Transforming Our Professional Services


An update on the TOPS Programme

13 November 2020

Over the past few months, the TOPS Programme has been supporting UCL’s response to coronavirus, focussing on a series of key projects, embedding completed projects to business as usual functions, and considering how best the programme might support the university in the future.

Photo of the Portico

After a year as HR Director, in July this year I had the privilege of additionally joining the TOPS team as programme director. Service excellence is close to my heart, having led a number of customer focussed transformation programmes in previous roles. 

At UCL it is clear that we have a big opportunity to create sector leading processes and systems, which will free up time and energy to focus on our academic mission. Whilst Cubane benchmarking now puts UCL professional services at the median level (up from lower quartile in 2016), there is still much work to do if we want to create end-to-end services befitting of a global top ten Higher Education Institution.

The list of progress and achievements in this update is a tribute to the drive and determination of the TOPS team and our colleagues in faculties, central professional services and VP offices. I would also like to thank my predecessor Tom Rowson whose vision for the programme made so much of this possible.

Matthew Blain, Director of HR and TOPS Programme Director

Responding to coronavirus 

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. 

Members of the TOPS team supported our education and business planning for this year, initially as members of the Gold, Silver and Bronze workstreams, before feeding into the Education and Operations Delivery groups and providing insight into our processes and ways of working gained through the past few years of the programme. 

During this time we paused work on the Staff Recruitment project after finalising the design of the future system and processes (which are ready to pick up again early next year), and paused the Timetabling project while the project team focussed on supporting the timetabling of our UCL Temporary Operating Model. We also stopped regular communications about the programme and redirected our comms team to support the main UCL Communications and Marketing team, and more than a dozen staff volunteered to support the admissions teams with their increased workload as a result of the late government changes around exam results.

Improving services and supporting the community

While some of the activities and objectives within the TOPS Programme have been reconsidered in response to the changing priorities and needs of the university, we have been continuing work to achieve the TOPS Programme aims to deliver service improvements and to support the community, and have successfully transitioned a number of projects to business as usual functions at UCL. 

Improving value for money and efficiency.

Following the outbreak of coronavirus and in light of the financial sustainability targets we need to achieve this academic year, we reviewed plans for the Procurement project. Supported by TOPS but led by the new Procurement Team, we’re now working in partnership with faculties and professional service teams to deliver savings as well as to develop the Procurement function so that we can better adapt and respond to ongoing financial and environmental pressures into the future.

The project has been engaging widely with stakeholders and users across UCL and helping us make savings by renegotiating contracts, consolidating our approved supplier list, and improving processes, while also responding to the impact of coronavirus in areas such as travel. The team are working hard on driving up the service levels from our suppliers through the introduction of professional contract management, in addition to seeking increasing value for money.

More effective professional services

The last few months have reinforced the importance of reimagining the way we work, and the value of making transactional processes straight forward and efficient so we can focus more on specialist support to students and staff.

Through the Finance Transformer we’ve been improving our finance systems and processes including introducing digital student expenses. By enabling students to submit claims online in much the same way as staff, we’ve removed a manual process for approximately 13,000 claims a year substantially improving the experience for all involved. We’ve also improved support for postgraduate students by introducing more frequent monthly stipend payments, and have simplified processes around grant funded approvals in MyFinance - reducing the administration attached to approving 100,000 requisitions and 35,000 expense claims per year.

The PS Hub is now an independent function at UCL made up of over 120 colleagues from across professional services and focussed on providing aligned and customer-focused services and service improvement. They set up the COVID Helpline in May to support staff and students with their concerns about coronavirus, and feed into the Coronavirus Information Hub, fielding over 2,000 queries to date.

Through the Digital Services Enablement project, we have delivered a platform that enables UCL to develop our own web and phone applications quickly and efficiently. Since transitioning to ISD in June, the platform has supported UCL to respond rapidly to the outbreak of coronavirus by enabling the development of UCL Together, the Staff Wellbeing Survey, and Connect to Protect. And through the Identity and Access Services project we have developed a plan to improve access to all UCL services and services and have put together a business case for future consideration.

More fulfilling careers for professional services staff 

We have progressed our objectives to provide more fulfilling careers, and create an environment in which our staff can personally develop and fulfil their potential, through the development and delivery of the Career Frameworks and Ways of Working projects and establishing 20 Communities of Practice. These key projects are now all successfully embedded in business as usual and sit within HR, who continue to develop them.

Throughout the pandemic the Faculty Futures team have been working with HR on the development and delivery of training to support faculty staff including delivering circles of influence training to 230 people, and developing e-learning modules on capacity building. We’ve been supporting faculty leadership by running four Change Management training bootcamps and developing a change management e-learning course. We’ve also continued to developed the support available for technical staff as part of the technicians agreement including updating UCLs HEaTED membership and launching the Technical Staff sharepoint site.

The Research and Innovation Transformer team have been supporting the Research and Innovation Community across UCL through a range of projects including helping Research Services to develop a new online training course ‘Fundamentals of Research Funding Management’ and supporting faculties with complex bids and projects by piloting a Research and Innovation Business Partner model. We’ve also developed plans to pilot innovation support services in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences and Faculty of Medical Sciences, and have been working with the community to consider options to further enhance Research Management IT systems so they can be used support broader set of non-sponsored research and innovation activities.

Continuing to support our services

We have also established the foundations for more integrated and accountable service delivery by establishing and handing over two projects to the Planning team. The Service Catalogue was built in collaboration with PS teams across UCL to help organise and describe the services provided by professional services teams within the university, and we designed and tested our first Service Partnership Framework for managing the performance and improvement of our professional services. 

The aims and objectives of the TOPS Programme remain as important and valid as ever – we need effective, efficient and integrated professional services to support us to continue achieving academic excellence, sustain our position as one of the top ten universities in the world and ensure UCL is an environment in which our staff can personally develop and fulfil their potential. However it’s also important that we respond to the changing internal, sector and global context we find ourselves in. 

Over the next few months we will be considering the lessons learned throughout the TOPS Programme so far, and engaging with colleagues across UCL to explore how we can best achieve our objectives, both at a programme level and through individual projects. There are some exciting opportunities for TOPS to respond to, and we will update you on progress in due course.

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Contact us

If you have any feedback, suggestions or thoughts about any of the TOPS Programme projects please get in touch.