Campus audience brings questions to TIER consultants

During a TIER campus forum Monday, audience members questioned the impact of proposed efficiencies on department budgets, staffing levels, quality of services and faculty ability to teach. Four members of Deloitte Consulting, the company hired in February to conduct the state Board of Regents' Transparent Inclusive Efficiency Review of Iowa's three public universities, presented eight proposed business cases -- a cost/savings/risks/benefits analysis of specific efficiency proposals -- and responded to questions.

The 90-minute forum was live streamed and is archived online. Deloitte's slides (PDF) also were archived. Miles Lackey, the president's chief of staff and Iowa State's liaison to the board's TIER committee, noted that there still are opportunities to provide input on any of the proposed business cases:

  • Send written comments to:
  • Provide oral comments during the regular public hearing preceding the board's Oct. 23 meeting (Thursday, Oct. 16, 4-5 p.m., Memorial Union Oak Room)

Review the business cases

Eight proposed administrative efficiencies

"Your feedback is going to help the regents as they consider each of these administrative business cases. We really do appreciate any feedback you can provide," Lackey said.

"We'll continue to work with our shared governance partners to receive feedback and provide that directly to the board," he added.

President Steven Leath and his counterparts from Iowa and Northern Iowa also will be given time to provide additional campus feedback to the board on Oct. 23.

Audience questions

Following is a synopsis of issues raised by audience members at the Oct. 13 campus forum, and the consultant team's responses.

Concern: Several of the proposals indicate positions would be eliminated and there's uncertainty about the possibility of layoffs when attrition can't take care of the staff changes. The past five years have seen cuts in support staff even as enrollment keeps rising.

Response: First, any positions that might be affected by efficiencies are estimates at this point. In any kind of implementation, there would be very detailed HR work to look at attrition rates you could expect in specific departments and what kinds of skill gaps could occur. Second, any changes in staffing would only be prompted by changes in technology that enable the processing in some of these transactions we're talking about. Third, these business cases are not stagnant. We recognize that your environment is constantly changing, so any of the current analysis of how this could unfold in the short term would have to be re-baselined over time as your enrollment and campus needs change.

Concern: The networked printing proposal doesn't seem to take into account faculty and advisers' time (for example, a five-minute walk to pick up copies eats up network savings), and also creates concerns about document privacy.

Response: We don't anticipate that 100 percent of local printers would go away. There needs to be a detailed inventory of where the printers are, what's the usage and how can we optimize them. The most expensive liquid you can buy is printer toner (one gallon equals the price of 3,000 gallons of gas). Part of the solution also is users getting comfortable with the network printers and features such as "store and print," which takes care of some security features.

Concern: Several years ago, there was a move to centralize data storage on campus and departments' storage costs went up. It was much cheaper to purchase new servers and build our own server farm than to go with a centralized model. If we centralize again (or more), costs to departments would go up, particularly under the Resource Management Model [budget model].

Response: Our business case looks at the entire system, basically, as one. In the design phase, it looks like there would be some cost efficiencies, but that needs to be passed on to the colleges and departments. It will be critical for you to keep that question strident. The pricing of these services is going to have to follow the efficiencies that are going to be gained.

Concern: Over last five years, under the RMM, many departments have chosen to do financial processing, trained staff to do it effectively, and chosen to do it that way because they're responsible for how their funds are spent and they know that the processing is best done at the local level. Now we're going in the opposite direction. Also, how will staff, faculty and customers be involved in that more detailed analysis work during implementation?

Response: We know that many units have built their own infrastructure. In many cases it works great, in some, not as well. Shared services doesn't have to mean centralization; it's about redefining the work that's done and collaboratively rebuilding the processes and evaluating where that work should be performed. In many cases, you'll want to have that local support. For things that are purely transactional in nature, those may be done a little further from the individual. Under the shared services model, you could have a model that's building floor-specific, building-specific or even campus zone-specific.

If any of these areas are chosen for implementation, we've seen the most success using working groups consisting of faculty, staff (sometimes students) -- people who do the work every day -- or their customers. It's a very collaborative process, and what's been the most effective is where people are designing the future together. We recognize that whoever is affected by this change should be the ones designing the work.

There is no intent to centralize everything on any campus. It's always a mix. We have to work with you to find the right balance, to find those components of work that make sense to do in a consolidated location or through a consolidated process, and to keep the really critical components that are needed at the local level.

Concern: Faculty would be asked to give up their laptops, on which they keep class presentations and research data, and which they'd like access to 24/7.

Response: We are not suggesting any changes to laptops or mobile devices. We are talking about changes to desktop computers. We are proposing that some proportion of them could be changed to these newer (thin client) devices that are the next-generation computing technology.

Concern: Changes for institutional IT infrastructure might force changes on the educational IT infrastructure that would negatively impact ISU's core educational mission. (IT evaluation by faculty last year indicated clear preference for local IT services, not centralized services).

Response: We're recommending a centralized approach for core infrastructure services, for caring and feeding of servers and desktop devices. But we understand that classroom services are best left local because you have the response time, the localization. We also recognize that proprietary applications and business requirements should be left where they are. That being said, we think there are some enhancements of process, policy and tools that still would benefit all these teams.

Concern: My experience (in industry and higher ed) is that the further the department is from the service provider, the greater the potential for slow service or bad service. Without an SLA (service level agreement) in place, how is quality enforced?

Response: I wouldn't say drown yourselves in SLAs, but certainly the right seven to 10 would be appropriate. Mean time to repair is a key SLA for desktop services. Will it indicate issues with every user? No. But over time, if you can bring the average down, that indicates the level of service.

Any SLA that identifies metrics that you want to measure should be established collaboratively working with faculty, staff and students to understand what things are important to them. Where we've seen service level agreements be the most successful is where there's a regular process to check in on how well those SLAs are working, and to have recourse if there are service levels that are not being met and to be able to address those immediately.