Why do we do the things we do?
How can we make the right data available to people to help them do their jobs?
And how can we simplify our broad range of administrative processes and policies—streamlining everything from the steps it takes to hire people to the amount of time it takes to get reimbursed for travel?
These are among the core questions at the heart of the Administrative Transformation Program (ATP), described as a “reimagining” of the administrative infrastructure at the University of Wisconsin.
Aiming to upgrade, modernize and streamline core processes within an increasingly complicated higher education environment, ATP’s overall objective is to “right-size” UW’s administrative complexity—freeing up more time and resources to support the core teaching, research and outreach work that bring UW’s mission to life.
With the program’s pre-planning phase coming to a close in mid-2020, ATP leaders held a status update event on February 26, highlighting key elements of the program’s business case, accomplishments to date, and the timeline ahead.
Like many universities or large, complex organizations, the administrative infrastructure at UW has grown over many decades, morphing and expanding to respond to a variety of different pressures, ATP Program Director Nick Tincher told audience members at the status update, held at the UW–Madison Biotechnology Center Auditorium and via livestream.
Over time, Tincher added, that administrative evolution has brought staff to a point where it’s become difficult to maintain and grow the university’s mission within that same infrastructure.
“We have in front of us right now a very good opportunity to do something about this,” Tincher said.
“Bolt-on systems” add to administrative complexity
But before ATP can cultivate transformation and change, program leaders first needed to gain a detailed understanding of the current systems and processes. In discovery visits to UW System institutions over the past year, ATP found more than 500 third-party or “bolt-on” systems in place in or around institutions’ main enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
“They were implemented for really good reasons—people trying to get their jobs done, trying to meet their requirements,” explained ATP Program Executive Steve Kish. But most, if not all, of those bolt-on systems lack integration with the current ERP, creating layers of complexity that undercut the original reasons for implementing those supplemental systems.
“If the systems are disconnected, what you’re asking people to do is enter the same data in a bunch of different systems,” Kish said, emphasizing that this creates not only extra work, but also complicated reporting and data reconciliation.
As ATP investigates and collaborates with institutions to both identify administrative challenges and build solutions, Tincher says the program is doing so through four lenses: people, process, policy and technology.
At the same time, ATP is also refining its concept of “benefits realization.” This framework was created as a means to track the program’s success and remain accountable to its goals, such as introducing efficiencies and improving capacity across the university to focus on mission-critical work.
“How are we standardizing processes and making things less complex?” Tincher said while describing the benefits realization framework. “How can we measure that we’re abiding by some standard way—the University of Wisconsin way—of developing processes?”
Other highlights from the ATP status update include:
ATP Ambassador Program
To create engagement opportunities outside of standard communication channels, ATP has established a system-wide Ambassador Program aimed at fostering face-to-face conversation at all levels of campus, Tincher and Kish said.
The UW–Madison Ambassador Program is the first such program, launched in October. The program comprises nearly 50 ambassadors representing 23 campus units who will serve as a two-way communication point of contact, bringing feedback and questions to ATP to address and respond.
“It’s a huge part of what we think will help us be successful on this project,” Kish said, adding that the ambassador conversations allow for front-line responses to changes as they’re being developed. Or, as Kish put it: “Let me tell you in the real world how it actually goes down.”
“It gives us a chance to make course corrections,” Kish added.
The Ambassador Program will grow in the coming months to incorporate many more units across the UW–Madison campus, as well as at each UW System institution.
ERP vendor demos
In January, week-long cloud ERP vendor demos were held at the Pyle Center, drawing more than 500 people to learn about Oracle Cloud and Workday ERP software systems and their capabilities in human resources, finance, grants administration and information technology. Vendors demonstrated their responses to approximately 150 use case scenarios to highlight their systems’ capabilities.
ERP selection committee members are currently evaluating vendor references and compiling their findings, aiming to make a final recommendation in March. Implementation of the new ERP is targeted to begin in July.
Meanwhile, requests for proposals are also underway to select a system implementation partner as well as a quality assurance vendor to help objectively evaluate ATP’s progress along the way.
Compared to peer universities that have completed similar administrative transformation projects, UW’s timeline is “assertive,” Tincher says, aiming for a first-phase go-live in July 2023 for UW–Madison and UW System Administration. A second-phase go-live for the remaining UW System institutions is slated for July 2025.
While the timeline is shorter than many similar endeavors at other organizations, Tincher and Kish stressed that the groundwork and discovery done in the pre-planning phase over the last year is intended to help UW avoid the lengthy “reset” that often happens mid-timeline, as leaders grapple with how to carry out the project.
Watch the video
To see the entire ATP status update, go to the Administrative Transformation Program’s YouTube channel to watch the video.
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