University Mission and Research, Teaching, Clinical, and Service Goals

The University of California, Irvine (UCI), is actively pursuing the following goals in support of the overarching goal of entering the ranks of the top fifty U.S. research universities, based on traditional measures, by the year 2000:

Simplification Goals & Principles
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  • Increase extramural support for research
  • Enhance the quality of undergraduate education
  • Increase percentage of graduate enrollment
  • Improve undergraduate recruitment and retention
  • Nurture diversity as an educational asset
  • Create a varied, stimulating, supportive campus environment
  • Develop lean organizational structures
  • Minimize administrative and maintenance costs
  • Increase appropriate revenue-generating activities
  • Reward staff and faculty for public service.

Organizational structures, strategic planning processes, and resource allocation decisions support these institutional goals.

Administrative Productivity and Service Goals

UCI's Administrative and Business Services has adopted three broad goals:

• Offset half of the budget cut sustained over past four years ($5.5 million, ongoing) by productivity improvements, thus limiting service reductions to half of what they would have been without productivity improvement.

• For transaction-processing activities, double the rate of productivity improvement observed over the 1981-91 period.

• As enrollment, sponsored research, and other workload-drivers grow, absorb additional workload through productivity improvement rather than staff increases.

Importance of Administrative Process Simplification

The University needs goals that drive toward administrative process simplification for a compelling reason: Improving the efficiency of transaction processing simply will not suffice. Transaction volumes -- in such administrative functions as procurement, accounting, payroll, and human resources -- have increased and the complexity of transactions has multiplied due to external pressures such as federal contracting standards, labor law, health and safety regulations, and transaction-specific audit findings.

Simply stated, administrative expense stems from the product of transaction volume x average complexity x number of systems.

Because these expense factors are multiplicative, reducing all three factors generates a substantial benefit. Our challenge is to reduce all three factors if we are to succeed in reducing administrative expense.

The "systems" noted above refer broadly to different transactional sequences, typically with differing policy frameworks, information flowcharts, and training requirements, such as the four distinct payroll cycles we process, or the eight different personnel programs we administer (including staff, academic, and student personnel systems), or the nine core administrative computing systems we maintain (in 1992, when this program was initiated).

As the number of systems and the complexity of transactions have increased, the University has addressed problems through new rules, more forms, new systems, increasingly explicit policies, additional approvals, and more staff specialists to interpret and apply the rules, forms, systems, policies, and approvals. Along with an increasingly specialized staff came more training, more organizational layering, and narrowed delegations of authority.

Administrative complexity affects staffing as illustrated in the following example: A principal investigator managing a large lab (in 1992, when this program was initiated) with both academic and staff personnel may administer employees in six distinct personnel programs (each with differing policies, benefits, and rules), several collective bargaining organizations (with different contractual obligations), and four payroll cycles (with different processing deadlines and procedures). Similar levels of complexity could be cited for other processes such as procurement, financial management, or contract administration. While the principal investigator of twenty years ago may have needed one administrative assistant to oversee all the financial, procurement, and personnel functions of a sizeable lab or office, today the same lab/office might require specialists in each of these functional areas, and perhaps others.

How Administrative Complexity Developed

The solution to complexity-driven expense is not an improvement in employee motivation or performance incentives, for the problem is systemic. "The administration" did not create these complexities, as the process was incremental, unintentional, and practically unnoticed. Administrative complexity grew as the result of many decisions distributed over time, of well-intentioned managers and staff responding to growth pressures and changes in the external environment within an organizational setting that favored rule-making, risk-aversion, and consensus decision-making. If hindsight lays part of the blame on the shoulders of administration, it is not for specific responses to external pressures and growth, but rather for not recognizing the internal dynamic that multiplied and compounded the complexity of administrative processes.

