Campus Shared Services employees, faculty adopt new phase, perspective

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At the end of March, the campus finished unifying services that used to differ across departments — such as payroll, hiring and expense reimbursement — completing a common administrative structure several years in the making.

The unification occurred under Campus Shared Services, or CSS, a program to increase administrative efficiency and savings across UC Berkeley. The program began in the midst of budget cuts in 2011 and has been slowly expanding its reach since it began providing services in January 2013.

This expansion, in which the program took over the services of more and more campus departments and divisions, was part of what CSS called “implementation” and finished at the end of March.

Now leadership aims to improve the recently established structure with input from professors, staff and students.

Campus Chief Financial Officer Rosemarie Rae uses the metaphor of starting a business to describe the latest stage of development for CSS.

“We spend a lot of time with bricks and mortar,” Rae said. “(But) now that the groceries are on the shelves, we can really start. When the person comes in to buy them, we’re really now very focused on what happens when they walk through the doors.”

Since March 2013, the population of staff, faculty, graduate students and student employees involved with CSS-influenced administrative processes has more than tripled. Ninety-eight percent of the campus is now served by CSS, according to a progress report published in April by Operational Excellence, a larger initiative to increasing saving and efficiency that encompasses CSS.

Since its inception, however, the system has frequently come under fire from faculty and staff, with criticisms of inefficiencies and standardization processes taking too long.

The new guard

Optimism from faculty and initiative employees has been on the rise since a change in leadership and direction last October. The new head of the program, Peggy Huston, has focused on improving communication with faculty and developing metrics to measure and assess CSS’s progress.

Huston, who succeeded Thera Kalmijn as the chief operating officer, has begun what she called a “quick wins” program that makes immediate changes to improve efficiency, such as standardizing policies for work emails.

She has taken aim at prioritizing areas of improvement to “relieve the campus’s greatest pain points first,” according to Carole Love, spokesperson for the vice chancellor for administration and finance.

To address concerns of profitability and quantifiably measuring CSS’s progress, Huston has spearheaded metrics to quantify faculty satisfaction. For the information technology department, this includes tracking the number of days it took to complete each job and requesting customer satisfaction ratings.

Huston said she anticipates these metrics will change as they discover the most important indicators of efficiency.

“Now we’re at a point where we can really start focusing on service improvement across campus and better understanding the financial model for shared services in the future,” Rae said, referring to predictions of financial savings. “I’ll have a better sense of it in a year.”

CSS has also recruited students to test policies that received faculty complaints, such as the system of reimbursement for faculty expenses. Rae uses these tests to collect more data for improving the initiative.

“It’s been a great learning experience,” said UC Berkeley sophomore Nathan Mayer, who participated in the student testing. “Everyone’s able to get something new out of it, something fresh out of it, from both the student side and administrative side.”

Criticism and consternation

CSS was instituted in 2011 to make campus administration more efficient and eventually to save the campus significant amounts of money, but since its inception, it has faced criticism consistently.

Even before the CSS program went live in 2013, faculty expressed concern that CSS was hastily designed and lacked the ability to measure improvements in performance, according to a letter sent by the Berkeley Faculty Association to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and other campus leaders.

The program drew additional ire in 2012, when as many as 625 staff members from various departments within CSS began relocation to an office on 4th Street in West Berkeley, which some faculty felt limited their contact with employees.

Nearly half of faculty found new CSS reimbursement requests “excessive and burdensome,” according to a fall survey of several hundred faculty conducted by Academic Senate Chair Panos Papadopoulos.

Nearly half the survey’s approximately 500 respondents said the time spent on routine administrative tasks has “significantly increased” since they had moved to CSS.
CSS leadership, in response to the criticism, acknowledged the difficulties inherent in getting such a large program off the ground.

“You’ve got to have some kind of expectation that any new implementation is going to have some bumps, but I think we’ve paid attention to where people are having troubles and tried to adjust accordingly,” Rae said.

Love said that there were no expectations of savings during the implementation phase and that new estimates would be calculated going forward.

A stage of ‘cautious optimism’

In spite of early difficulties, optimism has improved among employees and faculty as CSS adjusts to new leadership and moves to a new phase of its development.

“We’ve been transitioning from a state of outrage to a state of cautious skepticism and hopefully moving to cautious optimism by the next year,” said Ronald Cohen, a campus chemistry professor who serves on a committee of faculty that advises CSS on processes related to research.

Dirks fielded questions regarding CSS experiences during a discussion between the chancellor and UC Berkeley staff on April 17.

One participant suggested that CSS dedicate more time to perfecting new systems before implementation in order to avoid the extra work that could result from adjusting to processes that were rushed in their design.

“That’s always a fine balance, because troubleshooting is hard to do unless you’re using (the system). But point taken,” Dirks said. “To some extent, that’s being tried.”

One participant spoke to commend the hiring of Huston.

“My sense is that she’s been doing heroic work,” Dirks said. “But my sense is also that we’re still pushing a boulder up a proverbial Sisyphean mountain.”

Rae noted the progress CSS has made in recent months, including the fact that the number of service calls have “dramatically dropped.”

“Now we’re at a point where we can really start harvesting user experience and creating some administrative efficiencies,” Rae said. “So we’re really at the beginning of our journey.”

Senior staff writer Jessie Lau contributed to this report.

Contact Alex Barreira at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc.