Looking ahead at the administrative functional streams

In this four-part weekly series, Vice-President (University Services and Finance), Todd Gilchrist, provides an overview of the upcoming activities and milestones for key initiatives of the SET program as well as case studies to demonstrate recent successes.

Todd Gilchrist - 07 October 2021

Since the spring of 2020, the university has launched and put into action an ambitious plan for transformation known as the U of A for Tomorrow (UAT) initiative. While the catalyst for this initiative was an unprecedented reduction in government funding, the UAT initiative also provides an opportunity to strengthen the university's core teaching, research, and community engagement mission as well as enrich the student experience, while creating financial sustainability for the future.

To achieve these goals, a new operating model has been introduced, which allows the university to work differently—more effectively and efficiently—while continuing to focus on delivering its core mission. By implementing a new operating model, which includes both administrative and academic restructuring, we are changing how we deliver services and get work done.

Over the past year, the university and its community have gone through significant change. Portfolios have been, and continue to be, restructured, staff and student service centres introduced, new positions and units created, and through it all, we've been working remotely through a pandemic.

In addition to being physically separated from our teams, we are all also faced with numerous changes and decisions. While some of us need to make difficult decisions about job reductions and unit restructuring, others need to make difficult decisions about their own future because their current position will likely be affected. We have also all lost valued colleagues—and while the university is striving to retain as many of our staff as possible—we recognize that there will be fewer staff members in the future. In the context of COVID, these challenges have been amplified.

However, everyday I see people working hard to make things better for others and for the U of A. In my relatively short time here, I have learned that the U of A is an incredibly resilient institution. In spite of all the challenges facing us, we are working with each other to set the university up for success, today and into the future. I want to thank each of you for your efforts.

With this series of four articles throughout October, I want to provide you with an overview of the plan for SET over the next six months so that you are able to see where we are headed. I continue to welcome your questions and invite you to participate in an all staff edition of our Ask SET Anything event on November 5 (details will be added to the UAT website when available).

Looking ahead

A key part of the UAT initiative has been the Service Excellence Transformation (SET) program, which has focused on administrative restructuring to support the university's new operating model. The operating model consists of a hybrid of centralized and decentralized services and functions to promote consistency, avoid duplication and support a university-wide service culture. To implement this new model, the SET team has been working diligently this past year towards a project plan that is expected to wrap up by March 31, 2022.

As we approach the end stages of the SET program, we wanted to provide you with an overview of the upcoming transitions, activities, and milestones within three separate time frames:

  • Horizon 1 - by December 2021
  • Horizon 2 - by March 2022 | End of the SET program
  • Horizon 3 - April 2022 + | Ongoing operations beyond SET

This first article will focus on the administrative streams for the aforementioned horizons.

Six administrative streams were selected based on the operational functions requiring the most attention along with the potential for enabling cost reductions and operating model revisions. They remain the core of activities within SET and include human resources, finance, information technology, external engagement, student services, and research administration.


Human resources (HR)

The HR stream will be completed by December within Horizon 1, but the functional area within HRHSE will continue to develop, upgrade, and improve. The last remaining component of the SET transformation is operationalizing the HR service partner model, which will be completed in October. Going forward, several HR processes are moving to, and will be managed by, the Shared Services unit. From April 2022 onwards (Horizon 3), HR initiatives will include the implementation of standardized job families and the revision of the compensation strategy and structure.


The finance stream will be complete by March 31, 2022 (Horizon 2) with the operationalization of the partner network. As with HR, several finance processes are moving to, and will be managed by the Shared Services unit. The projected Horizon 3 activities include the development of a new budget model to reflect the restructured organization and the reduction/elimination of chargebacks.

Information technology (IT)

The IT stream will complete transitioning in Horizon 2 with the provision of all administrative IT services being provided centrally by IST. In addition, a new enterprise-wide IT Strategic Plan will be developed. Post-SET initiatives include the completion of the application rationalization, which may continue for several years, the creation of an institutional strategic IT funding model, adoption of a revised IT governance model, and the implementation of the IT Strategic Plan.

