Campus finds 545 ways to streamline university business

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John Carberry

The campus community came together last fall to assess processes and procedures, and recommended 545 ways to cut the Big Red Tape.

Responding to President Elizabeth Garrett’s call in August 2015 for Cornell University to reduce bureaucracy and improve support services to faculty, students and staff, college and administrative leaders worked with their staff members to suggest improvements in their areas and across the university. These improvements range from enhancing such automated processes as e-SHOP and improving the effective use of such software solutions as PeopleSoft and Workday, to making it easier to travel abroad or to find a room for a meeting on campus. They also include suggestions for better training, easier access to data, and simplifying such processes as adding or dropping courses, submitting grants, managing budgets and securing tenure.

“Your input and the resulting aggregated data will be very influential as we move forward together with the overall effort to improve how we fulfill our missions of teaching, research and creative work, and public engagement,” Garrett wrote to deans, vice presidents and vice provosts in mid-February.

Since then, members of the Division of Financial Affairs, under the leadership of Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Joanne DeStefano, organized the suggestions into three categories: 129 describe recently completed projects, 200 are proposals for streamlining at the university level and 216 propose improvements at the unit level.

Focusing on the university and unit level proposals and consolidating duplicate suggestions resulted in about 125 unique proposals for further scrutiny. Those suggestions – found on the Financial Initiatives website – address four themes:

  • move the university further away from paper forms and manual processes;
  • provide better data-reporting tools for decision-making and better coordination of requests for reports;
  • increase coordination or centralization of services, especially in information technology and international operations; and
  • establish a universitywide system to manage facility, space and event planning, and reservations.

“President Garrett’s streamlining efforts have the potential of not only increasing efficiency at the unit level around campus, but also producing a smarter and more consistent approach for administrative and academic leadership,” said DeStefano. “Through the identification of redundancies and a commitment to cooperation among departments and units, we expect to create an organization that is more agile and resilient, from top to bottom, than ever before.”

Central unit leaders have received the recommendations made by campus partners, and they are working with their staff members to assess and prioritize these suggestions, as they continue to work on the priorities they identified themselves. Since about 70 percent of the suggestions concerned IT services and applications, Cornell Information Technologies (CIT) has already begun to evaluate the more than 60 services it currently offers against campus needs.

“We meet biweekly with the campus IT directors and their associated finance and business officers, each time presenting three of the services we offer and asking them to weigh in on their use of – or reason for not using – each service,” said David Lifka, interim vice president for information technology.

Lifka said CIT is also examining campus use of data analytics and computer and data security measures. The division is seeking to better understand how deans, vice provosts and vice presidents find and use data, to determine how to offer complete data reporting.

“This examination of information technology services across the university will touch on many of the suggestions raised,” Lifka said. “By presenting the services CIT currently offers, we hope to inspire others to adopt them; in turn, we want to learn how to better serve campus. Our goal is to offer an array of services that provide clear value, security benefits and economies of scope and scale, so that units can focus on their specialized needs and unique procedures.”

DeStefano said that to be successful, these streamlining efforts will need campuswide input. “We will call on many faculty and staff members to help; our hope is that they will assist in this careful examination of how we conduct business and the achievement of our goals,” she said.

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Nancy Doolittle