Despite staff reservations, Shared Services continues

Matthew Adams

Shared Services, a controversial program which consolidates certain decentralized services across the University is continuing, after moving past reservations from staff members.

The program, started in 2013, aimed to centralize human resources, finance, procurement and technology services in one place to potentially save $30 to $40 million annually. This program is set to continue through the 2022 fiscal year. 

University spokesman Gary Susswein said that after two fiscal years, UT has spent $8.7 million dollars on Shared Services.  

Jamie Southerland, associate vice president of Shared Services and business transformation, said the implementation of some new business management applications are still being planned as they modernize business affairs for UT. Southland said the majority of the new applications will launch in 2017. 

Southerland said one application involved with Shared Services is Academic Technology Services — which supports the desktop and computing needs on campus in places such as the College of Liberal Arts, the Dell Medical School and the Provost Portfolio which includes the Blanton Museum and Harry
Ransom Center.

Despite the success of Academic Technology Services, some applications such as Central Business Offices, Southerland said, are still under scrutiny for efficiency.

“With CBO, we brought in units from the Provost Office, the College of Education, Dell Medical and several others [which] all had different ways of doing things,” Southerland said. “What we learned is that it is not a sustainable model for us to continue doing things the way they used to do them.”

In April 2014, students and faculty members held a protest in the Tower against Shared Services, and 18 students were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. 

Anne Lewis, an advocate against Shared Services and senior professor in radio-television-film, said Shared Services could reduce the quality of services provided to individual colleges and affect the overall education of the University. 

“Quality of work impacts us all,” Lewis said. “To have people assigned to specific tasks rather than functioning in a series of relationships with faculty, students and other staff makes us vulnerable to the gaps, and the system becomes less responsive to faculty and research needs.”

Susswein said laying off employees was not part of the plan but understands people may have thought otherwise because of the implementation of Shared Services programs at other university systems in Texas. 

“We consciously tried to do it differently than [other universitiy systems in Texas] where the chancellor had announced this is what they were doing — they were outsourcing,” Susswein said. “We had a process that allowed for input with the public hearings and with the discussions.”

Mary Knight, chief financial officer for the University, said misconceptions about Shared Services are less common now because fears about the initiative have not materialized.

“Through the fact that none of this has happened, I think that’s why a lot of things have settled down,” Knight said. “We’re all long-term employees and we love working here just like everyone else.”

Despite these plans, Susswein said while former UT President William Powers still stressed education over business, UT had to find ways to improve its business services. 

“President Powers said when he unveiled all of this, that the University is not a business and should not always act like it is one,” Susswein said. “But in the areas where we are like business: payroll, accounting, travel reimbursements — we need to figure out how to do things efficiently and smartly.” 

Correction: This article originnally reported that Texas A&M University cut faculty positions as part of its outsourcing of dining services and facilities management.  There were no staff layoffs as part of the outsourcing which a University spokesman said is expected to save $270 million over 10 years; these savings will go into faculty and research. Texas A&M’s decision was made only after a series of forums that allowed for public input and a unanimous recommendation by an advisory committee.