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Outside re-engineering efforts share goals, but vary in approach

By Jennifer Lane

MIT isn't the only institution feeling the pinch of federal spending cuts and embarking on the quest for efficiency. Many other universities and companies have begun similar re-engineering efforts., and some colleges are even keeping an eye on what MITdoes.

The impetus behind re-engineering efforts appears constant across geographical lines. Like MIT, colleges such as Stanford University "feel the need to become more efficient both because of budget concerns in Washington, and the general importance of efficiency to an academic enterprise," said Vice Provost for Institutional Planning at Stanford Geoffrey M. Cox.

Carnegie-Mellon University was prompted by cut costs, increased scrutiny from regulatory agencies, and "the realization that we'd made very few administrative changes over last 20 to 30 years," said Carnegie-Mellon Process Engineer Linda E. Schmidt.

"I think we're all trying to head toward the same place lower costs associated with efficient processes," said the director of the business management group at Yale University, Dean Plummer. "[Yale's] core mission is teaching and research with service to the community being very important as well. Administrative costs drag on that mission, so we've historically been looking to manage those costs," Plummer said.

Colleges have different approaches

MIT has launched several efforts at once, while Stanford, Yale, and CMU have all chosen to address a few departments or processes at a time. Yale is watching MIT's re-engineering with great interest, Plummer said. "You folks are way out in front of where we are in a number of things."

Ahead or not, MIT's total approach is more costly than the individual approach. Stanford administrators hope that "each new investment will pay for itself," Cox said.

CMU has also decided "to look at individual processes and re-engineer as we see the need," Schmidt said. They currently have two re-engineering processes in the implementation stage and one in the design phase. It already "feels like everything is being changed, so we're thinking of not starting any more until those are completed," Schmidt said.

Different areas re-engineered

Across the board, the first item on everyone's lists seems to be replacing outdated computing systems.

Stanford began with its computing system, hoping that the renovations will result in people being able to work more efficiently. "Our re-engineering efforts are focusing primarily on the business functions, such as financial transactions, research administration, [and] grant and contract administration," Cox said.

Beyond cutting administrative costs, Yale's "other driver is having more financial information available to us in flexible, meaningful ways," Plummer said. "We've been putting emphasis on having business components work smarter, because they need better tools."

"In the area of management and professional staff and faculty, these streamlining initiatives and enhancements of financial initiatives are long overdue," Plummer said. "We have a data warehouse underway that increases access to financial information, but until we address underlying systems, we can't reach goals that everyone shares for business in the future."

Yale began its re-engineering efforts a year-and-a-half ago by examining its student services, with a standing goal of fully integrating admission and financial services, Plummer said. This effort is only now nearing completion.

They next moved to the organization and technological support of administrative functions, Plummer said. "What Yale is considering now is the relation between procurement and contracts, human resources, and payroll components of administration."

CMU first looked at acquisitions, purchases, and accounts payable, then began facilities design and renovation processes, Schmidt said. They later began a re-engineering effort to change their student services.

Student involvement in the re-engineering process at other schools has been minimal so far. Yale sought student input in the re-engineering of its student services, but not in that of administrative systems, Plummer said. At Stanford, which has only begun to address student services, students have not really been involved yet.

Carnegie-Mellon incorporated student input in their enrollment re-engineering effort, placing two students on the design team. Beyond this one effort, students have not been affected by the re-engineering process, Schmidt said.

In their initial re-engineering efforts, the various colleges agree that the immediate community was initially receptive to changes made to improve efficiency and service. Lately more and more things are changing, and "we're getting pushed back by the community," Schmidt said.