Transforming Our Professional Services



November 2020: TOPS Programme Update

To support UCL’s response to the outbreak of coronavirus we reduced the size of the programme team by around 50% and aligned our focus with UCL’s crisis management structure, redirecting staff to help work on more urgent and high priority projects across the university driven by the need to respond quickly to the challenges posed by the pandemic. 

During this time we focussed on a series of key projects, embedded completed projects to business as usual functions, and considered how best the programme might support the university in the future.

January 2020: TOPS Programme update

18 months into the programme we shared an update on progress to date

July 2018 – onwards: Transforming our professional services via a series of change projects 

Since July 2018, we have been working hard to fix our underlying processes and systems, to offer more rewarding and fulfilling careers and improve value for money so we can reinvest back into the academic mission.

Jan – July 2018: Planning and preparing for implementation

In January 2018, we started to prepare for implementing changes by building up the TOPS Programme team, completing implementation planning and starting the priority projects.

Also, in this phase we incorporated your feedback on the detailed ideas for change (up until December 2017) into a final version of the design summaries. If you would like to read any of the final design summaries or the overall summary, please contact tops@ucl.ac.uk to request the document.

Sep – Dec 2017: Gathering feedback on the ideas for change

During the 2017 autumn term, we shared the emerging ideas for change with colleagues across UCL through nearly 100 engagement sessions.  

If you would like to read any of the detailed summaries capturing the feedback we received up to 8 December 2017, please contact tops@ucl.ac.uk to request the document.

During this phase we also ran a pilot to establish Communities of Practice, bringing together colleagues who work in similar professional areas to share knowledge, best practice and expand opportunities for career development. And we implemented some quick fix process improvements and process training in Finance, HR and CAM.

Jan – Jul 2017: Developing the ideas for change

We then began to engage with the community – hearing from more than 1,700 colleagues and students via workshops, world cafe events, surveys, drop-in sessions and focus groups. 

We gathered your feedback on the key issues with our processes, systems and ways of working as well as your ideas and suggestions for how our professional services can be delivered in a more effective way. We also heard about examples of best practice and where no change is needed.

What we heard:

Make basic tasks easy: You want the basics to work. You said you were frustrated that tasks which should be simple are complex, difficult to navigate and prone to error. We need to link up services more efficiently to make basic tasks easy to accomplish.

Help me to help myself: Engaging with professional services is perceived as too time-consuming and difficult and it’s not always clear who can help. Students want to use improved technology. We also need to improve signposting and support you to access simple services and information without getting bogged down in processes. 

Invest in technology: You want to be supported by better systems and technology. We need to ensure we invest appropriately in technology so systems can help instead of hinder.

Simplify processes: There are too many variations in processes that have apparently similar purposes across departments and institutes which are often complicated and time-consuming. We need to focus on making them simple.

Staff who meet our needs: You placed value in services being delivered close to the user of the service, whether that is a student, staff or someone else. We need local staff who understand your needs as well as expert problem-solving generalists.

Build a stronger service culture: We need to move towards a more service focused culture. UCL professional services should be asking ‘How can I help you?’ and be able to follow processes and compliance effectively without being subservient to them. 

More fulfilling careers: Building a strong career is high on your agenda, but you highlighted a lack of visibility of how to develop and/or advance your careers, especially for generalist staff who work within academic departments. We need to create an environment which supports our staff to develop and fulfil their potential and career aims.

Better use of resources: Resources are not being used in the right ways or in the right place – some areas are simply too stretched and too much time is being devoted to basic/routine services. We’re also over reliant on temporary staff and agencies.

Better buying: UCL could save time and money if we improved our procurement processes.

Flexible approach: You recognise the value in identifying ways to be more consistent but believe a “one size fits all” approach is wrong for an institution of UCL’s scale and breadth.

Show the evidence: You want to know that decisions are based on evidence.

If you would like to read the detailed ideas for change for one of the 12 professional services areas reviewed during this period, please contact tops@ucl.ac.uk to request the document.

Oct 2016 – Jan 2017: Establishing the TOPS Programme 

Colleagues across UCL completed the UniForum Service Effectiveness Survey – which benchmarks professional services costs and user satisfaction across higher education institutes in the UK and globally – in 2015 and 2016. These early results placed UCL at the bottom of the Russell Group.

The Transforming our Professional Services (TOPS) programme was established in October 2016, partly in response to the initial survey results and with an aim of improving service effectiveness in order to increase satisfaction.

We began by establishing a small TOPS Programme team, defining our aims and vision and setting up the TOPS Executive Committee to govern the programme.