Prospects and Limitations for Process Streamlining

Process improvements underway at UCI will improve the efficiency and reduce the complexity of transaction processing by compressing information-processing steps, removing excessive approvals, making processes paper-less or "paper-sparse," consolidating redundant data entry, and eliminating steps that do not contribute "value-added." Evaluative procedures and process redesign protocols are being learned and applied across the campus. Some of this effort resembles "continuous process improvement" or "total quality management" protocols; other, more comprehensive process redesigns flow from "process re-engineering" teams.

The problem with improving administrative productivity through raising transactional efficiency and reducing complexity is that the underlying drivers are not constant. Process improvement gains will continue to be neutralized by external regulatory changes and accountability requirements, which seldom diminish. Therefore, even without budgetary pressure, continual process improvement cannot be abandoned. Although Congress may cap indirect costs, it is not likely to reduce our actual costs of administering a federally-approved procurement system, of complying with new costing principles, of adopting new accounting standards, or of administering new regulations in such areas as labor, payroll, affirmative action, or environmental health and safety. This same divergence between expanding demands and shrinking resources can be observed with both State and federal regulations affecting such areas as student services, administrative services, contract and grant administration, and numerous academic units.

Process Simplification Is Not Enough...

Improving transactional efficiency and reversing complexity, however crucial, are not sufficient. The number of administrative systems (as defined above) must be sharply reduced. This streamlining must be supported by a system of goals and performance values that alters the tendencies toward rule-making, risk-aversion, and complexity cited above; and that fosters widespread teamwork, as the changes will cut across organizational functions and their acceptance will require broad-based cooperation.

The tendency to create new systems and program-variants in response to new conditions (without dismantling or consolidating) brings considerable overhead that needs to be recognized -- new policies, procedures, deadlines, forms, approvals, announcements, communications, consultation obligations, exception-procedures, training, legal issues, risk-assessments, information systems changes, record-keeping, audit requirements, interfaces with other systems, appeal procedures (for processes that involve potential disputes), and staff specialists to administer all these complexities. Therefore, the greatest leverage on administrative process simplification is in reducing the number of distinct systems and programs.

Reducing the Number of Systems Is Not Enough...

New Model of Administrative Effectiveness
• Goals for simplicity and productivity
• Values to foster genuine teamwork
• Re-evaluated premises and performance values
• Coherent set of quality design principles
• Behavioral as well as technical foundations

A problem immediately develops when administrative programs are combined or systems are consolidated: expectations surface for a more complex system or program, with numerous variants, "exception" features, and customized "customer interfaces." This expectation is exacerbated by the imperative to be responsive to "customer service," as well as by the pervasive importance of developing consensus-based solutions.

However, reducing the number of systems but replacing them with more complex systems would be an expensive, futile outcome. The undeniable fact is that our systems must become both fewer and simpler. What these simpler systems lack in customized features they will make up in terms of dependability and economy. In addition, in a "client-server" environment, core transaction systems can accommodate customized decision-support systems developed at the unit level to serve localized purposes.

Goals for Administrative Process Simplification

These goals were adopted in 1992 to stimulate cross-cutting, institution-wide savings in terms of transactional efficiency, team behavior, and process simplification. Progress is reported in the Progress Report Section (4.3).

1. Reduce payroll processing cycles from four to one or two.

2. Reduce staff personnel programs from five to one or two.

3. Make procurement, general ledger, and payroll processes essentially paper-less by July 1996. In addition, "paperless drop-dead" target dates apply to the following systems, processes, and transactions:

January 1, 1996:

  • Transfers-of-funds
  • Transfers-of-expense
  • Recharges
  • Personnel Action Forms
  • High-value purchase orders
  • Storehouse requisitions
  • Equipment inventory

July 1, 1996:

  • Time-reporting
  • Payroll expense-transfers
  • Contract & grant non-payroll cost-transfers (assuming successful pilot completion)

4. Eliminate paper track for all announcements that are currently provided electronically for some recipients and via paper for others.

5. Reduce four performance evaluation processes to one system for all staff employees; improve the process so that it fosters teamwork behavior, supervisor/employee dialog regarding priorities, innovation, and process improvement; and simplify performance evaluation tools and policies so as to facilitate full utilization.

