University and students


Administrative partnership models (APMs) in higher education to increase service and efficiency

Shifting from shared services to broader APMs to improve administrative effectiveness

Many universities and colleges are rethinking administrative services for a variety of reasons, including budget, staffing, and regulatory challenges, stakeholder needs and expectations, and effective use of technology and other resources. APMs offer the value of shared services with a more holistic, tailored approach that can help achieve these goals, while improving efficiency in higher education.

A more tailored, holistic model for higher education business processes

Shared services in higher education have proven a good alternative for some institutions, enabling them to increase service levels while reducing costs for processing routine administrative transactions. Unfortunately, many institutions have struggled—or failed—in their efforts to apply a shared services model to higher education administrative processes.

Despite the challenges of bringing traditional shared services models into a university environment, the pressure to improve efficiency in higher education is pushing institutions to move to shared services or find a better alternative.

The administrative partnership model (APM) incorporates the value of shared services into a more holistic model, tailored to the individual needs and environment of each institution. Through a customized model designed by, and for, institutional stakeholders, APM offers a solution more suited to higher education administrative processes and culture and much more likely to deliver the benefits institutions hope for.

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Involving all key stakeholders to build the solution

In a traditional approach to shared services, development is often focused on meeting the needs of the central administration, and schools and units are tangential players in shared services development (an “inside-out” approach). The APM approach allows each institution to examine work currently conducted across central administrative areas and local schools and units, incorporating the needs of both perspectives more fully.

No two institutions are alike and no “one-size-fits-all” template works for all APM solutions. However, successful APM models often contain the following components:

  • Business partners (e.g., representatives from human resources, finance, research administration, and information technology)—specialized professionals working in local units
  • Centers of expertise (COE) (e.g., central HR and university budget office)—university-wide support for policy, compliance, and highly complex/specialized activities across administrative areas
  • Local units (i.e., the “customers”)—faculty, staff, and students within schools and departments that initiate administrative requests and/or perform administrative work locally
  • Shared services (e.g., administrative business center, administrative business office, and service center)—an office for routine, high-volume transactions, and service-oriented help desk support; supports high-quality service provisions from the initial request, through completion by effective end-to-end workflow, and tracking and measuring key metrics such as turn-around times, accuracy, and customer satisfaction

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Engagement and change management

Although APMs offer tremendous flexibility, changing the way higher education administrative processes get done is invariably complex. Keys to success for stakeholder engagement and change management for APM implementation include:

  • Articulate the “why”: Clearly identify problems that need to be solved and articulate them honestly and transparently
  • Align leaders: Gain alignment for the vision from both administrative and academic leadership
  • Focus on the customer: Employ a customer-centric design to serve the campus community (faculty, students, staff, and alumni)
  • Think end-to-end: Examine and redesign processes from end-to-end to achieve true value and to uncover and address unexpected impacts that may affect departments
  • Excel in communications: Provide consistent and frequent communications and opportunities for engagement through a wide variety of channels
  • Over-train: Provide robust training for all stakeholders before and after implementation

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Benefits beyond improving efficiency in higher education

APM development is a complex process, filled with competing visions, trade-offs, divergent opinions, lots of details, and unexpected challenges. However, the benefits can be tremendous in terms of greater alignment between the academic mission and administrative support, better service, increased accuracy, lower costs, and more transparency.

For institutions that develop APMs, one of the leading outcomes of a thoughtful transition to the new model is the sense of accomplishment that arises from the university community when stakeholders work in an environment designed by themselves, for themselves.

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