External engagement

As part of the external engagement stream, a new operating model and structure for the Vice-President (External Relations) portfolio was approved in July and is currently being implemented. Scheduled to be completed within Horizon 1 will be the design of the service model, populating the new structure including hiring and onboarding staff, the identification and mapping of critical processes, and the identification of required policy changes. By the end of Horizon 2, the new service model and critical processes will have been implemented. In Horizon 3, all remaining processes are projected to be incorporated, re-designed, and implemented along with broader policy changes.

Student services

The focus for the student services stream is on the immediate quarter, Horizon 1, which includes the development of a roadmap for the Student Service Centre, a redesigned operating model, and organizational redesigns for each of the student service units. The implementation of the designed changes is planned for Horizon 3.

Research administration

For the research administration stream, the Vice-President (Research and Innovation) portfolio has proposed a new research administration structure that is currently under review. Once approved, the work to implement this redesigned model will span all three horizons. In Horizon 1, the focus will be on populating the model and redesigning critical labour intensive processes; these will be completed and implemented in Horizon 2. Process redesign and implementation will continue in Horizon 3.

Case study: Helping students gain equitable access to awards

An early success of the SET program were the rapid process improvements (RPIs), which focused on improving process efficiencies quickly. One of the first RPIs streamlined the application, selection, and nomination process for merit-based student financial support (including prizes, medals, awards, and scholarships) across the institution. SET worked with the Registrar's Office to transition the awards process to the Student Financial Support (SFS) office, which resulted in the following benefits:

  • One point of contact for students,
  • A single application system for all merit-based financial support,
  • A reduction in processing time for awards, and
  • The ability to use these applications to submit students' eligibility information to Government of Alberta managed award programs.

For the first cycle of the new award applications (January 15 to April 1, 2021), SFS received 6,027 applications. As an example, the faculties of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation and Nursing saw an average 90 per cent increase in applications received between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 scholarship cycles. With the centralization, the university successfully offered 80 per cent of continuing awards by the tuition deadline compared to 50 per cent last year.

Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive:

  • Thank you for finally combining scholarship applications in one place. So much easier than having to seek out which scholarships I might be eligible for in so many different places :)
  • This centralized application format is excellent as it simplifies the application process and makes it much easier to keep track of eligibility criteria and deadlines.
  • I really like the new application process. Definitely much better than previous years.

SFS will continue to make improvements and updates with consistent engagement forums for student feedback to ensure they continue to meet the expectations of an enhanced student experience.

Applying to new roles

Within the six administrative functional areas, new structures are rolling out and bringing new opportunities for professional growth. Through these transitions, it's important to remember that the university is committed to retaining as many of our talented staff members as possible. Our staff are exceptional and we hope to retain as many people in new roles as possible. Most positions will be filled through a competitive process, so if you see roles that interest you and think would be a good fit, we encourage you to apply through the Careers website.

If your current role in a faculty or unit involves HR, finance, IT, marketing/communications, student services, or research administration related activities, it is likely that your role will be impacted before March 2022, as these activities move into central units (e.g. Shared Services, Centres of Expertise, etc). For more information on this, I encourage you to read the recent article, "Deciding to apply for new roles in the U of A's New Structure."

As planning in each of these areas unfolds, upcoming positions are shared through the Position Opportunities Page (POP) and Careers website. The POP is intended to inform you of future opportunities to help you plan ahead; please bear in mind that the POP only shows upcoming opportunities created as a result of SET restructuring. The Careers website is the place to watch for all opportunities you can apply for.

More information

Next week's article will look ahead to upcoming activities and milestones for central support services, such as Shared Services and the Student Service Centre. All articles and the timeline chart will be available on the UAT website.

SET will continue to share upcoming transitions, including what services are being centralized and the associated timeline, in The Quad email newsletter, on the UAT website, and other channels such as the streams' specific web pages.



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