The Johns Hopkins Gazette: January 22, 2002
January 22, 2002
VOL. 31, NO. 18


BPIC finds progress is 'tremendous'

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Leadership of the university and health system's Business Process Improvement Committee say "tremendous progress" has been made on some of the major business service-related problems that face the Johns Hopkins Institutions and that solutions already put into play will result in savings of more than $1 million this year.

BPIC chair Alfred Sommer, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, says that by bringing together individuals from across Hopkins' divisions, the committee was able to identify and solve many common problems in a relatively short span of time.

"We took on big issues and problems that individuals, sitting in their own silo, would have deemed impossible to handle and unsolvable," Sommer says. "The progress made so far has exceeded my wildest imagination. Everyone has worked enormously long and hard on solving some of these major issues and coming away with truly winning strategies and programs."

The BPIC, formed by President William R. Brody in summer 1999, was charged with examining everything about the way that Hopkins does business. In its effort to enhance customer service, the committee first determined five focus areas and assigned each a task force, which are financial business practices, travel services, group purchasing, academic leadership training and mail services. Recently, an additional task force was established to examine electronic document management.

In informal reports provided to The Gazette, the BPIC's five original work groups took stock of the long list of tangible accomplishments--from securing airline discounts to developing a new Web-based grant management system--made since the committee's founding.

Each BPIC task force worked in much the same way: Identify a problem, then come up with recommendations for a pragmatic solution.

The travel subcommittee, for instance, realized that based on the institutions' size and volume of travel, significant discounts could be had in this area. The university's total annual expenditures of travel-related services exceeds $46 million.

To date, the university has negotiated discounts ranging from 13 percent to 17 percent with USAirways, Northwest Airlines, United Airlines, Air Canada, Lufthansa, SAS and British Midland. The group also has secured discounts with Park-N-Go and Fast Park at BWI airport, Avis car rental, Amtrak for trips in the northeast corridor and hotels in the Baltimore metro area, in addition to the discounted hotel rates available through the Ivy Plus Travel Group and the State Universities of America.

In conjunction with the task force's efforts, the university's Office of Purchasing Services negotiated an agreement with the WorldTravel BTI to serve as the primary travel services partner for the Johns Hopkins Institutions. WorldTravel now provides a team of dedicated agents operating under the name Johns Hopkins Travel Center, which is located at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Currently, the university is looking into the possibility of a Web-based travel registration and booking system.

The Hopkins discounted travel rates and use of WorldTravel BTI are available to employees for personal as well as business trips.

The Group Purchasing task force focused its initial efforts on office supplies. The offshoot is a contract with Office Depot that on average provides a 15 percent savings on goods, with an expected annual savings of approximately $480,000. The arrangement is currently in place for university divisions and APL, and it is anticipated that the health system will convert beginning in mid-year 2002, after the completion of its current vendor contract.

Currently being discussed is the possibility of developing preferred vendor relationships for facilities supplies, cell phones and photocopiers and expanding the e-procurement system. Office Depot and Dell Computer are among the vendors currently offering online catalogs and ordering through customized Johns Hopkins Web sites.

The Financial Business Practices group recommended the implementation of new systems designed to streamline the account setup process and access to sponsored accounts. The results are BASIS, Budget and Account Setup Information System, and the recently unveiled AFI, Access to Financial Information. BASIS allows individuals and departments to set up accounts and budgets through their Web browser. AFI is a Web-based system that offers a direct and secure means for principal investigators and administrative staff at Johns Hopkins to peruse financial summaries--which are updated daily--of all their sponsored accounts. AFI had 400 users the day it debuted last week.

For the Mail Services task force, the goals were to reduce delays in campus mail delivery and to develop performance standards. Its recommendations have been approved in principle, and an implementation plan has been developed. One major recommendation is to provide greater coordination of the nine mail centers through the centralization of the JHU and JHH mail systems. However, because JHU and JHH are two separate corporations, several issues need to be addressed before implementation of the plan can move forward, which is expected to be early this year.

The Administrative Training for Academic Leadership task force has established a universitywide orientation program for new faculty, designed to complement the divisional programs already in place in some schools. The program, held at the start of the fall semester, introduces new faculty to the history and culture of the university and provides an overview of policies and issues. Under the auspices of the Provost's Office, it has now been presented twice.

The task force also recommended the development of faculty handbooks for those divisions that do not already have such resources, and urged the creation of specially designed training programs for those holding academic leadership positions. A committee is currently at work developing a curriculum for an executive leadership program, and it is anticipated that such a program would be implemented and offered on an annual basis for those assuming new leadership roles. The new program would not replace the successful Leadership Development Program, begun in 1997 and offered through the university's Center for Training and Education.

Sommer says the BPIC not only identified and solved important issues but has, in effect, helped change the culture at Hopkins.

"The process itself was important. People who didn't know one another before worked hand-in-hand to get things accomplished," Sommer says. "In that same spirit we will continue forward, with individuals being stimulated to think beyond their division and being pro-active."

Sommer adds that the BPIC has done what it set out to do.

"We felt from the beginning that if we could improve service, we could make people's jobs easier and save money at the same time," he says. "We are doing just that."

Asked what is next for the BPIC, Sommer says simply, "Further implementation and marketing." The more people who know about and use these new services and offerings, Sommer says, the greater the institutions' leverage will be at further reducing costs and improving service.

James McGill, senior vice president for finance and administration, says that the BPIC's success "has shown Hopkins at its best."

"It has shown what can occur when you get a group of bright, motivated people together to solve a problem," he says. "I commend everyone on the BPIC and also those people in the six working groups who supported the activities."

McGill says that the institutions are still toting up the savings that will occur from the actions taken so far, "but they will exceed $1 million a year easily." Members of the Hopkins community, he says, are invited to offer suggestions for other business practices that might be improved.

Details on specific travel services and purchasing arrangements can be found on the Purchasing Services' Web site, A site incorporating all BPIC programs will be launched soon.