provided Slate training to faculty and staff across 17 different departments encompassing 62 graduate degree programs
  • Over 2,400 graduate applications reviewed and released through new system
  • Meadows School of the Arts, Simmons School of Education & Human Development and Guildhall to adopt Slate in summer 2016


  • New budgeting process implemented
  • Shared Services implemented, resulting in elimination of 19 positions, mostly unoccupied positions
  • Over $2 million in savings to date
  • Co-located Grant and Contract Accounting to collaborate better with Office of Research and Graduate Studies and provide better access to principal investigators
  • Numerous processes and procedures streamlined; including electronic payroll authorization form; elimination of paper payment request forms; evaluating centralization of receipt of invoices and electronic workflow for approvals
  • “Quick Wins” to reduce number of journal entries, cross charges and unnecessary processes, etc.

Information Technology

  • Chief Information Officer now reports to President Turner
  • Creation of Academic Technology Council and Leadership Council
  • Shared Services implemented; Customer Service support personnel placed in locations across campus
  • Increase in dedicated academic IT personnel (from 4 to 14); each of the schools have been positioned with an Academic Technology Service Director
  • IT infrastructure consolidation underway
  • Cost containment, infrastructure modernization and unified service delivery are direct results of the IT infrastructure alignment
  • ERP (enterprise resource planning) customization reduction plan in progress


  • Consolidation and centralization of all facilities-related administration
  • Thirteen energy savings initiatives identified for overall cost savings of $1.4 million annually after a 3.4 year payback
  • Over 22,000 square feet identified in Expressway Tower for rental to non-SMU tenants while consolidating and collapsing SMU office spaces
  • New agreement with Aramark to manage Operations and Maintenance, Grounds, and Custodial services; gaining economies of scale and projected savings of $1 million annually
  • Shared Services implemented; elimination of 17 positions

Human Resources

  • Implemented new Human Resources Business Partner model for recruitment and HR communications/service delivery to better serve business units and senior leaders
  • Implementing Taleo, a more robust recruitment portal to better serve hiring managers, applicants and HR team members
  • Conducted RFP (request for proposal) for temporary staffing agency to help manage risk issues, maintain regulatory compliance and provide temporary pool access to campus
  • Began University-wide compensation study to review job titles and salary grades for approximately 200 titles and salaries of approximately 1,076 employees
  • Provided support to development and assessment of all Shared Services