Published on 2014/10/17

Shared Services: Bringing Efficiency from NASA to Higher Education

Shared Services: Bringing Efficiency from NASA to Higher Education
Moving toward a shared services model can reap major rewards for higher education institutions nationwide, spelling significant benefits for a wide range of stakeholders and the wider citizenry and economy.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is critical to the success of NASA’s strategic plan, as well as President Obama’s STEM policy. As the NASA strategic plan outlines, “To maintain a globally competitive Nation, our education programs develop and deliver activities that support the growth of NASA and the Nation’s STEM workforce, help develop STEM educators, engage and establish partnerships with institutions, and inspire and educate the public.”[1]

However, with the increasing cost of higher education, many Americans are being shut out of the education process. How many future generations will not have the opportunity to pick up the technical skills necessary to help NASA, and other technical organizations, to continue their mission of innovation and exploration?

This is where higher education could take a page out of our playbook.

Shared services delivery is a proven model that has produced considerable cost savings and/or cost avoidance to the private sector for more than 20 years. The public sector — i.e. the federal government, state governments and higher education (public and private) — has the opportunity to leverage a service delivery model that leads to cost efficiency and increased accuracy, promotes transparency of cost and performance and creates a bridge from continuous service improvement to service excellence.

The NASA Shared Services Center (NSSC) provides services to NASA in the areas of financial management, human resources, procurement and information technology by leveraging the shared services delivery model.  NASA recognized the benefits that the private sector was realizing by effectively employing the shared services delivery model to achieve efficiencies and cost savings; while at the same improving service quality and driving service value.  The NSSC, since its opening in 2006, has met or exceeded over 92 percent of its performance metrics with a customer satisfaction rating in excess of 95 percent. The NSSC is realizing nearly $20 million of savings per year and, by the end of 2015, is projected to have saved NASA over $200 million.

Higher education must overcome highly political climates to challenge the status quo and achieve efficiencies that free up critical resources to be invested in the primary organizational mission. The results will be a greater level of access by a more diverse U.S. population. Transparency, performance and cost must become more than just “buzz words” in higher education; they must become a part of the culture.

Choosing the right metrics helps to drive accountability, increase transparency and ensure service excellence. Creating and base-lining benchmarks to compare university systems affords the ability to understand and manage cost differences. Additionally, of value to bookkeepers, this approach supports the development of cost-containment strategies. Higher education must do its part to maintain access to this vital resource. Benchmarking across university systems to drive even greater efficiency for societal benefit and to the ultimate customer—the student—whether hailing from somewhere in the Deep South, Midwest, California coast or Northeast.

Incremental changes are taking place by implementing shared services on various public and private sector campuses, while transformational change should be taking place by implementing shared services within entire university systems.

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References

[1] “NASA Strategic Plan 2014,” National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2014. Accessed at http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/FY_2014_Strategic_Plan.pdf

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Readers Comments

Doug J. 2014/10/17 at 11:14 am

Newton has done a fine job of outlining the need for better performance metrics. I agree that metrics are our best answer to increasing public interest in transparency, staff concerns over reorganization and long-term strategic planning challenges. I would be interested in how NASA developed the metrics it did and how they were tracked and analyzed. Introducing such a process, even if on a small scale (e.g. by department) could be a first step for institutions to consider.

Sally Kerwin 2014/10/17 at 2:27 pm

Fascinating look at how NASA used a shared services model to realize efficiencies in certain areas. My institution is undergoing a transformation to this model as well, and this piece was like a “sneak preview” of some of the changes I’ll see coming down the pipeline.

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