Recap of Ask SET Anything: Finance Edition

Todd Gilchrist - 4 February 2021

On Monday, the SET team hosted another edition of our Ask SET Anything event series specifically for finance staff to raise questions, concerns, and share feedback with regard to finance administrative restructuring and transitioning. We had another great turnout with 100 finance staff joining us for the live Zoom meeting and another 165 watching the livestream. Thank you to everyone who joined the event to make it so successful. 

Along with myself and our finance workstream sponsors, Brenda Hemmelgarn (Dean, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry) and Martin Coutts (Associate Vice-President, Finance, Procurement & Planning), our panel was rounded out by members of the SET program team:

  • Rob Munro — Executive Lead, Service Excellence
  • Brian Stewart — Program Director, Administrative Transformation, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Tobie Smith — Project Manager, Finance Functional Review Stream
  • Stacey Brennan — HR Specialist, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Cheryl Earle — Shared Services Initiative Lead, Service Excellence Transformation 
  • Michael Walesiak — Director, Finance and Administration (VPRI)
  • Tim Abram — Business Analyst, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Sara Horseman — Financial Analyst, Service Excellence Transformation

For those who weren't able to attend the event, a recording is available to view:


Shared services model and career growth

Much of the discussion and questions focused on moving to the shared services model, where the work will be done in the new model, and how these changes will impact finance roles. And while at this time, much of these details are still being thought out, I want to remind you that the project methodology we are using takes an iterative approach, as opposed to a more traditional, planned design that launches with a big bang. This iterative method allows us to be more agile and responsive in building and designing our services.

Dr. Hemmelgarn shared her positive experience working with a similar shared services model at another institution, noting that one of the benefits is the career development opportunities it provides. Staff have the ability to move from more generalist roles into roles with a more specialized focus, which can aid career progression, as well as provide valuable strategic support to leaders within the university community.

As for the actual movement of staff and positions, we are still determining the timing and process. While meeting all conditions within the collective agreements is a priority, we will provide an equal opportunity for all staff to apply for any new positions that become available that they are qualified for, or have interest in.

Discovery and next steps

While the finance stream is really just getting started, the team did achieve its first milestone by completing the discovery phase, which engaged faculties and units from across the university, last week. The information gathered is now being analyzed to prioritize which processes will be redesigned first. This discovery data will help us understand what work is being done by whom, so we can ensure the proper supports are in place for transitioning to the new model.

In early March, the finance stream will begin the prepare phase of the functional review process where we will consult with staff currently doing the work. As the subject matter experts in the processes, we want to ensure you have the opportunity to be part of the working groups that will redesign the processes end to end.

We have prepared a short presentation that offers further detail on the operating model for Finance Procurement & Planning

Finance workstream web page

To keep you informed about ongoing and upcoming changes within the finance stream, a dedicated web page has been created. This web page will track progress and provide updates as finance functions transition to the new administrative operating model developed under the U of A for Tomorrow initiative. Here you will find an overview of the finance stream’s approach, working group members, upcoming consultation events, FAQs, and more.

Consultation and upcoming events

As we continue through this process, we want to ensure that staff have their questions and concerns addressed and learn more about the opportunities and roles in the new model. We will continue to host our Ask SET Anything events over the coming weeks and months, including a monthly event open to the entire university community, events focused on staff within the different functional workstreams, an event for Shared Services (i.e. Faculty and Staff Service Center and the Transaction Hub), and an event specifically for students. Be sure to check the UAT Consultation page for upcoming dates and further details. The next event will be the Ask SET Anything: IT Edition on Feb. 19 from 2:00-3:00 p.m.

Below, you will find answers to some of the questions asked during the event. Stay tuned for these, and more that were submitted to be answered on the SET FAQ webpage.

Lastly, I want to recognize and acknowledge that we’re all experiencing different and often difficult emotions during this time. Know that your feelings matter and that we’re all in this together. The university has many resources to support us through this change, so please reach out if you need help. 

Todd Gilchrist
Vice President (University Services and Finance)

Chair, Service Excellence Steering Committee (SESC)

Questions asked and answered

There has been indication that direct transfers from the faculties to central units will occur where administrative roles within the new model are the same, or are substantially similar to existing roles. How will the appointment of these positions actually occur?

Our overriding principle is always to meet all requirements within the collective agreement. With this in mind, there are a number of ways that positions will be filled. As a result of the new model, it's likely that most positions will see some degree of change or impact, even if it is just a change in who you report to. There will also be a number of roles with obvious candidates, and those individuals will be looked at for possible direct appointments or internal expressions of interest. There will also be a number of new roles with no equivalent role. In these cases, a new job posting will be posted and filled using a competitive process, with preference given to internal candidates, as much as possible. We know that you are anxious to know the timing of these roles and we'll soon be rolling out a website that will provide details on the timing and type of roles that will need to be filled.

We want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to apply for positions that they're qualified for, or interested in, and we’re currently working on creating more tools to be able to communicate upcoming positions. 

Can you provide an example of what constitutes a finance service partner?

Currently, there are a number of senior financial officers that work directly for a faculty or portfolio. Using this situation as an example, under the new model, financial services will be provided at the institutional level, as opposed to the faculty or portfolio level. This is coordinated through the finance partner teams. In this case, senior financial officers would be great candidates for finance service partner roles, reporting back into the central team, but being embedded and serving their clients in the colleges, faculties, units, or portfolios, etc. 

With the centralization of finance resources, what steps are being taken to ensure that departments will receive communication and service in a timely manner?

An important next step in our transition plan is understanding what the processes are, as well as identifying potential risks, and working closely with service partners to complete the work that needs to be done within the departments and academic units. Some finance activities will remain somewhat within the department to be carried out by a finance service partner. Based on experiences with similar shared services models, a department chair, for example, will work closely with their finance service partner so the partner understands exactly what is needed in the department. Establishing these strong working relationships will ensure communication is two-way and fluid, so that service is provided efficiently. We will be prioritizing finance functions with the staff that are closest to these processes in order to develop solutions that will work.

Can you clarify where the reconciliation and documentation for research projects will lie within the new operating model? Will it remain a finance function, or will the responsibility fall onto the research project or the Project Investigator (PI)?

Research finance administration is an area that’s still under exploration and discussion. As we explore and redesign these processes, we want to ensure that where these functions lie will be whatever makes the most logical sense for the process. One of the pieces we want to look at in our research administration centre of expertise or transaction hub is where the project management work needs to occur to be most effective.

How do you plan to independently review the financial control systems throughout the redesign process?

As we work through the functional review and redesign finance business processes, we are making sure to be cognizant of the key financial controls and what ones might be changing, or require review. We have extensive documentation on our current financial controls including financial control matrices for all of our key business processes across the institution. Each of those financial matrices will be reviewed to verify that the appropriate financial controls are still in place, and if there has been something that's changed, ensuring that we've adequately addressed that with alternate or compensating controls. We have a variety of resources, including a manager of financial controls and processes, independent internal audit function to consult with, and domain SMEs to review proposed changes to help ensure that we are consciously considering our controls through the redesign process.



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