UC Berkeley staff members to move to new off-site center

Gracie Malley/Staff
1608 Fourth Street is the location of the new Campus Shared Services Center.

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Staff members from disparate campus departments will find themselves in an off-campus building beginning in September as part of a push to streamline UC Berkeley administration.

A lease has been signed for a Fourth Street building that will become the Campus Shared Services Center and house finance, human resources, information technology and research administration staff from different departments together, campus administrators announced Wednesday. The shared services project works within the larger Operational Excellence initiative, a controversial effort to cut campus costs and save $75 million annually starting in fiscal year 2016.

The shared services project budget was approved March 8 by the Operational Excellence Executive Committee and estimated total expenses to range from $18.62 million to $20.72 million. However, the budget did not include the cost of the ten-year lease arrangement, which will total an additional $26.2 million and include building amenities and improvements, shared services implementation team communications manager Sybil Wartenberg said in an email.

“Given the importance of the project, the campus will pay for the lease as an investment in the initiative,” Wartenberg said.

The center will have a shuttle service, gym, showers, new technology and bike storage for staff. Staff members will transition into the building in phases — about 170 staff will begin working at the center in 2012, and 500 to 625 staff will eventually work there over the next 24 to 30 months, according to the shared services website. But the building’s distance from the campus and the impacts of reorganization have caused concern for staff members.

At a Friday shared services update meeting for staff, Wartenberg and project manager David Declercq fielded inquiries from staff members who questioned the decision to establish the center off-campus.

“In terms of whether or not there was space on campus … what we were told was no, there was not,” Wartenberg said.

Staff members also raised concerns over how their jobs would be impacted by the new center.

Staff who are not supervisors and spend more than half their time on “shareable work” will be reassigned to the center, according to the April shared services Workforce Planning Recommendations Summary. “Shareable work” refers to services that staff carry out in separate departments that have enough similarities to become centralized. Wartenberg said in an email that some department jobs that involve both “shareable” and not shareable work will need to be restructured.

“In terms of the fractional work — the hybrid positions — it’ll be a case by case basis of what that will look like,” she said at the meeting. “Obviously we think over time there will be people who self-select out of shared services … but there is not a plan to do a mass layoff.”

Whether the center will work towards meeting savings expectations also remains to be seen.

Estimated savings for shared services have changed dramatically from an April 2010 report by consulting firm Bain & Company, which projected that shared services would save around $18 million per year after having reached a steady savings rate three years after implementation.

A Feb. 27 report then lowered savings expectations to “hard savings of $12 million to $15 million per year, and the final March 8 budget dropped projections much more dramatically to $6.5 million in 2016. From 2016 to 2020, the savings are expected to increase each year and peak at $14.3 million in 2020.

Wartenberg said at the meeting that the shared services team has been receiving about 25 emails a day from staff members who have questions.

“We have heard that there are a lot of challenges in getting communication from the top to the front lines on staff,” she said.