Friday, 20 November 2009

Vendor management and a lean university

An interesting presentation from Kings College London on vendor management yesterday. Kings have taken some very bold steps in their IT provision over the last couple of years as they've outsourced a lot of it - their email system, instant messaging, sharepoint installation and their global desktop have all been outsourced to a number of vendors. This has led to some interesting shifts in roles as they have to put a lot of effort now into managing the relationships with the vendors and the contracts.

An early action was to discover who in the organisation was talking to the vendors, and what was being said to them. It was important to make sure consistent messages were being given out, therefore restrictions on who spoke to who and what was said had to be introduced - I imagine this took some getting used to by staff, especially in the technical areas, who had been used to a rather more matey relationship with suppliers. Very good presentation which really highlighted how much work and effort you have to put in to getting the best out of an outsourcing relationship - it is not just about signing a contract and forgetting about it, but the opposite. An interesting side effect was increased resilence - particularly in having services run outside of London. One of KCLs data centres is in an area which has been told not to expect a stable power supply until 2020!

One of this morning's sessions was about the Lean process which has been implemented at St Andrews. This is a method of improving and simplifying processes with a view to improving the user experience and saving staff time. There is a lot of theory on their web site, and as an example of how it's been put into practice they showed a case study of a simple process of a student requesting a letter confirming they were studying at St Andrews. There's a video of it here - it's an incredibly simple process but took 7 to 10 days for the student and 30 minutes of staff time. An even more simple solution resulted in a 2 minute wait for the student and 2 minutes of staff time. You might laugh as you watch the video - but I bet we all have similar processes that haven't changed in years. Interestingly, until they got the right people in the same room, no-one had ever seen the process end to end - everyone did their little bit of it One of our priorities this year is reducing complexity and these are the sort of things we need to be looking at.

So, the conference is over, I'm on the train home - it was very enjoyable and in a beautiful venue. Just a shame the only time I managed to get into St Andrews it was pouring with rain! Still, I had a fantastic view over the bay from the hotel room and this morning the sun was shining. A couple of excellent sessions this morning to finish which I'll try and write up over the next couple of days.


Pablo said...

'Lean'? Good idea, but let's just call it 'improving processes' if we don't want everyone running a mile.

George Credland said...

Isn't this the same as our existing project process, albeit with different terminology?
e.g. Scoping/Planning would be called "Blueprinting" in an SAP project.

At the end of the day the main challenges are organisational more than technical.

In the case of eRecruitment requisitions we replaced a paper based process with a web based form and workflow approvals. The workflow defines minimum requirements, but we had to allow flexibility for different faculties to allocate approvers at levels suitable to their organisation and include additional approvals where appropriate. i.e. not a one size fits all.

It may also be possible to re-use this process for fixed-term contract renewals (Form B) which undergo a similar paper based process. The advantage being consistency of approach and hopefully minimal maintenance overhead as well as the potential time savings.

Anonymous said...

Even that vastly improved student status letter request process is not as user-friendly as SHU's.

All their students have to do is log into the portal, click a couple of links and a PDF pops up for printing.