For two years, Elizabeth Muse has carried two cell phones: one for her personal use and one for her work as director of alumni and parent engagement at the University of Virginia.
Recently, she read an article about new technology that can accommodate two different phone numbers in one mobile device, and, she said, “a light bulb went off.”
“It made me think about how to simplify my life and reduce monthly expenses for me and the University,” Muse said.
When the University announced a contest to solicit ideas that would generate efficiencies and cost savings, Muse saw an opportunity to share her idea for a shared device. Now she is the owner of a brand new iPad, after having won the “High Dollar Award” category in the University’s first “Paying Forward: Investing in the Future Initiative.”
Pat Hogan, executive vice president and chief operating officer, hosted a reception May 14 to thank members of the University community for taking the time to submit their ideas. Some 174 ideas were received, and an initial assessment shows that the near-term ideas could generate potential cost savings to the University of $5 million
Hogan, who sponsored the competition, said the program far exceeded his expectations.
“It’s exciting to see people optimizing teamwork and coming together with ideas from all different units,” he said.
In addition to 12 winners chosen in weekly drawings for $20 gift cards, finalists were selected in three categories: “High Dollar,” “Feasible Ideas” and “Efficiency.”
While the University has long been recognized for efficiency in its operations, and its employees are known as good stewards of University resources, ongoing pressures to find resources to sustain academic excellence compel the University to seek continuous operational efficiencies, Hogan said.
All of the competition entries were ranked by an 11-member evaluation team, based on multiple criteria: how clearly the problem and solution were described, the magnitude of the impact of the improvement across the institution, the potential cost-savings, and the costs, resources and complexity required for implementation versus the potential benefits gained.
Organizers pledged that every submitter will receive a response about how their entry was handled. To read a sampling of the ideas submitted to the contest, click here and select “Read an Idea.”
About 100 submissions – more than half – related to conservation and sustainability efforts, particularly in the areas of energy, procurement and transportation. The Paying Forward team worked with the University Committee on Sustainability, which was preparing to pilot a new initiative, “The Green Workplace Program.” That program encourages employees to form teams to assess and improve environmental performance in their workplace and achieve certification.
The program readily adopted some of the Paying Forward employee ideas into the pilot. “I am excited by the Green Workplace program,” Lee Baszczewski, director of Process Simplification, said. “It is designed to achieve the kind of synergies we are seeking – in this case, reducing costs and improving sustainable practices across the institution.”
Although the competition has ended, the ongoing process has just begun. Hogan announced plans to institute an Organizational Excellence Program, a continuous process designed to find opportunities to enhance effectiveness and efficiency in administrative and academic areas across the institution. A steering committee will assess and prioritize ideas from the Paying Forward program and other initiatives, bringing the best suggestions to life.
“Paying Forward was an important step in a strategic plan for academic excellence, which underpins my passion for excellence in operations at all levels,” Hogan said. “It has launched us down the path on the institution’s longer journey to organizational excellence.”
The Paying Forward grand prize-winners, all of whom won iPads, were:
- High Dollar Award. Elizabeth Muse, director for alumni and parent engagement, for the highest cost-saving potential. Muse suggested that the University could reduce the current annual cost of $1.2 million spent on employee mobile devices by using new technology to eliminate the need for employees to carry two phones.
- Feasible Ideas Award. Kevin Crabtree, senior buyer, Procurement and Supplier Diversity, for submitting the largest number of feasible cost-saving ideas. Crabtree’s suggestions included instituting a formal periodic review of select services to determine if the University is conducting business in the most efficient way, exploring the consolidation of the University’s 584 service vehicles to optimize use, and generating additional revenue by encouraging the use of U.Va. Foundation-owned facilities and services, such as the Boar’s Head Inn.
- Efficiency Award. Katherine “Kobby” Hoffman, assistant director of accounting, Office of Sponsored Programs, for an idea that is likely to yield significant process efficiencies. Noting that the University processes more than 4,000 grants at a time, Hoffman offered multiple suggestions including repairing current Oracle software issues, enhanced financial reporting and use of imaging technology for awards records for online availability.