Recap of Ask SET Anything: Shared Services Edition

Todd Gilchrist - 18 March 2021

Last Friday, the SET team hosted another edition of our Ask SET Anything event series specifically for staff to learn more about shared services and how it will fit into the university’s new administrative operating model. Members of the university community had the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback about shared services, as well as learn more about what it includes and how it will function. It was our largest Ask SET Anything event to date with approximately 385 staff joining us for the live Zoom meeting and another 260 watching the livestream. Thank you to everyone who joined the event to make it so successful. 

I was pleased to be joined by our panel, featuring members of the SET program team: 

  • Rob Munro — Executive Lead, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Brian Stewart — Program Director, Administrative Transformation, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Cheryl Earle — Shared Services Initiative Lead, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Hamish Stein — Shared Services Project Manager, Service Excellence Transformation
  • Annette MacPherson — HR Specialist, Service Excellence Transformation
  • LeeAnne Klein - OCM Practice Lead, Service Excellence Transformation

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

What is shared services? 

Shared services is a key component of the new administrative operating model that will deliver cross-functional, high-volume, and transactional administrative processes for the university which involve all six functional workstreams. Comprising three distinct elements: the Transaction Processing Hub, Staff Service Centre, and Continuous Improvement Team, shared services is focused on cost-effective service delivery without compromising service excellence. The Transaction Processing Hub will be responsible for transactional activities that are currently performed in the faculties and units, while the Staff Service Centre will be the primary point of contact for employees to access services and information. Both of these units will be supported by a continuous improvement team which will help in the ongoing evolution and improvement of services.

The ultimate goal is to provide improved services for the university community, including greater efficiency and cost savings, transparency and accountability, as well as rewarding work and career paths for staff. For more information, a briefing document (which includes graphics from the slides shown) has been developed detailing how shared services will operate.

Shared services at the U of A

With shared services set to incorporate such a wide variety of functions and services from across the university, the ASA event discussion and questions covered everything from career opportunities and training, to how certain administrative functions will be represented, to where shared services will physically reside. Since last fall, the shared services team has been working with the SET functional streams to determine what shared services will look like at the university. Information gathered during the discovery phase has provided a comprehensive understanding of how HR, finance, and IT services can be effectively delivered in a shared services model. Over the next two years, shared services will expand to include services from all of the key administrative portfolios. 

Adopting a shared services model is a complex process that will take time to develop and transition. The university is committed to its success and ability to deliver cost effective, high quality services for members of our university community.

Creating fulfilling careers

One of the concerns I have heard is that shared service structures will leave employees feeling disengaged and unfulfilled. I would like to reiterate that in my previous experience with these models, that has not been the case, as shared services consistently outperformed the rest of the organization in employee engagement. This is why it's so important that we implement this model accurately and effectively, because I’ve seen it work successfully.

In our case, “transactional” jobs, as they continue to be referred to, will not solely equate to the more routine or mundane tasks. Shared services will have administrative professionals from across the university’s administrative functions who leverage technology, systems, and processes to provide better outcomes for service users. As shared services works through process redesign, a large goal is to simplify and automate these tasks so that staff can put more focus and energy into consulting and providing their input into services and processes.

Shared services web page

To keep you informed about ongoing changes and updates within shared services, a dedicated web page has been created. This web page tracks progress and provides updates as shared services are established within the new administrative operating model. Here you will learn more about activities that will exist within shared services, find information on consultation and engagement events, 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 engagement events over the coming weeks and months, so be sure to check the UAT consultation page for upcoming dates. 

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 web page and shared services web page.

Todd Gilchrist
Vice President (University Services and Finance)
Chair, Service Excellence Steering Committee (SESC)


Questions asked and answered

Without knowing about all of the potential positions at once, coupled with the desire to make wise career and financial decisions, what can you share so that we have the necessary information to make these critical career decisions?

