Ideas for Greater Efficiency

  • Take UH e-mail off of Exchange and the antiquated mail.uh.edu (which is constantly bombarded by spam attacks) and move it all into Google Apps for Education. This would free up some of UH’s IT resources to tackle big problems that affect students and faculty daily, such as streamlining and enhancing PeopleSoft and Blackboard. The apps offer several tools for communication and collaboration that can supercharge student-professor and peer interaction.
  • Reduce the academic overlap between Graphic Communication (School of Art), Graphic Communication (College of Technology) and Communication/Media Production (School of Communication) by developing a hybrid degree that shares courses in technical skill development.
  • Promote telecommuting. Faculty and staff who have extramural funding to support telecommuting, community projects or other activities that keep them out of their offices at least one day a week, should be allowed to pay for telecommuting devices and support from their grant funding. This was cut in 2010 as a cost savings measure, but it does not save the university any money because these funds are paid for by grants.
  • Creation of a published system-wide technology portfolio would eliminate the time wasted by individuals inquiring about the availability of technology products, and would allow them instead to redirect their focus to innovated application of available technologies. Cost of evaluation and selection could be reduced through centralized evaluation of new products through cross-departmental teams. Such a portfolio would increase awareness of the hundreds of products available through the university’s current software agreements, and could reduce duplication of procurements for products the university has already acquired. It would allow us to purchase technology using system-wide volume discounts, making what is currently unaffordable to a single college/division or university affordable through shared acquisition and support costs. Also, by reducing the number of technology products requiring support, the university would improve the quality of support by allowing support staff to focus on a limited number of products. In addition to reducing costs, the development and maintenance of a technology portfolio would help improve our technology planning processes. With metadata about each product in the portfolio about the vendor’s current version versus the version the university has installed, there will be greater visibility of services that are falling behind.
  • Boston Consulting Group came up with the notion of the Portfolio Management Tool which is a 2x2 matrix depicting Market Growth and Market Share of products and product portfolio.
  • Because PeopleSoft has been in operation for quite some time now, organizationally, we should be gaining more insight into our organization.  Perceptions are, however, that the system is still primarily being used as a large filing cabinet. Encourage the central IT staff to design interfaces to allow leaders to ask and answer more insightful questions.
  • Academic advising is a very necessary, student-friendly activity in universities. Technology, however, has substantially changed the way we interact with each other. The advisor-to-student ratio should have increased with the use of technology.
  • We should consider the pros and cons of consolidating the accounting departments from all UH Systems into one centralized department.
  • The University continues to print “off-cycle payroll checks” due to oversight in the departments and colleges. Employees are not held accountable for inputting payroll data timely or accurately. These checks are costly, as manual check stock is more expensive, not to mention the extra resources it takes to process an off-cycle run. Printing off-cycle payroll checks shifts the burden from the departments to another department without impunity. We recommend that off-cycle check runs be held to twice a month as opposed to ad hoc. This would encourage employees to input time accurately and timely and make it easier for the department responsible for these off-cycle checks to plan the use of its resources more efficiently.
  • Going forward, the University of Houston System should mandate in all contracts with vendors that payment be made by electronic means only.  All businesses have a bank account, otherwise they would not be able to cash our check payments. No exceptions should be granted to any business no matter how large or small of an organization.
  • Reinstate the UH Central Store. If the university bought in bulk, it would receive a larger discount. The central store concept would eliminate employee waste, and increase efficiency in that electronic purchase orders would be generated for bulk office supplies and could tie into an e-invoicing system. Additionally, office supplies such as toner cartridges or over-ordered supplies by one department could be returned to the central store for use by another department.
  • Paper invoices are inefficient. By moving to electronic invoices, the system could improve efficiency, which should lead to reduced personnel cost as fewer staff are needed to push paper through the system.
  • The university needs to provide for some sort of electronic waitlist option within the PeopleSoft/enrollment management system. Waitlists allow departments to better understand student demand for particular courses/sections and plan accordingly. As well, waitlists can be used to facilitate having courses offered at off-peak times, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing costs.
  •  Make the required training website work.
  • There should be a faster way to process contracts on campus.  If I need to have a pump repaired in one of our labs, currently we generate a contract in the department for that issue. The contract process is a time-consuming and highly scrutinized activity, since there are legal repercussions.  But it would be nice if we could instead set up a blanket contract with a vendor and allow the rest of the university to utilize it via a searchable blanket contract database.    For example, if department A just had a pump repaired, then  department B  could go to a UH website and see the contract that department A created, confirm that the contract and vendor will meet their requirements, and  call the contractor in to service the pump without additional administrative work. We are sometimes told that UH has a blanket contract with a vendor, but we have no way of accessing the information to determine if our situation falls under the contract.
