Shared Support Services:
Interview with Dennis Assanis and Lynn Johnson
Stony Brook University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dennis N. Assanis and Vice President for Human Resource Services Lynn Johnson recently discussed the initiation and implementation of Shared Support Services on Campus.
How do you define Shared Support Services?
Assanis: The goal of the Shared Support Services initiative is to increase and utilize more effectively the resources available to support the core academic and student services missions of our campuses. The shared services initiative provides an opportunity to ensure that our academic units are served by high-quality, skilled personnel and also restores equity in units that do not have adequate support staff.
Johnson: Shared Services is a centralizing of administrative support for a group of departments. In essence it provides a group of skilled staff who share knowledge and best practices, and can assist several departments.
How will the implementation of Shared Support efforts be carried out?
Assanis: There needs to be an assessment of departments, and their respective goals and circumstances, in order to determine if they can effectively share services. Shared services will result in a better utilization of staff that can provide employees with enhanced skills through cross-training, and will result in a better foundation of support for the individual units. There will be procurement savings through strategic sourcing, SUNY-wide, which will enable us to use our combined buying power to create savings. We are also looking to implement new, integrative technologies that will increase services to our students. These changes will be implemented in widespread consultation with staff, faculty, and administrators.
Johnson: There is no single model or template for shared services. Working with the respective Deans/VPs, participating departments review operational needs and collaboratively determine shared staffing structures that best fit the demands of the department, while remaining mindful of the economies of scale.
What is the benefit of Shared Support to staff?
Assanis: The goal is to better align staff members with responsibilities that best utilize their skills and that fit their preferences. We are in the process of creating an environment where an employee can strive for excellence in their daily tasks, as well as enhance other important skills that will mutually benefit the employee, their respective shared support services group, as well as the University.
Johnson: There are many benefits for staff. On an individual level, shared services provide opportunity for professional growth and the mastering of new skills. As a group the staff provides support for one another; covering for each other during absences, pitching in during heavy workload times, while sharing skills, experience and ideas.
In general it’s an opportunity for staff to learn new things, explore and adopt best practices and to work within new areas with new people.
Are there any current examples on campus of how Shared Services can work?
Assanis: Within the College of Arts and Sciences, staff members within the Theatre Arts and Art departments now work as a team to support operations in both departments. The Consortium for Digital Arts, Culture and Technology recently joined this group. This collaboration has created even more synergies where services are shared, and where the staff is better supported and functions more effectively as a team.
Johnson: Through Shared Services in the Facilities and Services area, we have been able to consolidate support staff as a “pool” in which, according to specific skill sets, they are providing services to the areas of Busing, Transportation, Operations and Maintenance, Power Plants, Utilities, Warehousing, Recycling Operations and Sustainability. The staff have moved into the same physical space and are supporting all areas and each other, as one group.
Will all departments be participating in the sharing of services?
Assanis: Our goal is to pursue academic excellence at the departmental, school-wide and institutional levels. We are exploring the feasibility of sharing services in areas where academic and administrative synergies exist.
Johnson: Divisions will continue to examine opportunities to gain efficiencies through shared services. Where it makes sense to pool resources, staff will participate in looking at new ways of doing business to support faculty and students.
Have you looked at how other college and universities share services?
Assanis: We have and will continue to benefit from, and share, best practices. While there is certainly something to be learned from reviewing other institutions, what is clear is that a “one size fits all” method of implementation will not work. At Stony Brook, we are reviewing the needs of each department in the context of our campus academic environment. It is clear that our system of shared services needs to work for Stony Brook University and serve the needs of those involved. We are committed to inventing the Stony Brook model for a successful roll-out of shared services on our campus.
So the time frame for implementation of Shared Services will vary greatly?
Assanis: The review and potential implementation of shared services will vary depending on the needs of the areas involved. We are identifying opportunities right now, and we expect a number of shared service clusters to be implemented over the next few years.
Is Shared Services a resource to initiate downsizing?
Assanis: Implementation of Shared Services has never been about merging departments or focusing our efforts on downsizing. It has always been about improving our effectiveness and efficiency with respect to strategic staff assignments as we continue to strive for excellence. Shared services should be viewed as an opportunity for staff to diversify and expand their own skill sets.
Johnson: There is a big difference between sharing services and staff cuts. One of the driving forces here revolves around our human capital. We are asking serious questions: how is our talent currently being utilized and, going forward, how can we develop best practices and provide optimal services to departments, while providing opportunities for professional growth, shared knowledge and expertise?
The consulting firm Bain came to campus recently to study a wide range of areas at Stony Brook, falling under the umbrella of Operational Excellence. Is that where shared services falls?
Assanis: Operational Excellence is a Stony Brook initiative, part of Project 50 Forward, which encompasses our look at what is best for our campus — its staff, faculty, students and programs. Bain & Company provided benchmarking and analytical data with which we were able to make assessments and decisions. They did not provide a “playbook” or a “plan.” There is certainly a distinct difference between the consultant phase and the implementation phase.
Johnson: Operational Excellence is focusing on a number of initiatives directed towards greater administrative efficiency and effectiveness. Shared services is one of these initiatives. As we continue to strive for excellence, we need to ensure that our employees/staff have all the necessary tools and opportunities to make that happen.
And who is responsible for that implementation?
Assanis: It will certainly involve our faculty and staff. Shared services provides a terrific opportunity for the campus community to come together and build a shared vision of our common goals, both in the short- and long-term.
How will ideas for shared services be communicated to the greater Campus community?
Assanis: We have already held numerous meetings with staff, department heads, the Arts and Sciences Senate, as well as the University Senate, to discuss process and goals. This has provided a very useful give and take of information and ideas. The process, as it continues to evolve, will be a consultative and inclusive process for all involved.
May 25, 2012