Business Practice Improvement

Working toward a more efficient and effective university

Kimberly Hyde

Director, Office of Business Practice Improvement

Ashley Teal

Analyst, Office of Business Practice Improvement

On a recent trip for an academic conference, an Emory professor purchased a $25 flash drive in order to transfer some documents he had saved on his computer to a colleague. During the trip, this professor misplaced the receipt for the flash drive. After returning from the trip, he enlisted his assistant to file his expense report. His expenses were submitted but then rejected because there was no receipt for the $25 flash drive. The administrative assistant called the store where the flash drive was purchased and attempted to obtain a copy of the receipt, but unfortunately a reprint was not available. After some back and forth, it was determined that a missing receipt affidavit was needed for the supply, which required the busy professor’s signature. In the end, the reimbursement process ended up costing more in staff labor time than the flash drive itself! 

While this is a fictional and trivial example (though based on a true story), it does represent a small fraction of the administrative inefficiencies and practices that divert money from the university’s teaching, research, and service missions. 

What is Emory doing to address these inefficiencies? The example above, in addition to other complaints regarding travel and expense, prompted a review of travel and expense reimbursement policies and processes. To do so, the university could have looked to outside consultants—which had been successful in the past—but they chose instead to engage more cost-effective internal resources: the Office of Business Practice Improvement (BPI) at Emory.

As Emory moves into its 177th year of existence, it continues to adjust its operations to create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity. Technology has changed the way we all do business. The recession in the late 2000s and future uncertain economic times have forced everyone to rethink how money is spent. Universities are forced to do more with less. Business Practice Improvement is one of many ways that Emory is identifying opportunities to do just that.

Established in 2010 by the executive vice president for finance and administration, Mike Mandl, and founded by chief BPI officer, Bill Dracos, BPI is an internal department that approaches complex and ambiguous business challenges across the university. BPI offers solutions that drive lasting improvements and innovations that result in efficient and effective business operations. Emory has experienced rapid growth over the past decade. And given the many discrete schools and units at Emory, this growth was not always accompanied with consistent process and system redesign. By working collaboratively with faculty and staff across campus, it is BPI’s goal to significantly improve the service, performance, satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness of the work required to support the mission of a top-tier, vibrant research university in the twenty-first century. 

BPI professionals are a distinct blend of former consultants, analysts, and long-standing Emory employees. Today, the team is focused on projects related to travel and expense, corporate cards, and research administration. Projects investigate new opportunities for the university, as well as address issues raised from faculty feedback.

By working collaboratively with faculty and staff across campus, it is BPI’s goal to significantly improve the service, performance, satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness of the work required to support the mission of a top tier, vibrant research university. 

One critical guiding principle of BPI is to work collaboratively with faculty and staff across campus. When projects begin, focus groups and surveys help BPI understand current processes and pain points. During all projects, working groups consisting of faculty and staff help identify solutions and implement initiatives. Key stakeholders and leaders at the university are engaged in all aspects of BPI work.

Examples of Business Practice Improvement Changes

Travel & Expense: Recently, new and simplified policies around receipts and documentation that will save time and paper have been implemented. Many of these changes, such as the removal of the lost receipt affidavit (from the example at the beginning of this article), are based on faculty feedback. Beginning February 14, 2013, receipts were no longer required for purchases less than $75 (airfare, hotel, and rental car are always required) that were made with the new corporate card. Faculty and staff had noted multiple occasions in which reimbursements were denied because itemized receipts were not provided. This was a big source of frustration, prompting hours of exchange between central and department personnel that translated into expenses that were often greater than the amount processed for reimbursement. From both a financial and customer service standpoint, the documentation policies were arduous. With the new changes related to travel and expense, BPI estimates that if there is 100 percent corporate card adoption, the university could save up to $1.8 million per year in staff time. The implementation is one of many examples of the way BPI is working to streamline processes and save the university money.

Research Administration: Another example of BPI work is a large, transformational effort around research administration. Among other activities, the Research Administration Project involves redesigning the administrative structure to provide support to faculty for proposal submission, financial management, and compliance activities related to conducting extramurally funded (sponsored) research. At Emory, extramurally funded awards totaled over $518.6 million in fiscal year 2012, and that funding has more than doubled over the past decade. The administrative infrastructure, practices, and organization of labor across the university have not adequately developed at the same pace, yielding an opportunity for Emory to operate more effectively in research administration. The goals of the Research Administration Project include ensuring faculty are supported in their research endeavors by simplifying business processes, eliminating re-work, and empowering knowledgeable, accountable, and service-oriented research administration professionals.

As BPI completes the major projects underway, including Travel and Expense, Corporate Card Implementation, and Research Administration, BPI will begin to address other matters across the university. By applying proven leading practices and collaborating with faculty and staff, BPI aims to bring efficiency, cost savings, and satisfaction to Emory’s business operations to ensure that the institution can enable the great teaching, research, and service that occur at Emory throughout the twenty-first century.

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