Case Study

Developing a shared service model of professional support across the School of Arts and Humanities

Many faculties in the School of Arts and Humanities are quite small, with correspondingly small administration teams. As a result, professional services staff in those faculties have historically had to be generalists, handling a wide range of business – e.g. HR – that in a larger faculty might be supported by specialists. The effect is that staff in these faculties can feel overburdened, and also that the services provided are not as efficient as they could be: administrators often have to ‘relearn’ specialised processes that they do not perform regularly, and there is not necessarily a pool of shared expertise to draw on in dealing with problems.  

As part of its strategic planning, the School has been looking to address these issues by moving towards a model of running some professional services as a shared resource at School level. The primary goal has been to deliver better services and to ease the load on faculty administrators but it is anticipated that over time, as the shared services model helps embed more efficient ways of working across institutional structures, this will lead to cost savings as well. Over the past two years, a School HR team and a School IT support team have been created and, building on the success of these teams, the School is looking at opportunities to further develop the shared services model through engagement with the Recovery Programme (Reimagining Professional Services project).  

Ben Warn, Acting Secretary of the School, said: “It was critical to the success of these initiatives that we took a long-term view and implemented them gradually, in partnership with faculties and departments. We also had sustained and positive support from senior leadership across the School, which is absolutely vital in initiating change of this kind.” 

Most departments and faculties in the School used to have just one member of IT support staff each. These individuals had to handle the whole range of a department’s IT needs – from jammed printers to cloud storage strategy – and had little contact with or support from other IT colleagues.  When the computer officer at the Faculty of Classics retired, the School had the opportunity to explore providing more joint services by reallocating the resource for that post to a central team. The School held discussions with a small number of faculties over the course of a year, to make sure they had fully understood the needs of academics and administrators and how a joint IT team would need to be designed in order to provide the service required.  

The team services five institutions in the School with seven staff at a range of grades, from apprentice up to Grade 8. This allows for specialisation – so there are technicians to deal with the jammed printers and specialists to deal with networking and cloud services - and also creates resilience in the case of staff absence or unexpected demands (such as those created by the pandemic). 

Andy Kingsley, SAHIS team lead, said: “Being in a team and able to work collaboratively is really important to the quality and efficiency of the service we are able to provide to our faculties. Because there are several of us, we can cover more hours on the helpdesk, we can be there quickly to sort out problems, and we have the capacity to plan and execute longer-term improvement projects that are not always easy to do for one person working on their own.” 

Ian Smeeton, the team’s networks specialist, said: “Before SAHIS was created I mostly worked on my own. Being in a team has made a huge difference to me: we share knowledge, help each other solve problems, and the camaraderie is great - we cheer each other up if someone is having a bad day.” 

Susan Gowans, administrator at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, said: “the support that the SAHIS team provide is absolutely second to none. We have dedicated support throughout the working day, which is responsive, agile and extremely knowledgeable. Our department functions better because of this team. They are friendly, obliging and solutions-oriented, offering practical advice that is tailored to our specific business needs.” 

Moving to this model has not just provided a better IT service to faculties within the School: it has also opened up new opportunities for collaborative working beyond the School. In the last eighteen months the School has developed a strategic partnership with Newnham College, so some IT staff are shared across the SAHIS team and the College (which is just across the road from the SAHIS base on the Sidgwick Site). At the same time, the efficiencies created by the shared services model have enabled the SAHIS team to engage with colleagues in other parts of the University: some team members are now helping the UIS network systems team to trial and evaluate new technologies, while others are exploring ways of collaborating with IT colleagues in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

Author: Hanna Weibye