Sybil Fellin is a change agent. As Director of the UR Better initiative, Sybil describes UR Better as “the University’s process improvement initiative that was launched last year, with the goal of streamlining and making our processes more simpler, smarter, and more efficient, with the hopes of saving people time that they’re spending now on cumbersome administrative tasks so that they can be doing more valuable things in support of the University’s mission.”

UR Better traces its roots to the University’s Strategic Plan’s fifth goal, which focuses on Stewardship in a Changing World. The third initiative of this goal is to “Work aggressively to achieve the University’s goals while moving away from an additive model that places stress on the human, environmental, and financial resources of the University.”

Launched a year ago, UR Better asked for suggestions on processes that could make a substantial improvement in the productivity of the University community. To date, they’ve received 190 ideas. Sybil and Dustin Engels, UR Better’s Business Process Analyst, scored all of the suggestions against the criteria that the committee had picked for saving time, saving money, aligning people’s time with what they were hired to do. “We brought the highly scored proposals to the UR Better Steering Committee, which is made up of representatives from all the divisions of the University, and they picked four.” UR Better had determined that they could handle four process improvements at a time.

Sybil Fellin at work for UR Better

One year later, they have successfully launched their first business process improvement, a revamping of the process through which undergraduate students declare a major or minor. Previously, students had two weeks at the start of the term to collect the approval of the department chair, who would assign the student a major advisor. Then they had to take it to the Registrar’s Office, who entered the information into Banner. Today, a student can simply go to the Registrar’s Office website and access the Declaration of Major/Minor Online Form. The form was created by Deb Warrick and Ray Cargill on the Information Services Administrative Systems team, with the assistance of UR Better and the Registrar’s Office. Information Services built the application using software the University already licensed along with software the University procures from Oracle.

While the software was licensed, it hadn’t been used by the University before. For Information Services, responding to the needs of UR Better meant a venture into application development, which hasn’t been done at Richmond. More than fifteen Information Services staff were involved in some way along the path to developing this application, which requires six servers to run. The system can be used for future UR Better applications. “So far, all of our projects have had an IT component,” Sybil says. “We’re working with the Enterprise Systems group, and Network Services group, and the database and system administrators; they are integral to all the solutions.”

 The Major/Minor Declaration form

The results have been gratifying: in less than one month, with no promotion of the new application to students, more than 100 major/minor declarations have been processed. “It’s a much cleaner, smoother process now,” says Sybil. “Now, a student in Maine can log into the system, and by the end of the day that whole process is done. Before, they couldn’t even do it until they were on campus and could pick up the paper form. And it’s better for the Registrar’s Office, who was getting about 800 forms a semester, and they’d get that all in a matter of weeks, which was a lot of work in a short amount of time. And now the work can be spread over the summer.”

The other three processes that are being improved also involve a technology component. For faculty and staff, the travel and expense reporting process is going to be simplified through the implementation of a new application called Chrome River, which will shorten the amount of time it takes to assemble and approve a reimbursement. Improvements are also coming to the Human Resources Personnel Action Forms, about a dozen of which are currently in PDF form on the HR website. Currently, these have to be printed out, signed, and submitted to be processed. Fellin believes that the application set up for the major/minor declaration process can be used to streamline the HR PAF process. The final process being improved is interdepartmental charges. This is also currently a paper-bound process that’s prone to errors, which create more work to be corrected. And there’s no backup documentation if something is called into question. This last process is still being evaluated to determine how it can be made more efficient.

But with the major/minor declaration form launched, and Chrome River well on its way, Sybil says that UR Better is planning to take on two new initiatives in the coming year. While they have high-scoring proposals that have already been submitted, they are open to new proposals, which can be submitted through a form on the UR Better website. There’s also a suggestion box in the Facilities area. “We’re looking for administrative processes, where we could organize how we do things at the University in a different way to make them better. What we look at is how much time can be saved, how much money could be saved, how much quality improvement is available, if there is any compliance or risk management component, or if it’s something that affects a lot of people.”

Sybil has worked at Richmond for a total of 11 years. She and Dustin are the project managers for the UR Better projects. They’re trainers, they create communication plans, and serve as business process consultants who analyze work processes to see how they can be improved. They also spend time looking at how other universities do their work to see how we might improve ours.

“If you have something where you feel there ought to be a better way to do it, let us know.”