No one disputes that the management of the seven units housed under the Drexel Business Services (DBS) department worked hard. The units generate $68 million in revenue, $38 million in expenses and $5 million in expense recovery annually for the Philadelphia-based institutions. The units’ respective managers were responsible for their own budgets, purchasing, accounts payable, reconciliation, cash handling, forecasting, HR and quarterly reporting.
The problem? According to Rita LaRue, DBS’ senior associate vice president, it was that they were experts in their functional areas, not in fiscal and administrative management, which made things tough for efficiency.
“Because the directors of the departments felt like they were being held so accountable for these functions, they actually held on too tightly,” she says. “There was a lot of redundancy in the processes and trying to get the paperwork from their desks to fruition. I saw my department heads struggling with that.”
Tied up in red tape that hampered both efficiency and effectiveness, DBS needed a new direction. It got it with the creation of the OneCenter, a team of five employees charged solely with providing fiscal and administrative services—purchasing, financial reports, process and procedure clarification, and human resources assistance—to the department’s seven units. “By flipping the model a bit,” LaRue says, “I could free up more of [the directors’] time to work on what I need them to work on operationally.”
The model didn’t flip overnight. As the seven units’ respective business managers left DBS (moving to other positions at Drexel or leaving the university outright) they were replaced by the five OneCenter staffers, a process that took about eight months.
Launched in August 2012, the OneCenter has offered impressive returns in less than two years. In fiscal year 2013 alone, processing time for purchasing requests was nearly halved, pleasing the DBS units as well as the vendors with whom they contracted. The OneCenter’s development of an on-call vendor program consolidated vendors in a variety of common service categories, such as heating, vacuuming and air conditioning, locksmith work, and paving—fostering economies of scale across the entire campus and eliminating the time suck of quote comparisons and paperwork gathering. And the successful implementation of SharePoint,
Microsoft’s collaboration and management tool, across each DBS unit allowed for vastly increased efficiencies. For example, Parking Services now is able to process parking requests and recover expenses in two hours, far less than the three days it took previously.
LaRue believes that DBS’ approach may catch on elsewhere at the school.“There are colleagues here at the university, both in the administrative branches and in the academic branches, that are looking to the Drexel Business OneCenter as a model for what we can do in the future,” she says. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this structure.” —T.W.D.