Critical mass

Critical mass

Standardisation of key business processes is critical when an organisation is on a growth path.

When Claudia Vidal joined UniServices as general manager business operations, she found the principles of ICT management useful to the research and consulting environment. UniServices is responsible for all research-based consultancy partnerships and commercialisation at the University of Auckland, and has been growing at a rate of 13 percent year on year.

When an organisation reaches this “critical mass”, says Vidal, it needs to have more formal processes to do business which are widely communicated and followed, in particular in their case which deals with a variety of stakeholders that include the University, private companies and Government.

“There is a focus on customers and various methods of communication which have been reviewed and improved over time to support the growing staff numbers and the decentralised structure,” she says. “If you don’t go the route of standardisation, there will be a higher cost of operation.”

The principles of IT management are the same she says, which are to be “to be as transparent, as seamless as possible to enable better and faster service”.

“In any environment, you have to apply your toolbox of IT knowledge to what the business requires at that time in the industry it is embedded and the environment where it is working”.

Strategy planning and strategic thinking were fundamental to establish a greenfields team at UniServices dedicated to improving the ways of working and leverage IT, says Vidal.

This included “marketing” the plan to gain the commitment and support of my colleagues and develop a consensus view of IS applications.

“Fundamentally, this required aligning IT with the business strategy, the facilitation of the prioritisation of projects, identifying the value in the investment in IS & T,” says Vidal. “As in any business, resources are not infinite and the business case had to be compelling. The diverse and geographically distributed stakeholder community required also a strong change management and communications to disseminate new knowledge and procedures.

“We have been implementing this plan for the last two years and this required program/project management to keep it on track and manage risk, and to bring cohesion and structure to systems implementation. In this way, people across departments have started to collaborate and learn together, and embed knowledge management - one of the more long-lasting benefits of the planning effort,” says Vidal.

“As we build and develop the IS&T infrastructure to support UniServices’ operations, we are working towards introducing more innovative ways and strategic applications to enhance and exploit more business opportunities using this IT blueprint.”

Last month, UniServices won the Vero Excellence in Business Support Awards in the large business $10 million-plus category. The NZ Excellence Foundation, which judged the awards, noted the “significant improvements to operating processes and communication processes enabling to sustain business success now and into the future”, says Vidal.

Vidal says entering the awards made UniServices realise the amount of change it had undergone in the past few years. “When you are frantically working on business improvement, the tendency is to focus on how much is yet to be done.”

Vidal says preparing the submission made them stop and reflect on the things they have done with the business processes and systems architecture and communications channels within the organisation.

Two years ago, the organisation conducted a business review to ensure its internal systems and processes could support growth and meet the needs of the customers.

The first challenge for Vidal was to understand the complex environment of a company such as UniServices. Setting and planning processes, and at the same time connecting the university’s expertise to business, with its own strategy and its own measurable objectives, and dealing with a wide variety of stakeholders (including the parent company, private and public sectors) was at the essence of the upfront strategy alignment step, she says.

This became the background for an IT strategy with a focus on building the necessary IS infrastructure to enable operational improvements. The strategy in turn was translated into a programme of work currently being executed, says Vidal.

The review resulted in standardisation of business processes, an HR induction creating a faster knowledge track for the business, an intranet providing a central repository of organisational knowledge and time-saving mechanisms for sharing and knowledge transfer and implementation of a finance system.

Prior to UniServices, Vidal was group IS manager at Tru-Test, and also held IT management posts at The Warehouse, TelstraClear and Air New Zealand.

UniServices is owned by the University of Auckland, but has its own governance and board of directors. If it requires skills that are not available in-house, it can call on seek collaboration from staff at the University – like in the recent implementation of IP telephony, or their own providers. This ongoing model (relationship) allows UniServices to be “be nimble and move fast”, she says.

UniServices has more than 700 staff, with the majority of them working in different centres undertaking research projects. The organisation provides legal, contract management, HR, marketing communications, and IT support.

Vidal says UniServices gives the centres “as many tools as possible to make life easier on the administration side”. This way, she says, the staff can concentrate on research.

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