UW News

December 14, 2016

Dozens of projects aimed at efficiency are on track as part of the Transforming Administration Program

Provost Jerry Baldasty kicked off the Transforming Administration Program in Spring 2015 with a key goal of creating one administration, one university with an enhanced culture of service ultimately serving faculty and staff to achieve the University of Washington’s teaching, research and service missions. The program aims to make administrative departments more efficient and effective, and eliminate silos.

A year later, more than 40 individual improvement projects have been initiated, with 13 completed and the overwhelming majority of the remainder on track, according to the TAP Scorecard, which monitors monthly progress and briefly explains each project.

From modernizing the UW’s financial aid processes and systems for processing applications, to streamlining the classroom request process and consolidating internal communications, the TAP initiative is finding ways to make administration more efficient in support of the university’s faculty and students.

“Creative and collaborative staff are driving the TAP initiative,” Baldasty said. “They know our work processes well, and are enthusiastic about improving service to benefit everyone at UW. They recognize that the mission of the central administrative units is to support the academic mission of the university. We are fortunate to have such dedicated and smart staff members at the UW.”

Several significant TAP projects include modernization of processes and going paperless in areas where modern technology and tools can get things done more quickly and save resources. One such project is the modernization of the undergraduate admissions process.

Until this year, the admissions office had paper files for every applicant to the UW, and every year those application numbers increased. There were more than 44,000 applications for the incoming fall 2016 class, and even though virtually all of those applications in previous years were completed and submitted online, the admissions office printed them out in order to put them through the application review process.

“We were spending so much money printing applications out, using staff time to build physical files, buying paper and toner, and it caused us delays in our review process,” said David Sundine, associate director of admissions for operations. “That lag is gone now, and within the workflow itself, things are much more efficient.”

The first wave of applications to go paperless for fall 2016 were domestic freshman applications – the largest pool the admissions office receives each year. In the coming years, the office will roll out the paperless process for international freshman applications, then transfer and post-baccalaureate applications.

Several years ago, an attempt to upgrade to a paperless system had begun but was ended before implementation. And while the recent upgrade was in the works before the TAP initiative began, Sundine said it fits in well with the goals of the TAP initiative.

“What we’re doing meshes with it perfectly because it is an investment in efficiency,” Sundine said.

Financial aid applications were also heavily reliant on paper, but that could soon change. The 2016-17 academic year saw the beginning of imaging paper documents and testing the process of reviewing them electronically, and next year will be the first time the financial aid office aims to receive documents digitally. With more than 31,000 students receiving financial aid each year across the UW’s three campuses, and at least two or three pages of supporting documents involved, there are upwards of 60,000 pages printed every year.

“It is improving efficiency greatly, but beyond that, besides being more administratively efficient, it allows us to improve the student experience,” said Kay Lewis, director of student financial aid. “We can provide a faster, more cohesive response, and be able to review all the documents at once instead of piece by piece as docs came in. And we are building a communication piece on top of this to communicate better with students and with parents.”

Faculty doing research involving human subjects are finding a new and more efficient process with the Institutional Review Board. The federal government requires the board to review any human subjects research, and the process has been paper-based and slow, creating lag times for researchers and staff and IRB members.

“We had to have three copies of everything delivered to the office, then we’d spend time printing, collating, and putting a received date stamp on every single item,” said Karen Moe, director and assistant vice provost for research in the Human Subjects Division. “This is a huge savings of low-value, boring work for everybody.”

The paperless process, called Zipline, also provides for greater transparency because researchers can see what the ongoing status is of their applications, and the digital system will offer a trove of data and metrics that were previously unavailable, such as turnaround time and bottlenecks in the review process. It can also provide departments and deans with a good description of the research portfolio they have and the kinds of things the faculty are working on, Moe said.

Like some other TAP-affiliated projects, the research modernization effort was underway before TAP began, but Moe said the value of the TAP initiative is two-fold in that it is supporting ongoing improvement projects and that future projects established by the administration – with top-level support – will continue to improve efficiency.

“The TAP initiative provides structure and a clear sense of direction from top-level university leadership that they are concerned, serious and supportive about changes to help faculty, staff and students get their work done,” Moe said. “That sort of top-level leadership and support has not always been as consistent and as widespread. The other aspect is that the TAP initiative itself is coming up with projects, and those top-down efforts and the support that comes with them are also very important because we wouldn’t be able to do them on our own.”

Ideas for improvement are encouraged through the TAP website.  Upon receipt, the TAP leadership team reviews them and identifies owners and goals and tracks progress through the tracker.