For Yale’s business managers, maneuvering through a maze of computer applications, Web sites, networks and paper forms on 11 separate systems is all in a day’s work.
But all that’s about to change as the University prepares to overhaul its internal operations, unifying the disparate systems into a single, fully integrated portal.
The multi-million-dollar project, which will roll out in stages over the next four years starting this summer, is the largest upgrade to Yale’s systems since 2000. But this time, administrators said, the system will be more integrated and more comprehensive because of technological advances, more sophisticated personnel, more time and a new cadre of corporate-trained officers at the helm.
The venture even has a snappy elided brand: YaleNext.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get stuff done around here,” Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King said in an interview Monday. “Everything doesn’t always get done as consistently and predictably as it should. The more consistent and predictable it gets, the higher the chances we can get it right.”
Originally conceived a year ago to accommodate substantial growth in the size of the University’s faculty and staff, the project was approved by the Yale Corporation in October. But even in this new area of belt-tightening — brought on by the projected 25 percent drop in the endowment — administrators said the improvements are just as important, though the project’s cost has since been scaled back 15 percent.
The goal, King said, is to reduce the administrative burden on faculty so they can spend more time and energy on research and teaching.
“This is about making Yale’s administrative quality as high as its academic quality,” she said.
HR CALL CENTER
The first change will come in June with the creation of a new human resources service center to be piloted by Science Park employees and then expanded to all 9,176 University staff.
Currently, a typical year sees 670,000 human resources transactions, or an average of about 52 per employee — changing an address, adding a dependent or merely finding out how many sick days an employee has left. Doing so today requires an e-mail, a phone call or a visit to a particular person in HR. Work can back up because, sometimes, only one employee knows how to carry out a certain task. Many of those 670,000 transactions are callbacks, follow-ups or redirects.
King said she aims to cut the number of transactions down to 40,000. With fewer tasks to do by e-mail, King said inboxes will become less cluttered.
With the new service center, employees will call a single number with all requests. A representative will pick up the phone and access a database with all necessary information so the right answers can be pulled up on a screen.
In a later stage, YaleNext will bring self-service, so some basic transactions can be done online.
The information technology help desk will also become more centralized and automated, said Anne Murray-Randolph, the new assistant vice president for strategic projects and communications. Currently, the decentralized system cannot track problems or anticipate meltdowns. Earlier this school year, the expense management system crashed, and thousands of expense reports had to be re-entered by hand.
TURBOTAX AND AMAZON
YaleNext also plans to change how the University orders supplies.
Today, 21 percent of Yale’s purchases are approved without identifying details of the expense. John Jibilian, a former consultant who was hired in June to lead the YaleNext project, said the plan is to make fewer untagged purchases and more that come with identifying details. Doing so will reduce the lag in expense reporting.
To pull that off, he said, making University purchases must become as easy as shopping on Amazon.com. A good system is already in place, Jibilian said, but it is not comprehensive: Inventory available in the system must be expanded so the percentage of orders made through it can rise from 20 percent to the targeted 40 percent.
Centralizing purchases also saves money by buying in bulk, King added. For example, instead of allowing staff to buy any computer, the administration has set six configurations of Dell computers that can be bought at bulk rates and can help standardize IT services. The University is negotiating a similar deal with Apple.
Another new system will help streamline Yale’s complex grant accounting — King calls it “TurboTax for grants.” The inadequacies of Yale’s systems were cast into sharp relief in 2006 when the federal government began investigating the University for allegedly making false claims on $3 billion in 6,000 research grants from 30 federal agencies. The flubs cost Yale $7.6 million in a settlement last December.
In sum, the changes will make Yale, while still a non-profit institution, run its business operations in a way that is more, well, business-like.
“Higher education is just starting to explore these techniques that have been alive and well in the business world for two decades,” King said. “These are well-practiced grounds — we just need to find the right shaping to come into a new environment.”
King declined to say how much the YaleNext project will cost, except that it is “in the millions.” King said she does not want people to start thinking about the costs before they start to feel the benefits.
The project’s expense is being closely monitored by the Yale Corporation, King said, and is being reviewed every six months.
Still, budget constraints have put pressure on the project’s scale. The use of consultants, originally favored when the limiting factor was time, has been reduced when money became a larger concern. The overall cost of the YaleNext project has since been cut by 15 percent.
In some cases, that involved sacrificing elements that were part of but not essential to the original vision, King said. For example, administrators originally planned to integrate Yale’s system with partner institutions with whom it frequently collaborates on research. But to save money, this initiative has now been cut.
The host of changes will begin to appear in June, with subsequent rollouts in October and February and then twice a year until 2012-’13. The changes are clustered in spurts, King said, so staffers don’t feel “besieged” either with a constant onslaught of change or with a sudden change all at once.
While YaleNext is aimed at changing how faculty and staff work, students are less likely to notice, King said. The administrative services with which students interact are mostly already digitized and streamlined the way YaleNext wants to make all Yale’s processes, King said.