Even the smallest of units now can tap into the university's scaled-up resources to help identify and mitigate risk before it becomes a real-life headache.
The department of enterprise services, a part of university administration, has been expanding its educational reach and helping more units identify and mitigate risks by offering them the same processes university risk owners use on a grander scale.
The university established its Office of Enterprise Risk Management in the Office of Business and Financial Services five years ago. Last year Joda Morton replaced Dan Mortland in the ERM office as associate director, with a goal to expand outreach efforts to create a culture of risk-conscious employees. The move allowed Mortland, now the assistant vice president of enterprise services, to focus more on utility risk management.
"In higher education, even in the Big Ten, ERM is kind of a new concept," Mortland said. "Corporations have been using it for a long time, but we've been slow to adapt. People are starting to understand the university president doesn't carry all the risk by himself."
Morton regularly shares proven risk identification and mitigation techniques with campus leaders and can offer the program to any size of unit.
"I'm a facilitator and advocate," Morton said. "I don't have the answers but I can help them figure it out. People know what their risks are, this just brings them a structure - a way to identify what to attack first and how to best direct their resources."
A unit's frontline employees are asked to identify risks, she said, because they are the ones most likely to face their impact on a daily basis. The impact, which can be measured in monetary costs or threatened academic reputation, is ranked and placed on a mitigation priority list.
Morton also interviews higher-level administrators and those already identified as "risk owners" in past assessments to update their risk profiles.
The result is a prioritized universitywide risk assessment document containing current risk considerations and a five-year risk projection. It is presented to the board of trustees every two years, with the latest report due May 2015.
The detailed assessment helps units and the university minimize risk but also can be used as a planning tool that can lead to better resource allocation.
"It looks globally at the system, but we want to make this valuable to the unit," Morton said.
The risk assessment register for the entire university, categorized by risk center, has more than 80 risks and is aided by a special software program employed on a test basis over the last year. Each risk center has a campus or university administration leader who coordinates the data.
"There could be one risk driver that spreads across 10 different areas, which is something everyone can be made aware of," she said.
According to Morton, not all risk is bad and a certain amount of exposure is expected. But unchecked risk becomes exponentially more dangerous with time.
The questions that must be asked are, how much risk is too much and how do you limit your exposure when you decide to accept a certain level of risk?
"There has to be a balance of risk and reward," she said. "We don't want to be so cautious we lose out on opportunity."
Morton, who has a finance and accounting background, spent eight years in university administration's Capital Financing Office.She said reaching out and speaking with people is one of the more important aspects of her job.
"There are many challenges in staying on top of risks," Morton said. "It's a continuous process that involves people from all across the university. We're continually identifying and evaluating. I try to stay in contact with a lot of different people."
Mortland said Morton is ideal for the job as much for her demeanor and ability to easily work with people as her significant financial background.
"Communication is a big part of this," he said. "This has to be done in a way that helps people. We want to be an ally (to units), and sometimes they need someone to challenge them in a very supportive way."