We don't yet have a complete answer to this question, but the intent of the new operating model is to reduce administrative work performed in the faculties to allow them to focus their time and attention on activities that directly support the university’s core mission of teaching and research. For HR and finance specifically, we are working on the assumption that the majority of the processes can be performed by shared services or are part of the service partner’s responsibility. As such, we do not anticipate any significant full-time roles to remain in the faculties. As part of the process redesign work, we will involve representatives from the end-to-end processes to ensure we understand the process from all perspectives and to validate our assumptions. While there have been references to 15 percent of administrative work remaining in the faculties/colleges, this is intended to represent the allocation of activity rather than specific people or roles. Much of that activity is expected to be represented by the participation of more generalist roles (College General Manager, Faculty General Manager and administrative support) in the process.

The service catalogues for HR, finance, and IT will be published soon and will provide a high level breakdown of where services are expected to be delivered in the new operating model. The service catalogues do not define positions, but as processes are redesigned and roles are identified to be performed by shared services, new roles will be published on the Position Opportunities Page (POP). The POP is intended to provide all staff with information about upcoming opportunities so you can have access to the information as soon as it is known, and we hope this will enable staff to make informed choices about their careers.

Will Augustana staff be equally considered for these roles despite their distance?

If there is anything that COVID has taught, it’s that remote work can be done successfully. We've learned a lot with regards to technology during this period of time and are looking to leverage that in how we work and operate going forward. As we’re building this new structure, we believe it’s important to have staff co-located as much as possible in order to build a culture and cohesive team. However, we do not want to disadvantage any staff because they are located at Augustana, and will consider staff at this campus the same as we would any other candidate —  and not let distance become a barrier.

We are also exploring the idea that staff in shared services could work some rotational type schedules that would allow for both at home and in office work, in hopes that this flexibility would provide opportunity to staff at all of our campuses.

Where will shared services and its employees be located at the university?

Shared services and its employees will be located downtown at Enterprise Square. While we don't know which units or individuals will be joining the shared services portfolio yet, we do know that we want them to be able to move into an innovative space; one that's designed to foster collaboration and that can be built to offer the flexibility needed for a post-COVID-19 environment. In support of this, Enterprise Square is in the midst of a major revitalization. More information about the revitalization project and about which units will be joining the shared service portfolio will be shared once details are available.

As transaction processing work can be draining, how do you plan to structure the roles in the shared services to be fulfilling?

It tends to be assumed that when we say transactional, that means data entry or a similar type of activity, and that's not necessarily what the term “transactional” is intended to refer to, and it’s certainly not what we're looking for in terms of the Transaction Processing Hub. This is one of the items we are working on during process redesign for shared services. Our goal is to simplify and automate many of those more routine tasks so that staff can put more focus and energy into consulting and providing their input into services and processes.

With the release of the 2021 provincial budget, are there more cuts coming to support staff, or has this been factored into SET’s projections? 

For fiscal 2022 (beginning April 1), the university was planning for a $53 million cut to our Campus Alberta grant, or 9.7 per cent. The reduction came through at 11 per cent, for a total of $60 million; $7 million more than we were anticipating. The $7 million additional reduction will not result in any further job loss as we've been able to account for that money elsewhere within the budget. As we move into fiscal 2022, which marks phase two of the SET program, there are still other significant changes that need to occur. The university still needs to reduce another $30 million from our budget, which equates to roughly 350 to 400 FTE. These changes will unfortunately continue to impact our organization.

Can you discuss the feeling and emotion we’re aiming for through shared services beyond the technical components? 

Through moving to a more centralized model we will still establish and foster a human approach in our processes and functions. It is critical for us to maintain that connection with our clients. User experience has been discussed many times, and not just in the capacity of efficient and effective processes. It's about ensuring a positive user experience and changing the culture to be focused on customer service, recognizing that the voice of the customer is important and their satisfaction is paramount.During process redesign we will be engaging with user and design experience experts to ensure we're taking these elements into consideration. 

As we implement technology, we're aiming to create a positive experience for users in addition to implementing more efficient processes. We have to examine the holistic way people want to consume a service and meet that on a broader basis. This will include a personal element, but it’s also important to remember that people do not mind engaging with a non-personal service, like a chatbot for example, if it accomplishes their need.

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