Chief Business Officer Updates UCSF Community on Operational Excellence Initiative

John Plotts

John Plotts, senior vice chancellor of Finance and Administration, updated the UCSF community today (March 23) on the progress to achieve administrative and operating efficiencies across the University.

He anticipates being able to provide information to the UCSF community about recommendations to achieve operational excellence in mid- to late-April.

Here is the entire message from Plotts:


An Update on UCSF 2011: A Focus on Operational Excellence


By John Plotts, Chief Business Officer

UCSF continues to focus on the chancellor’s charge to closely examine our administrative activities with the aim of both improving operational excellence and challenging our underlying cost structure.  I write to update you on progress made to date and next steps.

In mid-February, Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann spoke about the significant financial challenges facing UCSF.  Read the transcript. She said UCSF must confront three major financial issues:

  • An estimated $28 million reduction in state and general funds for FY 2010-2011, on top of significant reductions in the current fiscal year;
  • Increasing health care costs for both UCSF employees and retirees, and
  • For the first time in 20 years, a resumption of campus financial contributions to employees’ retirement.

As part of this effort, the chancellor appointed an Administrative and Operating Efficiencies Work Group  and charged it with recommending how UCSF can trim administrative and operational costs by $28 million to $40 million. The work group is to submit its recommendations to the chancellor by March 31.

It is important to note that while the challenges in front of us demand immediate attention, it is in the University’s best interest to view these challenges as an opportunity to commit to a new way of doing business that encourages the continual examination of what we do and to ask, “Why do we do this? Is there a better way?”

By dedicating ourselves to continual improvement – this year and in the years to come – we can be sure that UCSF is well run and that our resources are supporting our top priorities:  patients and health, discovery and education.  Committing to excellence in all we do will allow UCSF to be the best university we can make it.

Soliciting Broad Campus Input

The work group is making strides in meeting its charge to find cost savings. In recent weeks, it has made a concerted effort to tap the experience and resources of a very broad base of the UCSF community. The feedback, suggestions and insights of representatives from across UCSF are essential to the work group’s efforts to develop recommendations that both advance operational excellence and also achieve the requisite savings. 

The work group has solicited input from the campus community in a number of ways, including multiple focus groups in four broad topic areas: human resources (HR), research administration, information technology (IT) and finance. More than 380 individuals, including representation from all four schools, have participated in the focus groups in recent weeks and the sessions welcomed input across many topics within the four issue areas. Faculty and staff have also submitted many thoughtful ideas and suggestions through the budget@ucsf.edu email address.

In addition, the School of Medicine Dean’s Retreat in February was an opportunity for faculty to discuss the chancellor’s charge and provide input.  Similarly, the School of Nursing held a town hall meeting that welcomed both faculty and staff. Ongoing and explicit input comes from the School of Medicine’s Department Managers meetings.  Each of the four focus areas is further supported by committees comprised of representatives from all schools. Each committee member represents a broader constituency and brings these diverse opinions to the table. It is extremely helpful that participants are thinking and contributing institutionally.

Another source of information was a survey sent to all department managers. The aim of the survey was to gather the data necessary to quantify both the individuals and the costs associated with how UCSF carries out work in the areas of HR, research administration, IT and finance. Gathering this information is critically important to understanding how we currently operate and to developing realistic objectives for reducing costs.

The survey results confirmed what managers already know:  There is little opportunity for employees who work in these areas to focus on a singular area of expertise. For example, 676 individuals are involved in some way with pre- and post-grant awards. Of that number, 180 individuals spend less than 15 percent of their time on these activities, while only 40 individuals spend more than 80 percent of their time on these activities. We appreciate the efforts of the department managers and staff in gathering this information. Without the information, the work group’s efforts would have been stalled.

Optimizing Central Administration

Streamlining and simplifying the services provided by central administration, which are the administrative activities outside of the schools and the Medical Center, is essential to the success of the chancellor’s charge and, as a result, central administration must aggressively challenge its organization and cost structure. A significant first step toward meeting that goal was an all-day, facilitated session held on March 18. The objective of the day-long gathering of central administration leadership was to identify redundancies and opportunities for streamlining and simplifying services through consolidation, elimination or other means.

The work group is working on a deadline to deliver its report and recommendations to the chancellor and the Executive Cabinet by March 31 for their consideration in April. At that time, the recommendations of the work group will be assessed, a determination will be made as to what additional analysis might be needed, and a timeline for decision making will be finalized. I anticipate being able to provide information about the work group’s recommendations in mid- to late-April.

Solutions through the Power of UCSF’s People

UCSF isn’t the first university to confront tough financial issues. Many of our peers use outside consultants. While there are benefits to an external view, they may not be able to understand the subtle nature of the environment that contributes to UCSF’s excellence. The UCSF community has proved to be an excellent resource in the complexities of the problem solving that face us and remains an integral part of how we find solutions.

The ideas and creativity from UCSF’s people are necessary now more than ever as we undergo this effort to achieve operational excellence in the future. I encourage you to personally get involved by contributing your expertise, along with sharing your ideas by emailing budget@ucsf.edu.