6. Revise staff incentive programs to provide team-based as well as individual awards and to accord priority recognition for process innovations and administrative streamlining improvements. Combine three performance award systems to one incentive award program.

7. Based on the maxim that "what gets measured gets done," administrative units will develop the following plans and tools:

A. Ongoing, up-to-date lists of completed process innovations and streamlining improvements.

B. Action Plans indicating key responsibility assignments and target performance dates for planned process improvements.

C. Plans for cross-training, staff development, and position de-specialization as needed to support broader responsibilities of staff in generalist roles making decisions closer to the actual delivery of services.

D. Plans for technology upgrading and interoperability to support staff using new information retrieval tools in a networked, client-server environment.

E. Evidence that the cycle-time to deliver one or more important services has been markedly reduced. (This tool usually provides a good measure of process improvement, as it requires solving problems that materialize as delays, such as distances/times between operations that are too long for coordination, split functions that fragment responsibility for errors, or processes that are too lengthy or complicated to reconstruct causes and effects when problems surface.)

8. No administrative transaction or form will require more than two prior approvals. (This decision-rule is being applied within A&BS; however, some transactions receive more than half a dozen signatures when viewed across the entire transaction, front-to-end. The goal should be one or, at most, two approvals prior to authorizing an administrative transaction; post-audit notifications may be provided if appropriate for communications or control.) This seemingly arbitrary decision-rule has proven effective in accelerating processes, reducing bureaucratic layering, and pinpointing where authority can most knowledgeably be exercised for particular transactions. When this happens, simpler control is usually better control.

Systems, Process Simplification Goals
From To
Payroll processing cycles 4 2
Staff personnel programs 5 2
Performance evaluation programs 4 1
Performance award programs 3 1
Prior approvals for transactions Typl. 3-5 1 or 2
Position descriptions > 1 page Most < 25%
New system training Typl. 1 day < 3 hours

9. Every administrative unit will seek out and critically evaluate "best practices" from outside UCI through site visits to comparable units considered most advanced in process streamlining, external reviews by peer experts selected for their "best practices," or knowledge gained from the National Association for College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) Benchmarking Project or its Innovative Management Awards Program.

10. Seventy-five percent of staff position announcements and newly-revised position descriptions will be less than one page in length, reflecting reduced specialization and a shift of focus from specific experience to ability attributes, thus fostering more flexible organizations as well as the transfer and re-employment of displaced staff.

11. By July 1995, 30 percent of staff and managers will complete a course to upgrade their information technology skills, aimed primarily at utilizing report-generators and inquiry tools. This course will be taken in combination with a parallel course centered around work-flow simplification and process streamlining (to ensure that more sophisticated and powerful tools are not wasted on speeding up archaic processes). By January 1996, this percentage will exceed 50 percent.

12. Staff training courses supporting transactional processing (for various systems and programs) will be computer driven and screen based. Live instructors will be utilized only for higher level skills/materials or when labor-intensive instruction is actually cost effective. New administrative systems will be sufficiently simple, intuitive, and transparent so as to require no more than three hours of such training. (Excessive training requirements usually point toward excessive complexity, non-intuitive design such as poor screen layout, or a lack of readily accessible "help" screens.) Newly-developed systems will contain self-tutoring tools such as "help screens" and internal training modules, rather than relying on separate training programs.

13. The "Delegations Project," which redelegates authorizations and responsibilities from the Chancellor to the lowest appropriate level in the UCI organization, will be fully implemented.

14. Outsourcing opportunities will be evaluated utilizing the criteria outlined later in this document. For self-supporting UCI business functions that can alternatively be procured in the private-sector, campus customers will make the decision whether to out-source based on their evaluation of price and quality, within the framework of the Customer Rights Principles.

For a summary of progress toward all these goals, see Progress Report Section.

>> Forward to Section 2: Foundations and Principles