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Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS)

Benjamin Meunier3 January 2018

It has been some time since I last wrote about TOPS, so as we start the New Year, I would like to provide a brief update. But first, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year and all the best for a successful 2018.


As a reminder, the vision for the TOPS programme is for UCL to provide effective, efficient and integrated professional services that enable us to achieve our vision of academic excellence, sustain our position as one of the top ten universities in the world and create an environment in which our staff can personally develop and fulfill their potential.


The TOPS programme has been set an initial list of priorities to start work on in 2018, which were outlined by the Provost in December. These include:

• Research and innovation support services

• Improving the student experience

• Relieving the pressures on the Bloomsbury estate

• Improving procurement practices to enable more investment in the academic mission

• Making better use of our estate

• More fulfilling and rewarding careers


Thankfully, more detail is emerging from the TOPS programme following consultations conducted 2017 with over 1,700 staff and students at UCL. The ideas are developing into more practical objectives, from the high-level aspirations listed above.

These ideas are described on the TOPS webpages: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/transforming-our-professional-services/tops-emerging-ideas. There are few references to Library Services specifically, except to note our enabling and supporting role within “UCL Research Support” (under the Research Support Services tab).  Library Services is not one of the areas which TOPS is looking to transform, as I have mentioned in previous posts this recognises the high quality of our services and the levels of satisfaction with the Library from our diverse user groups. Nonetheless, many of the strands of TOPS are pertinent to Library Services, as a department and as members of UCL staff. For each of the areas which TOPS is focusing on, there is a PDF file which provides some detail about the emerging ideas. Within these documents, a brief summary sets out what the TOPS team heard from a large number of colleagues regarding the issues they are facing, for example around Estates, IT, Finance or People services – these are challenges which are shared across UCL (you may recognise these from your own experience) and which TOPS aims to address.

There have been some changes in the Programme Team and Tom Rowson has taken on the role of Programme Director, in addition to his role as Director of Planning. Tom will work with his team and the TOPS Executive Group to take forward the TOPS programme in 2018.

Feedback from the latest round of consultation is due to be published on 19/01. I will send an update once this is made available. 



Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS): SMT meeting on 07/06

Benjamin Meunier9 June 2017

As previously advertised, the Library SMT hosted a presentation and Q&A session from the Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS) consultant on 7th June. Gillian Magee, who is heading design work for TOPS, outlined the objectives of the programme, the emergent service models and the likely implications for Library Services.

The background for TOPS is the fast growth of UCL over the past 10 years, and recognition that some Professional Services are struggling to catch up with demand, as identified in the Cubane survey conducted in 2016. As many of you will already be aware, TOPS has 3 key objectives:

  • To establish more effective services and a more satisfied UCL community
  • To provide clearer career pathways and more fulfilling careers for staff
  • Improving Value for Money and Efficiency in Professional Services to enable greater investment in the academic mission of UCL

20160930_122427Gillian stressed that Library Services was not a focal area for TOPS, since there is evidence of the high levels of satisfaction from our user community. (As previously noted on this blog, benchmarking data indicates that UCL Library Services offers excellent Value for Money.). Through the TOPS consultations undertaken since January on various workstreams, very little feedback has been received by students or staff in relation to the library. Comments which have been received have been overwhelmingly positive. The main demands for improvement which were raised to the TOPS team included providing 24/7 access to libraries and more study space. Neither of the issues above are revelations to Library colleagues, and sadly they are out of scope for TOPS, although I would note that solutions are being pursued separately through bids for additional opening and ongoing work with Estates to increase our numbers of study spaces, including new computers at the Institute of Education Library.

In terms of the impact of TOPS on Library Services, there are 2 aspects envisaged by the TOPS team:

  • the effects of TOPS on Library Services as a customer of other Professional Services (HR, Finance, Estates, etc.)
  • defining any areas of Library Services which should be preserved, or areas where changes are required in line with the Library Strategy and UCL 2034. Specifically, this relates to preserving what works well where Library Services delivers excellent services or acts as a partner in providing services (Research Support services and Teaching, Student Support and Education administration), so that any changes are not to the detriment of the user experience.

To manage the first of the two impacts outlined above, Jennifer Brown (Departmental Administrator), Andy Pow (Head of Library Finance) and Jay Woodhouse (Facilities & Projects Manager) are being invited to participate in the relevant TOPS workstreams to represent the needs of our department in the process. The main area which TOPS is looking into for Library Services has been identified as establishing a blueprint for future mergers, to facilitate integration of local library services into the Library. TOPS are acutely aware of the need to avoid damaging links between Library teams and others involved in supporting research and teaching, and this will be a key consideration as they develop service models for other parts of UCL’s professional services.

The overall message from the presentation and the answers to our questions was that TOPS recognised the efficiency of the Library as a service provider and was not looking to initiate major changes to the department. There are a number of areas of Professional Services which are expected to be “transformed” (in line with the title of the programme), however for Library Services the approach is “light-touch”. Information on the TOPS webpages will be updated to reflect this in due course.

Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS): share any Library staff ideas or queries to TOPS team

Benjamin Meunier31 May 2017

The latest briefing on Transforming Our Professional Services has been released and is available at TOPS_LeadershipBriefing_Edition8_v1.0.

Some responses from UCL academics on the research support services offered by Library Services

Some examples of feedback from UCL academics on the “responsive and helpful” research support services offered by Library Services.

