Transforming the University Services and Finance structure to meet our budget, service and quality goals

Todd Gilchrist - 11 March 2021

Hello Colleagues,

The goals of the University of Alberta for Tomorrow initiative include creating an administrative structure to maximize our focus on teaching, research and community engagement; achieving financial sustainability; and reimagining our work to provide quality service with fewer staff. To reach these goals, the university’s new administrative operating model centralizes many services and administrative activities, processes, and functions that are common to faculties and units across the university.

In the fall, we announced a high-level restructure of the Finance and Administration portfolio, which included changing the name to University Services and Finance (USF). This portfolio will house many of the university’s administrative functional units, including the new Shared Services unit. 

University Services and Finance portfolio shares its new structure and begins to transform

Over the past few weeks, the units within the University Services and Finance portfolio have identified their functional needs and laid out new structures to meet the requirements of SET. 

You can view redesigned organizational structures for the following departments:

  • Human Resources, Health, Safety and Environment (HRHSE)
  • Finance, Procurement and Planning (FPP)
  • Information Services and Technology (IST)
  • Shared Services
  • Performance, Analytics and Institutional Research (PAIR)
  • Internal Audit and Risk Management

These charts will help you understand how services will be delivered in each unit and how teams will be organized to deliver the function. 

Key features you’ll notice:

  • Each department has Centres of Expertise (previously called Centres of Excellence).
  • Several departments will have a team of Service Partners.
  • Certain functions will move to Shared Services over the next few months.
  • Most managers or team leads now have six to 10 people reporting to them, and the levels of hierarchy are fewer. By the end of the project, there will be a 25% reduction in the layers of hierarchy and an average 100% increase in spans of control. This will result in a substantial cost reduction. 

Reducing or transitioning faculty support while growing the centre

Initially, departments and faculties are being asked to reduce or transfer some of their administrative employees, both to meet budget demands and to reduce duplication of activities that will occur in the centre. In many cases, these staff members will transition into Centres of Expertise, Shared Services or Service Partner roles. As a result, you’ll also notice that the number of administrative staff will grow in the USF portfolio, including Shared Services, over the next few months.

The staff complement in faculties will be reduced while the centralized service staff will increase. More centralized administrative activities will allow us to streamline processes, and identify and correct inefficiencies. Some advantages include:

  • Elevating the responsibilities of administrative staff 
  • Gathering specialized staff into Centres of Expertise to leverage their knowledge and functional expertise
  • Improving the coordination and speed of communication
  • Reducing hierarchy for faster decision-making
  • Decreasing administrative costs so we can increase investment in the core mission of teaching and research
  • Increasing opportunities for collaboration and reduced silos, especially for people doing related or similar work

Though it may seem counterintuitive to reduce and then increase staff in this way, the final result will be fewer administrative staff at the university overall and reduced administrative costs. Fewer staff cannot continue to manage the same workload, so by restructuring we will make administrative and transactional work more efficient. Despite fewer staff overall, the increased collaboration and reduced hierarchy will allow for quicker decision-making and greater productivity. Faculties and organizational units will receive common, high-quality, professional services from the USF portfolio.

The Service Excellence Transformation (SET) initiative is our proactive and strategic approach to the budget cuts we’ve had and those we anticipate. 

Although we need to conduct layoffs to meet our budget reductions, we’ll offer as many opportunities as possible to our existing staff at the university by transitioning people to other positions as we restructure. That’s where the Position Opportunities Page comes in. As we continue through the administrative restructure, a number of new positions will become available and all competitions will give preference to internal candidates.

How administrative restructuring will impact other departments and faculties

The University Services and Finance portfolio is the first to restructure in order to set up the remainder of the university transformations for success. Throughout the coming year, other central portfolio units will similarly assess their structures, creating Centres of Expertise and determining the positions that need to transfer to Shared Services or to Service Partner roles. University activities will adjust as quickly as possible, with temporary solutions where necessary to ensure we maintain excellent service to our internal and external clients and community. 

In time, employees, students and community members will contact Shared Services to accomplish transactional tasks. 

What comes next

By the end of March, we’ll have completed the first phase of the administrative operating model implementation and a $30 million budget reduction. This is in addition to the $35 million already achieved prior to the formal initiation of the SET project.

Our next phase, which runs through the remainder of 2021, is focused on service and staff transition, and will result in a further reduction of $30 million.

Over the course of the next month or so, we’ll:

  • Appoint and hire people for new roles in the USF portfolio, including partners and directors
  • Move people into their new roles
  • Hire the Shared Services AVP and the new Human Resources, Health, Safety and Environment AVP
  • Share our service accountability framework

Later this spring, we’ll launch the Staff Service Centre. We’ll learn and adjust as we go, taking great care to maintain our critical services. 


More information about the 2021 timeline »

Staying strong through upcoming challenges

If you are struggling with the anxiety that naturally comes with uncertainty, I encourage you to pursue the resources we offer to specifically build your resilience for change. Please explore the resources on our Wellbeing Through Change web page.

Thank you

The reorganization of our portfolio is a massive undertaking. I would like to say thank you to the leadership teams and staff in USF for their hard work. I also owe a huge thank you to the leaders, faculty and staff who have engaged in opportunities for discussion, kept themselves informed and helped identify opportunities for future improvement. 

Todd Gilchrist
Vice President, University Services and Finance



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