Is it time for a wellness check of your auxiliaries?

Whether it is for ourselves, a family member, or a pet, we know that it’s time for a visit to the doctor when we see certain symptoms. The sign may be a fever, a runny nose, or depression. Similarly, some of our auxiliaries may be exhibiting symptoms that signal it’s time for an exam.

Whether it is for ourselves, a family member, or a pet, we know that it’s time for a visit to the doctor when we see certain symptoms. The sign may be a fever, a runny nose, or depression. Or maybe it’s time for the preventative appointment often referred to as a wellness check. Whatever the motivation, a professional observation can lead to a better outlook and health. Through a simple series of questions and diagnostics, an appointment with a professional can start a journey to improved health.

Similarly, some of our auxiliaries may be exhibiting symptoms that signal it’s time for an exam. As an administrator in auxiliary services, do you see any of the following symptoms at your institution of higher education?

Do you have a new leader for one or many of your auxiliary services?
Has your auxiliary department added a major new line of business or functionality?
Are you operating your department using the same paper forms and Excel spreadsheets you were using 20 years ago?
Have new audit findings brought a spotlight to your operation(s)?
Is it tough to get answers (timely and accurate) to questions about the financial and operational performance of your auxiliaries?
Is central IT cutting the cord or reducing their support for your department(s)?
Is the university asking you to do more with fewer resources?
Is your auxiliary department seeing declining revenues and profitability?
Have your shadow technology systems become inadequate, or have you heard of other universities using products that you may be interested in but aren’t sure if they are a good fit?
Have you seen a recent spike or trend in customer complaints?

Any of these situations might signal that it’s time for a wellness check of your auxiliary service departments.

In 2011 the University of Utah hired a new assistant vice president of auxiliary services, Gordon Wilson, Ph.D. His purview included commuter services (parking and transportation), university student apartments (apartment style housing), university campus store (bookstore), stadium and arena event services (football and basketball venues), print and mail services (central printing, copying, and postal service), trademarks and licensing, and UCard (ID) services. As a newcomer to the institution, Wilson needed a snapshot of the operational and fiscal health of each of his business units. He also wanted to ensure that any changes he made would be met with a sense of ownership and buy-in from the staff, many of which had spent their entire careers helping to grow the organizations as the University of Utah blossomed into the state of Utah’s flagship institution.

The auxiliary services unit had many moving and integrated parts, and the problem was figuring out where to begin. Two departments were showing symptoms that could easily be identified. UCard services was receiving a spike in customer complaints, but it was unclear as to whether or not they were related to customer service, technology, or both (symptom 10). Also, a somewhat standard Internal Audit Report conducted on commuter services (symptom 4) identified some minor fiscal accountability and control issues related to antiquated technologies. Additionally, commuter services had a backlog of approximately 50 change requests that needed to be made to the 15-year-old custom-developed parking system created by University Central IT (symptoms 6 and 9).

With specific symptoms isolated, it was clear that UCard services and commuter services should be the first auxiliaries to undergo a wellness check. Wilson launched a process review initiative to “examine” the departments. The project was lead by two staff members from auxiliary services leadership, Jennifer Reed, manager of operations and finance, and Mike Robinson, director of information services. They were supported by a core team of five to seven individuals from the institution. The project would utilize a five-step approach that would take approximately four to eight weeks.

Step 1 – Gather Feedback. Similar to a medical exam, the process review begins by acquiring responses from stakeholders to a few key questions. Just like a patient knows “where it hurts,” a fundamental principle of the process review is that the stakeholders who actually do the work already know what is right and wrong, you just have to ask. With the directors of both the commuter services and UCard services departments, we identified approximately a dozen key managers and supervisors within the respective organizations, and another dozen key individuals outside of the departments to be interviewed. For each group of stakeholders, we used a brief set of open-ended questions that helped to get them talking comfortably about the status quo, as well as the future of the organizations from their unique perspective.

We found that it was most effective to have two core members conduct the interviews, one to ask the questions, and the second to take notes. Thorough documentation of the interviews is key to identifying themes, problems, and solutions.

Step 2 – Work the Data. With a packet of the raw interview notes, the core team works together to compile the data. Detailed classification of statements made by the stakeholders help the team to identify important information requiring a closer look.

Step 3 – Model As-Is Processes. Now that we have our source data, the core project team can build several models that will allow us to analyze it. The goal for step three is to understand the big picture and NOT to get buried into analysis paralysis. The first model, the process landscape, displays, on one page, the primary processes (and sub-processes) within the auxiliary department (see Figure 1). The process landscape provides an overall context to presenting findings to administrators.
The second model developed is a simple swimlane diagram (see Figure 2). The intent of the simple swimlane diagram is to track the actual work taking place to complete a process. Everyone who touches the work will be documented. It is important to know who touches the work and what they do with it. Later, tools like documents, forms, reports, systems, and timing can be added to support the respective tasks. This document becomes the basis for the analysis performed in step four.

Step 4 – Impact Analysis. In step four, the core team will complete its diagnosis and identify what should happen next.
First, using data from the interviews, the core team will summarize what stakeholders like and what they don’t like, as well as any suggestions they might have for improvement (see Figure 3). Remember: Often the stakeholders already know what should be done, it is just that nobody ever asked them!

Secondly, the core team reviews the issue identified in step two and the swimlane diagrams in step three. We group the findings within one of six factors: workflow, IT, human resources, performance measurement, policies, and other.

Step 5 – Present the Findings. In this step, we pull everything together to present our findings to leadership, management, and the stakeholders, as well as identify the next steps to be taken. We identify the top priority items to be addressed. Here are a few examples from the commuter services review:

Shrinking parking lot inventory – losing parking spaces to new construction.
Paper intensive – more than 40 paper forms used to manage permit sales.
No POS system – handwritten receipts.
Third-party software issues – paylot system was no longer supported.
System integration issues – 12 separate shadow systems did not talk to each other.

Following this review, the University of Utah Commuter Services department undertook an 18-month initiative to replace their parking management system and processes, which went live this summer. UCard services underwent a major reorganization and initiative to change its funding strategy. Successful reviews led Wilson to request that all of his auxiliary departments complete process reviews, each with their own unique challenges. These reviews will become the basis for the process improvement programs in each auxiliary department for the next three to five years.


Is it time for a wellness check for one or more of your departments? The time it takes to perform a process review (four to eight weeks) is minimal, while the results can get you started in the right direction for long-term good health.

Jennifer Reed
Jennifer Reed is the manager of auxiliary operations at the University of Utah, where she has worked in auxiliary services for more than 17 years. She manages day-to-day operations of the AVP, auxiliary services office, and coordinates budgets, operations, and logistics for the eight auxiliary units reporting to that office with total revenues of more than $64 million annually.

Mike Robinson, MS, CPA
Mike Robinson, MS, CPA, is the director of information systems for the auxiliary services department at the University of Utah. Robinson has over 30 years of experience assisting organizations with improving their systems and processes.

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