Novel approaches for streamlining campus operations were shared by various units May 23 at the UI's inaugural Efficiency Fair.
The event, held at the Illini Union, attracted nearly 100 participants seeking tips on saving money and maximizing resources while still pursuing educational excellence.
"We wanted to get like-minded folks in the room and share accomplishments and thoughts," said Stig Lanesskog, associate dean of the Illinois MBA program and associate provost for strategic planning and assessment.
He said all the presenters had demonstrated successes through ongoing efficiency efforts in their units.
"We consider this just really a sampling, but we wanted to showcase those accomplishments," he said. "We're excited about the content we have here today."
Lanesskog said the size of the campus and speed of change makes it difficult for good ideas to be extensively shared.
"The challenge is, our campus is so autonomous at times, it's hard to know what's going on in other parts of campus," he said.
The event's poster sessions allowed participants to see graphic representations of the specific cost-saving programs being implemented throughout the university.
Unit leaders provided details of programs ranging from Facilities and Services' environmental building-refitting work through the Energy Savings Company program, to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences' successful efforts to increase enrollment numbers for transfer students coming from junior colleges.
Other ideas shared in the 16 poster presentations included the drive to reduce the number of campus data centers, several methods of consolidating information technology functions, and various business-model approaches designed to increase departmental and unit accountability.
Featured speaker Bruce Vojak, associate dean for administration in the College of Engineering, said that making any of the highlighted programs successful within other units requires leaders to develop, and clearly share with employees, an effective strategy.
"It links what we do on a day-to-day basis to our overall goals," he said. "It's not just the domain of a small group of people."
Taking the ideas and pushing them through at the right rate takes good planning, communication and patience.
"There are some things you work on that's like pushing a boulder up a hill," he said. "But some simple ideas can turn a whole place around."
Chuck Thompson, the College of Engineering's assistant dean and director of its IT shared services department, reported on the college's recent efforts to downsize. He said the effort was not just monetarily based, but designed to improve operational efficiency as well.
"You don't have to be broken to have a need for change," he said.
He said one of the most important components of implementing a plan for change is communication, and establishing a "language" that all participants can understand. He said he knows this fact first-hand, since it was a hurdle Engineering staff had to get over before they could achieve quantifiable results.
"We were using the same words, but not really saying the same thing," he said.
He said communication becomes more vital when an organization has already experienced flux.
"You cannot over-communicate," he said. "Any vacuum of information will be filled in by rumor. Somebody else will do it for you."
Among others who spoke:
Kelly Block, director of portfolio management for Administrative Information Technology Services, and Michelle Raupp, Public Affairs project manager, who shared details of the university's development of shared services to improve on-campus business processes.
Several administrators from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, including Matthew Tomaszewski, associate dean for administration; Carol Wakefield, director of budget and resources planning; and Deanna Raineri, associate dean of applied technologies for learning in the arts and sciences.
The LAS team discussed recent and ongoing communication, resources allocation and revenue generation efforts.
Keith Marshall, associate provost for enrollment management, said the event, while new at the UI, has been put in place at other Big Ten universities, including Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"The idea is that when (staff members) see the presentations, they'll go back to their units and say, 'Hey, we can do that,' " he said.
Marshall said administrators hope next year to expand the event in hopes of highlighting more success stories - some of which they hope to foster by the ideas presented this year.
"We're quite pleased with the level of interest and participation," he said. "Hopefully it will be a recurring event into the future."
Richard Wheeler, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, said the ideas shared at the event are important because they illustrate university employees' capacity for positively addressing change.
"I don't recall ever seeing this kind of focus," he said. "Real efficiencies are going to accomplish real production."
And while funding and technological changes will continue to affect the UI, Wheeler said real change will not occur without the committed efforts of those who work at the university.
"The answers are going to be you," he told the audience.