  • Consolidate UH logins and passwords: Some universities are moving toward a single, unified login and password across their IT systems. Many people on campus are frustrated that they must remember multiple usernames and passwords to log into systems (i.e. CougarNet, PeopleSoft).
  • Consider combining administrative staff for departments to reduce repetition.
  • UHCL spends only about 33% of its total revenue on faculty and other teaching staff.  Most universities spend over 50-60%.  Meanwhile, the number of administrators and staff seems to be skyrocketing.  I suggest an all-out review of the administrative structure of UHCL, including administrative or staff positions that are redundant or could be consolidated.  I also would suggest a review of spending associated with these administrators, since each often requires new furniture, additional staff and a two body solution.
  • Improve the overall scholarship office operations. A scholarship is processed by a staff member who gets faculty approval from the grant, to the dept. business administrator to the college administrator to the scholarships office and then original staff person must check each one to make sure it was processed and posted correctly on the account. In the best of times, this takes on average six days, and has in the past taken up to several months.
  • Reduce waste when dealing with scholarships. For every fellowship student, who are paid on grants, we must fill out a scholarship award memo, have it routed, signed, justified, etc., every month. This one process is using up to 1-2 days per month of staff time for small grants, and up to a week for large grants and multiple grants.
  • Reduce schedule to 35 hours per week, off-peak.  A former employer of mine had employees work a maximum of 37.5 hours per week, or a minimum of 35 hours per week with full benefits.  In lieu of laying people off, what if the System cut back to either 35 hours or 37.5 hours during off-peak times and summer – with a possible exemption to protect those earning minimum wage or less, or that qualify for family credit on their income taxes?
  • Increase the normal classroom load from five hours a week to eight hours a week.  Even if you value completely every aspect of scholarship, I don't think it would be impacted here by an eight-hour-a-week classroom schedule.  There are many important courses that are taught by non-professors.  If the professors devoted a little more effort to teaching, this gap would narrow.
  • Evaluate business functions and processes to determine redundancy.  Working with electronic forms and eliminating multiple levels of authorization and signatures would cut down on time and staff.
  • Signature authority can become burdensome.  In my department, certain contracts have four layers of signature authority.  This takes an inordinate amount of time.
  • I see significant redundancy in the computing facilities in the School of Art.  For several years there has been a push by faculty to acquire and maintain an ever increasing number of lab computers, often duplicating expensive equipment already being used by another program within the department.  Our current fee structure requires us to segment fee money in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, to undertake any serious consolidation effort and void unnecessary duplication of equipment like high-end wide format printers or expensive video rendering workstations.
  • It may be beneficial to conduct comprehensive vendor audit and construction audits. Many mid to large size organizations recover significant dollars from vendors due to duplicate payments, unapplied discounts, unremitted credits, non-receipt of product, non-performance, etc.  It may be beneficial to conduct an audit of hourly payroll. In tough economic times, temptation to "fudge the clock" is not uncommon. 
  • Move to a 4 day work-week. As a preventive measure for future budget cuts, encourage academic departments to 2-day class schedules or hybrid schedules.  If this is not possible for the entire university, perhaps a 4-day work-week with rotating skeleton crews on Fridays to accommodate students that need requisite services (dining, etc.)
  • One idea to make UH more competitive is to bring in more faculty members from the industry. Cutting costs, eliminating non-value added work, remaining competitive and competing globally are all areas that anyone with sound industrial experience would have lived through. So, my suggestion is to make industrial experience, a pre-requisite to be faculty members.
  • There is great space for efficiency in our business processes.  Business offices serve a crucial and central role in the operation of the university.  I believe that the potential for locating and implementing efficiencies in this group is promising.  Creating a few simple rules for the departments to follow and the business offices to use in creating and managing their processes would allow for huge savings. Such as:
    1. 
Every new process must offer a reduction in steps or work flow in the process it is replacing. Business offices have become less of a place where University business gets done and more of compliance officers.
    2. Do not implement university-wide cuts without first going to departments and business units and allowing them to locate efficiencies.  The process may take a little longer, but it shows that you trust us to help reach the goal and allows us each to keep pieces we consider integral to our operations in place.  Those pieces will be different for each group. Let us work with you first and if we can't get there then let's look at university wide cuts.
    3. Time reporting.  Currently we are required to enter our time in PS then fill out a document to report the time as well.  The document has to be retained by the supervisor until the online time is approved and then submitted to the business office.  This is a purely redundant process.  Same for mileage reporting: mileage reporting could be done online.   This process is redundant since the information all goes into PS anyway.