Update on Business Operations Task Force
June 28, 2019
While I am winding down my last week on campus, a number of initiatives that launched during my tenure as president will continue on or wrap up under the leadership of President McConnell. One of these is the Business Operations Task Force that was charged by Provost Miranda and I last October to provide recommendations on how we can improve and become more intentional in our business operations across the University. The goal was to ensure that key financial, human resource and research support (Sponsored Programs) personnel at all levels of the institution have the skills, training, expertise, and supportive structures to ensure fiscal integrity and compliance in all our operations.
This is certainly no small challenge, and the task force has met throughout the late fall and spring to address it, focusing on four key areas: University structure, skill sets and training, shared best practices, and systems process mapping – an examination of the efficiency and effectiveness of our systems and processes. You can review the goals and work of the task force, as well as view the membership, at https://bizopstaskforce.colostate.edu/.
The creation of this task force came in the face of two federal audits, one by the NSF and one by the DoD, and the reality of two of our academic colleges struggling to meet their annual financial commitments. These situations pointed to a need for more sophisticated practices and intentional structures to minimize risk to the institution and more effectively meet the more sophisticated, complex business needs of a university of this size.
To inform its work, the task force engaged a 3rd party consultant, hrQ, to perform an assessment of our human resource operations, surveyed internal constituents regarding areas for improvement, and conducted a survey of peer institutions to understand how their operations are structured. It has also identified peer institutions that have moved to a “shared resources” concept – where a set of highly trained experts with diverse skill sets is positioned to support multiple units, rather than requiring individual administrative staff at the unit level to manage tasks requiring a high level of technical knowledge. The question is whether such a concept can provide a heightened level of service and accountability while removing barriers to units in achieving their strategic goals. As it formulates its recommendations, the task force is in the process of analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of such a model and the potential implications for CSU.
The task force will be coming forward with its recommendations in the next few months. Although they are not yet final, we can anticipate that there will be some clear guiding themes based on what the task force has found to date. Among these:
- Designing a more intentional and professional structure campus wide is needed to manage routine operations with consistency, efficiency, and effectiveness.
- We have a need to improve knowledge and create more efficient processes to support University operations and financial decision making.
- Staff at the unit level often wear many hats and are given little time to build expertise and keep up with training needed to keep pace with increasingly complex demands. We need to build shared expertise at the college and unit level and provide better training and support to staff in these roles.
- Lines of authority ought to sit with the people who have the highest level of technical knowledge – so that a college-level or central officer ought to have both authority and the ability to assist departmental-level officers.
Clearly, recommendations for changing or refining operational practices are often unpopular – such changes don’t just impact individual jobs and responsibilities, but they can even be perceived as a threat to unit autonomy and control. So the point of this message today is to signal that recommendations will be coming forward for President McConnell and Provost Miranda’s consideration, and they will undoubtedly have implications for how we do business across campus. Ultimate implementation of any recommendations could span several years. I also want to be clear that these recommendations are driven by the reality that the effectiveness and integrity of our operations are not keeping pace with the size and complexity of this institution. We need a better and more consistent structure to ensure compliance with federal standards and accountability to the people we serve.
I want to thank the task force for its deep and diligent work on these issues, and thank all of you for considering whatever recommendations come forward thoughtfully and with concern for our responsibility as stewards of a great public university.
Dr. Tony Frank