The Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 7, 1999
September 7, 1999
VOL. 29, NO. 2


How Does Hopkins Do Business?

By Lois Perschetz
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Heard of the Business Process Improvement Committee? You will. In a wide-sweeping initiative that will examine everything about the way that Johns Hopkins does business--from buying copy paper and booking airplane flights to training academic leadership and administering grants--the university is putting its current practices under the microscope.

"Our principal mission is to better serve our customers," says Al Sommer, dean of the School of Public Health, who was appointed by President William R. Brody to chair the recently formed committee. "If we do it right, we'll save money."

Sommer, who will work closely with Senior Vice President for Administration Jim McGill, says he expects this process to run long term, "as a permanent and effective method for continuously improving administrative and business practices."

The customers of the institutions--faculty, staff and students--will be asked to be part of the process, helping to identify and prioritize specific problems that need attention.

"I've every reason to think that faculty and staff will soon begin noticing improved services and better facilitation of their work," Sommer says. "At the same time, we should realize significant financial savings from inefficiencies of the existing administrative systems that can be reinvested in academic pursuits."

Meeting over the summer for the first time, the committee began work on the initial stage of its charge by making two basic assumptions: It is not looking at Information Services at this time, and it is not looking at things that are exclusive to the hospital in its clinical role. Beyond that, everything is fair game.

To jump start the process, the committee has begun moving down two tracks: identifying high-priority issues that can be "fixed" in six months and others that can be improved within a year. At the same time, it has identified a complex group of interrelated issues that will take longer to dissect and determine the sequence in which things need to happen. A road map for the latter is expected to be in place within the next six months.

After studying hundreds of possible projects, the group determined that it would first examine five "quick fix" areas, each of them assigned to a specific task force chaired by a member of the committee. They are:

Mail Services, chaired by Audrey Smith, vice president for human resources;

Purchasing of Travel Services, headed by Gary Ostrander, associate dean for research, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences;

Standardize Purchasing of Selected Goods and Services, chaired by Candice Dalrymple, associate dean for external programs, Whiting School of Engineering;

Academic Leadership Training, headed by Robert Black, professor and chair, Department of International Health, School of Public Health; and

Financial Business Practices, chaired by Judy Reitz, senior vice president for operations, JHH.

Each task force will include one or two additional members of the Business Process Improvement Committee, which includes Paula Burger, vice provost for academic affairs and international programs; Stephanie Reel, chief information officer and vice provost for information technology; John Wierman, professor and chair, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Whiting School of Engineering; Herbert Hansen, senior associate dean for finance and administration, School of Public Health; Daniel Weiss, associate professor and chair, History of Art Department, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences; Jay Blackman, administrator, Wilmer Eye Institute, School of Medicine; Mark Heffernan, director, corporate services, JHPIEGO Corp.; and Stephen Golding, executive director for financial affairs, School of Medicine.

To get an idea of the breadth of this project--and its possible outcomes--one only has to consider a few statistics. Hopkins employees, for example, take 31,000 airplane trips a year. Each day, they work at more than 13,000 computers and talk into more than 32,000 telephones. One office of 20 workers typically uses 400,000 sheets of copy paper a year. Some departments use single suppliers or maintenance providers; others prefer to utilize several.

"We need to know what works and what doesn't," Sommer says. "We'll ask the functional question, not the form."

The Mail Services task force, for example, will examine both inter- and intra-campus mail as well as the use of various outside providers such as messenger services and mail carriers in an effort to expedite deliveries and lower costs. Purchasing of Travel Services will look at ways to leverage the combined purchasing power of the institutions while improving options for employees. At the same time, it will examine accounting procedures for such items as check requisitions and travel reimbursements.

Financial Business Practices represents one area whose aspects are more intricate and whose work plan, therefore, will take longer to develop. Accounts payable, purchasing, payroll processing, grant administration, post-award support of research and many other areas will be within the domain of this task force.

The executive committee, comprised of the chairs of the working committees, will meet monthly. The entire BPIC will convene at least quarterly. Its next session is scheduled for Sept. 29.