UC Berkeley’s high-cost effort to look into operational savings has just issued its first interim report. As outlined in the video above, or by looking through the slide deck, Operational Excellence has already identified numerous areas where more efficient structures or procedures could produce significant savings for the university.

When the Orwellian-sounding Operational Excellence launched last October, the one figure which attracted the most attention was the $3 million cost of the consultants working on the project, Bain & Company. Although the price stuck in my craw, I argued that it could be worth it. From the preliminary work, it looks as though the money will be well spent.

Some of the inefficiencies in the university are striking, even if the broad sweep of the initial conclusions will surprise no one who knows the institution. There is tons of bureaucracy: more than half of supervisors (excluding faculty) have fewer than three direct reports. IT, like so much, is radically decentralized — there are more than 900 servers in more than 50 buildings. Berkeley has one human resources employee (FTE) for every 58 FTEs, compared to 1:127 in the education sector in general. The university spends nearly $600 million on purchases each year, but makes insufficient efforts to take advantage of its buying power.

The final diagnostic results will be made available in April.

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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  1. This issue of multiple supervisors is a red herring: One of the few ways that a staff member can get a raise is to be reclassified; the job structure on campus is largely based on how many people you supervise. Sympathetic departments write a lot of “supervision” into staff members’ job descriptions for this reason. In reality there are hardly any lower-level or mid-level staff on campus whose main job is to supervise other staff. We all have our own processing to do, “supervision” takes up very little of an average day. So if you cut out the excess supervisors you have also eliminated the people who do hiring, financial processing, event coordination, student advising, process the creation and renewal of grants, make sure the buildings are safe, etc. etc.
    What seems to be the trend in university reorganizations is some model of “shared services” where staff get shifted around into supposedly more efficient combinations. At the end of the day, the same amount of work needs to get done, and unless the university is going to convince state and federal governments to require lower levels of compliance more staff will eventually be rehired when it is discovered that our business systems are all fouled up because there was nobody left to maintain them and nobody left to provide business practices oversight.