In 2009, under the leadership of President Gary D. Forsee, the University of Missouri System instituted a wide-ranging effort to curb expenses and avoid duplication of administrative tasks. Referred to as the “Shared Services Initiative,” the project’s continuing goal is to enable the university to achieve operating efficiencies and effectiveness across the enterprise, and to serve as a model for best practices.
Under the leadership of Vice President Gary Allen and Paul Toler, director of business services on the Columbia campus, a committee of representatives from the UM System and each campus set out to identify administrative processes that would benefit from the adoption of shared services characteristics. These characteristics include:
- Top priority: to delight the ultimate customer or end user;
- Use service level agreements, metrics, etc. extensively to foster accountability, emphasize roles and responsibilities and measure the cost containment, unit cost and savings realized;
- Standardize processes to drive out cost, improve service, achieve consistency and reduce rework; recognize the need for flexibility when necessary as it supports the academic enterprise.
A customer-focused organizational model that consolidates operations in order to reduce inefficiencies and duplicative costs, and increase customer service. It can take many forms on a continuum anywhere from consolidating transactions within a division or campus all the way to a separate standalone entity that can serve the needs of the entire system — possibly even other colleges and universities throughout the state.
In shared services like activities are consolidated, however, if implemented properly it actually goes hand-in-hand with decentralization. A partnership is established such that the focus is on continuous improvement of service. Accountability to the internal partner (e.g., department, division, campus, etc.) is demonstrated via metrics, which benchmark the effectiveness of the relationship. Further, both partners have shared governance over the process to ensure the needs of the internal partner are met. By having dedicated management over these transactions it frees up the internal partner at the strategic unit level to focus on their areas of expertise that represent the core missions of the university.
Good candidates for shared services are those that are high-volume transaction processes and those requiring specialized training or professional expertise (e.g., payroll, benefits administration, procurement, accounts payable). Each individual process may have a different configuration along the shared services continuum.
The university recognizes that there is value in evaluating the opportunities that shared services can provide. To do this data must be collected to build the appropriate foundation from which shared services can be considered. Therefore, Accenture, a consultant with experience in evaluating shared services opportunities, has been contracted to lead the university through the process of data collection and evaluation.
The university over the last ten years has admirably handled a number of budget challenges by continuing to "lean" the organization. Our university, along with other entities in both the public and private sectors of our economy, face a new long-term reality created by the recent economic downturn. President Forsee has identified shared services as a vehicle to support the campuses and system to thrive in the context of this new reality.
That is yet to be determined. As mentioned previously, shared services can take many forms on a continuum anywhere from consolidating transactions within a division or campus all the way to a separate standalone entity that can serve the needs of the entire system. After collecting and evaluating data around the various transaction types, the next phase will focus on process improvements and identifying where shared services can provide enhanced business processes for the university. A determination would then be made as to where on that continuum a given process would fall.