Yesterday's meeting on modernisation and efficiency in Universities and the role that IT and IT departments can play was very productive. I was with Peter Tinson from UCISA to input into the Universities UK review, and the report that they will publish soon. A number of areas are being looked at in depth including Procurement and Estates & Facilities, as well as more generic process and organisational issues.
We discussed a number of areas, and concluded that IT departments in general have a good understanding of the area and the issues involved, and are positioned well to take a lead. We have a history of collaboration and sharing, and some of the best used and most cost effective shared services are in our area including JANET. Skills found in IT departments are not just technical, but are transferable to many other areas including project management, benefits realisation, business process review & analysis and service management. Many of these skills are already being spread from IT departments across the University.
Recent developments over the last few years include the setting up of special process review sections, including LEAN Units, and the development of more shared services including the NORMAN out of hours helpline and the Shared Information Security Service, ESISS. Improvements in the way services are delivered to staff and students have included self-service, web based transactions and paperless processes. Printing has been reduced, and managed staff print systems have meant that where printing has to happen it's done in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way.
In many cases the driver for these changes has not been cost savings, but a better quality of service. Where staff time has been saved this is usually directed to supporting services which add value such as learning and teaching and research. This has been a particular driver for outsourcing projects, such as the move of many of our services to a free provider such as Google. Other drivers for outsourcing include lack of skills in house, the provision of 24/7 cover, and the transfer of risk.
Organisational and structural changes have brought efficiencies, particularly the bringing together of local and central IT support staff. An improved level of service, efficiencies in procurement, space utilisation and economies of scale have been achieved in many places.
We managed to provide a really comprehensive list of how IT has driven some real efficiencies, and it is particularly galling to know that it is still the view in government that nothing is happening in the sector. We need to celebrate and publicise our successes more.
Of course there are some barriers which have to be overcome including more standardisation within our institutions so that we can start sharing more services and processes, a recognition that some efficiency projects will need some initial investment, and last but certainly not least, a change in culture!
EDIT: When I wrote this early this morning, I hadn't realised that Peter Tinson had written an excellent report of the same meeting, or I could have just linked to his post here. :-)