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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shared Services Part II

By AnonStaff

My understanding is that Shared Services will be based on the Research Enterprise Services model.  Many of the time-consuming functions are to be taken out of departments, including some of those that, due to their complexity, are least efficiently done at a local level.  But SS will still need the same kind of information and reassurances; they will also have the same opportunity to misread our needs, postpone our processing when they get overwhelmed, etc.

Much is being made of the term “service level agreement” in OE presentations.  OE wishes to assure “customers” that they will continue to receive the level of service that they need, promptly and efficiently.  I have been envisioning this in the form of a business contract: SS would handle the hiring needs of a mid-sized academic department, processing an estimated number of transactions per year, within the specified amount of time.  An agreement would be drawn up between a department and a mid-level SS manager who has access to metrics and knows how many hiring transactions should be completed by one staff member in one day/week.  Once the agreement is made, the pressure would be on the processing staff to get it done.  If you learn to be efficient under pressure, hypothetically you will get your evenings and weekends back.  Of course, in real offices things happen: people get fired, people go on maternity leave, and important systems go down.  Stuff happens!  But I envision that the service level agreement would remain, and the pressure would be on the mid-level managers to see that the work gets done to the customer’s satisfaction.

I have been thinking that this physical reorganization and oversight is the key to SS.  It is uncomfortable enough to think of the new cadres of cubicle rats—snatched from the comfortable bosoms of their homey old inefficient departmental offices with colorful events posters in the hallways—re-hired and re-situated in the cold, sterile hallways of the Power Bar building.  It is even more uncomfortable to picture their new manager studying their metrics with new emphasis and performing their job performance review, laying them off first if their metrics show that they are not performing up to speed (no matter whether they have seniority or not.)  But there seems to be more to the picture.

This Friday, Chairs and managers received a new announcement from OE regarding the progress of Shared Services, Friday news dump style.  Tucked away amidst the colorful Power Point charts of job hierarchies was a brief statement about how these new services would be funded: by the departments being served, rather than by central campus funding.   Currently departments have two kinds of relationships with central departments: either services are provided for free (like RES) or they are provided on a fee basis (like Letters and Science computing services.)  It looks like we are going to use the L&S model for most things.

What will happen to those staff lucky enough to avoid the fate of the SS cubicle?  We would be relieved of many tasks for the first time in decades.  Would we get to expand into those areas we have tended to neglect in recent years?  In our case it might be creating a donor base, seeking added fellowship support for our students, or updating our website to use Drupal to the best advantage.  But OE would now have our best estimates of what time percentage we use to complete most of our tasks, broken down to fairly low levels, for the first time ever.  Now if they took these specific tasks away some of us may be left with, say, 30% fewer tasks in our workload.  I’ve been wondering: would they then reach down into the departments, lay some of us off, and ask others to take over a similar position-fragment in another department?  Our departments might fight such an invasion of the home turf; these forced combination efforts have not gone well in the past.

But here is what I think the deal will be: department budgets for staff salaries will either be reduced by the amount of work shifted to SS, or the salaries may remain at current level for staff; departments will have to find a way to pay both for remaining staff at current levels and the new service level agreements.

Departments with resources may be able to shift their staff to other salary sources.  They will be encouraged to quickly find other sources of funding, such as Concurrent Enrollment or specific online programs directed to people other than standard UC students.  This is painted to Chairs as the inevitable result of permanently decreased state funding—it’s either your staff or your faculty.

What is the solution to these proposed changes?  There may be none.  Most faculty seem to be sleepwalking.  OE reassurances may be enough to keep them pacified until the deal is done.  After all, they don’t have degrees in Business Management themselves and they have neither the time nor the ammunition to fight this battle.  I have been lucky enough to work in departments where most faculty/staff relations have ranged from cordial to collegial, but still, at the end of the day we are two kinds of beasts.  Academics hope to work their way quickly up the salary scale, plan to be highly respected in their fields, and might even consider being lured away by some big name university with deeper pockets.  Staff gets furloughs; many faculty got a special program to avoid facing these furloughs, even though they earn considerably more than most staff.  Faculty with aspirations to live in north Berkeley or Kensington can’t really relate to the lives of staff who live in the Richmond and El Cerrito flats.

My personal solution: retire as soon as I can afford to.  I give this place nine hours of my life each day; life is too blessedly short to give more or to go through the stress of being forced into systems designed from above that require so much work from those of us below.  This will make OE happy.   If they have ever noticed me, they will have noticed that I am a naysayer, one of those staff who is stubbornly resistant to change.  OE has prepared for my kind: they made sure to seek people with expertise in “change management”; people who know that resisters must be isolated from the herd and quietly dispatched to prevent the rest from balking at the gate leading to the trucks.  And actually, maintaining the level of anger and outrage necessary to try to rouse staff and faculty from their funk would take its toll on my health.  I know this; the change management experts know this.   I will most likely be one of those retirements that make it less necessary to lay others off.

What will happen to my department if I go?  We are small.  Several faculty are thinking of retiring; several more are already affiliated with the department that the university has administratively started to merge us with.  Perhaps the dislocation will be minimal; perhaps none of this is worth the effort of analysis that I have wasted upon it.  But I like to know what is being done to me and why, and who will benefit.  I hope the rest of you will be paying attention as well.


Kathryn said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this. It certainly expresses what many of my coworkers are feeling these days.

I have five years until I can realistically retire. I hope I make it.

J Banks said...

Nice article!

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