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Adopting a broader vision of excellence at UB

By MICHAEL ANDREI

Published March 3, 2017

“Achieving operational excellence across the university will enable UB to simplify processes and redefine policies in ways that will maintain the quality of instruction, further enhance our students’ experiences and expand and strengthen faculty research.”
Laura E. Hubbard, UB vice president for finance and administration

As New York State’s most comprehensive public research university and a member of the Association of American Universities, UB offers opportunities for success in the classroom and life built on academic and research excellence, scholarly distinction and transformative student experiences.  

But in a changing landscape for higher education, UB, together with colleges and universities nationwide, are being called upon to do more, often with fewer resources.

From a national perspective, operational excellence initiatives are bringing culture change to colleges and universities across the country.

“UB is not insulated from the many economic, demographic and policy pressures facing other social institutions,” said Laura E. Hubbard, UB vice president for finance and administration.

Hubbard noted that UB’s most important outcome is to help students learn, achieve and complete degrees.

The university’s strategic vision, UB 2020, is focused on raising UB’s stature through academic excellence, and expanding the local and global impact of the university’s education, service and research mission.

To help guide the university down that path, the Realizing UB 2020 Task Force was created to develop implementation strategies for UB 2020. The task force cited the need for responsible management of university resources, delivered through a model of sustainability and operational excellence.

“Our strength lies in how we work together to serve the university’s mission and vision – in infrastructure support activities as well as in our academic programs,” Hubbard said.  

She added: “Achieving operational excellence across the university will enable UB to simplify processes and redefine policies in ways that will maintain the quality of instruction, further enhance our students’ experiences and expand and strengthen faculty research.”  

The beginnings of operational excellence at UB can be seen in 13 business process and systems improvements initiatives currently underway in Finance and Administration.

The discovery portion of UPlan, one of the largest projects in the area of Resource Planning at UB, has recently started. UPlan is a budget, planning and forecasting tool, which will create greater efficiencies, bring cost-savings and ease-of-use for UB faculty, staff and administrators through new technology.

“UPlan will provide a mechanism to integrate the annual resource planning process at UB with current university systems and databases,” said Laurie Barnum, associate vice president, UB Resource Planning.

“With UPlan, faculty, staff and senior administrators should have easy, well-supported electronic access to the data and information necessary to perform and manage their university functions,” Barnum added.

A key UPlan goal is to make UB an institution where data-based decisions are made through easy-to-use management reporting processes and technologies.  

Brice Bible, UB vice president and chief information officer, said, “UB Information Technology is very supportive of operational improvements such as the Finance and Administration UPlan Initiative.

 “A robust budget planning tool that can integrate with other critical data sources across the institution can help build on UB’s progress and improve outcomes throughout the university.”

In University Facilities, a new, streamlined process to enable clients to complete rehab and capital projects more efficiently will use an integrated team approach to improve delivery and reduce cycle time for projects. The new customer-focused process, also offering greater transparency, is targeted to begin by early summer, 2017.

Human Resources has launched UB EDGE, a unified system with a user-friendly experience, allowing an individual to easily incorporate learning activities into their performance plans and daily work experience.

An integrated e-travel system will be implemented by UB Business Services this summer. The new system will provide faculty and staff with the option to fully automate their university travel and accompanying expenses. Among the many benefits will be reduced paper and costs; mobile functionality; the ability to capture data no matter how travel is booked and increased efficiency and productivity savings.    

A university-wide operational excellence initiative will also focus on bringing about greater efficiency and cost savings in areas such as procurement, financial reporting, budgeting and overall financial decision-making, leading to better levels of service to students, faculty and staff.

“Change is part of our goal, but many people become anxious about change,” said Beth Corry, associate vice president and controller in UB Business Services. “Achieving operational success will be a continuous process, so while changing policies and re-engineering systems are key to this process, transparency and inclusivity are too.”

Bible and Hubbard also said that, over time, UB must build a culture and organizational structure that sustains the improvements that will be implemented.

“Encouraging data-driven decisions will bring positive academic outcomes as well,” said Hubbard.

While some areas of university operations may yield quick savings, achieving operational excellence in higher education is empowering, inclusive and brings about broad positive change.

“Better planning and improved operational efficiencies are key to allowing faculty and staff to focus on the high-value tasks and operations that make a real difference for students,” said Hubbard.

Additional information on this initiative, and operational excellence at UB may be found here: http://www.buffalo.edu/administrative-services/about-us/achieving-operational-excellence.html.  Any questions may be addressed to ub-uplan@buffalo.edu.