UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

Finding efficiency through centralization

UND begins process of developing service center model for more effective campus services

Twamley Hall
The idea of more wisely and efficiently utilizing resources is the guiding principal behind UND’s exploration of a service center model. UND archival photo.

The daily shuffle of budgets, purchasing and payroll can sometimes be the thing that slows an organization down from seizing its goals.

In 2012, Dawn Pladson and her colleagues saw an opportunity to ease that frustration for some UND units. She joined forces with a campus working group to develop a solution—the Business Service Center (BSC).

“For the departments we serve, it frees up their time,” said Pladson of the UND Budget Office, who oversees the Business Service Center. “We can provide some of those basic business services, so that they can work on things that will make their department be better and help their department use their talents in a better way.”

BSC grew popular quickly and expanded its client base from two to 35 departments as units began to see the benefits of centralized service. The idea of more wisely and efficiently utilizing resources is the guiding principal behind UND’s exploration of a service center model.

Dawn Pladson
Dawn Pladson, UND Budget Office

“As we’ve been talking about the future for UND, we recognize we’re facing some challenges, but we also have some opportunities going forward,” said UND Vice President for Finance and Operations Alice Brekke. “We can create consistency, create career progression opportunities and change the way we do business.”

Brekke explained that developing a service center model begins with assessing how the University is delivering certain kinds of common services across the institution—not just within departmental silos. Those services include finance, HR/payroll, administrative and clerical support, IT, marketing, advising, space scheduling and management, career services and student services like student financial aid, student account services and One-Stop.

“Then you have to do the hard work of designing what the system will look like,” she said. “A large factor that connects to success is engaging the campus community and appropriate stakeholders in those conversations. So it’s not something that happens in three weeks.”

Shared services, career opportunities

The concept of shared services or centralization doesn’t necessarily mean that staff is brought together in one physical location.

One scenario that Brekke described could include staff embedded in the colleges and units with guidance and oversight from someone outside the college—a champion. That champion would have a broader view of the institution to pay attention to efficiency, standardization and training.

“There will be improved communication. We won’t have ten different versions of how something gets done,” Brekke said. “And we would be creating career progression opportunities within each function.”

Pladson explained that focused job roles within BSC help her team perform faster and more accurately. “They are able to become experts,” she said. “We also have cross-training, so there is backup during absences, versus departments that are small and have a small staff.”

“My hope is that exploration of a service center model which may include staff centralization goes beyond meeting budget goals to provide better career paths and functional training opportunities as it unites the university together as One UND,” UND President Mark Kennedy said.

One step at a time

Brekke believes that improved services are a key outcome of this effort, and it will be important to take the time to do it well.  To that end, UND does not have the capacity to tackle all service areas at once, so the initial focus will be on two projects.

Alice Brekke
UND Vice President for Finance and Operations Alice Brekke

The first would look at ways to bundle finance, HR/payroll and administrative/clerical support. The other would be a “pilot” project with student-facing services, a grouping that has the opportunity to create a positive experience for students, which may in turn help with retention.

“The group is very excited about it. We’ve already sat down with the leads in One-Stop, financial aid and student account services,” Brekke said. “We’ve said, this is what we want to do—what do you think? And they are all in.”

Brekke expects that analysis, development and rollout of any centralization processes will take no less than a year. During that time, she urges staff to be flexible and adaptable as roles may shift and change.

“There will be opportunities that the colleges and other administrative areas will need to take advantage of to meet the relatively immediate financial targets,” she said. “In the longer term, there may be different opportunities that present themselves as the service center concepts materialize.”

For more budget-related communications, click on the Budget tab of the UND Today homepage.