Since my last update, two colleagues from the Library Senior Management Team (June Hedges, Head of Liaison and Support Services, and Kate Cheney, Head of Site Library Services) attended the TOPS “world café event” on Research Support for academics, which was held on 24/05. Feedback from academics about the Library’s Open Access work and support for researchers was very positive, including references to subject librarians and local support across UCL.


As previously advertised, the Library SMT meets on 7th June and TOPS will be presenting on their findings in relation to Library Services and any potential impact. Given TOPS’ goals to enhance UCL processes and efficiency of many central UCL services including HR, Finance, IT and Estates, I believe we can expect to benefit from the programme.

I am arranging to meet separately with Geoff Dunk, Faculty Manager for Brain Sciences and one of the Design Leads (in tandem with Paul Ayris) for the TOPS Library Services work stream, since Geoff cannot join the Library SMT meeting. Following these two meetings, we will be in a better position to clearly explain how the Library workstream will be progressed, in line with the principles previously outlined by Paul Ayris and myself. The current functioning of the library, which perform very well, should not be disturbed by any new TOPS arrangements. Where there are opportunities to deliver better services in partnership with Professional Services, for instance in the areas mentioned in my previous paragraph, these should be pursued.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about TOPS?

If there are aspects of TOPS which you feel would be particularly helpful to explore further within Library Services or if you would like to submit any suggestions or queries to the TOPS team ahead of the meeting next week, please either contact me before 06/06 or, if you wish to share ideas with the TOPS consultants directly, you can write to Lee Bakewell.

Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS) update

Benjamin Meunier19 May 2017

The seventh edition of the TOPS Fortnightly Leadership Briefing is available online:


The TOPS team will now be coming to the Library SMT meeting on 7th June to outline the work which they are undertaking and discuss how this relates to Library Services. If you have any questions for the TOPS team, please let us know and we can ask these on your behalf at the meeting.

I had a briefing meeting with our TOPS consultant earlier this week and was satisfied to hear that the anecdotal feedback TOPS have received at UCL about Library Services has been consistently positive; I believe that this reflects the commitment of staff to providing an excellent service. It is understood that current library operations, which perform very well, should not be disturbed by any new TOPS arrangements.

Library colleagues in the relevant teams will be formally invited to participate in the Finance, People/HR and Estates workstreams to consider the impact and opportunities for the improvement of services at UCL where Library Services is an internal customer.

All Library Services staff are welcome to submit ideas for improvements in the following areas:

Information and Technology Services Submit my ideas!
Planning, Policy and MI Services Submit my ideas!
Legal Services Submit my ideas!
Culture Services Submit my ideas!
Communication and Marketing Services Submit my ideas!

Some colleagues may be aware of a survey about the Library which was open on TOPS’ Vision and Design site (alongside the areas listed above). This was erroneously opened without input from Library Services and has now been de-activated. Library Services senior colleagues are in discussion with TOPS about how we might engage with a workstream focused on the research lifecycle (which starts with researchers identifying and applying for funding and concludes with communicating research outputs, including publication management).

Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS) update

Benjamin Meunier3 May 2017

The latest TOPS Briefing has been published and is available here: TOPS_LeadershipBriefing_Edition6_v1.0

UCL’s Senior Management Team discussed the initial outputs from the TOPS design phase on 3rd May (today). Further discussions in the coming months will help to refine the appropriate delivery model for different services at UCL and how TOPS can be implemented to improve professional services to support the academic mission.

The attached briefing references “the second wave of service design workstreams”, including a Library services workstream. The Library is light touch as far as TOPS is concerned. In line with Customer Service Excellence principles, we already deliver services consistently across UCL. As we have previously highlighted, the family of libraries within UCL Library Services contributes to an overall library strategy for UCL, with a unified budgetary process and a joined-up reporting structure for all colleagues. Indeed, I have received reports that the TOPS consulting engagement partner spontaneously mentioned Library Services as an example of best practice in terms of service ethos, in a recent workshop from a different workstream!

The focus of discussions between Library Services and the TOPS team has been very much on interfaces with Professional Services units, to enable us to sustain and improve on our already excellent service. There are no plans for Library Services workshops to be run. Instead, the TOPS consultants will be visiting the Library SMT/Leadership Team on 15th June to test the TOPS model with us.

Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS)

Benjamin Meunier31 March 2017

Learning about TOPS

As you already know, UCL is embarking on an initiative called Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS). This project will develop options for how Professional Services at UCL operate. Professional Services include all administrative support functions, from departmental office teams, to Finance and HR, Careers, and Student & Registry Services, amongst others.

As Paul Ayris explained in his posting on 27/03, “the UCL family of libraries is one family, contributing to an overall library strategy for UCL, with a unified budgetary process and a joined-up reporting structure for all colleagues. All this is fully in line with the ambition of the TOPS programme.” We are working to ensure that the excellent work of our current library operations should not be disturbed by any new TOPS arrangements.

The TOPS Team are launching a series of opportunities for all staff and students to ask questions and give feedback about the proposed options for Professional Services. The first of these is an online student survey, which is currently open. In addition to the survey, there will be an in person consultation event specifically for students in June following the conclusion of the exam period. Invitations will be distributed for this event via Faculties, and details of the event will be posted on the TOPS website when they are finalised.

Results from this survey and the other consultation exercises with students and staff will feed into the final proposal in June when the consultation period ends. At the end of June the programme will present options for the future vision and design for professional services. This will include high level options for how the professional services operating model could work. The UCL Senior Management Team will discuss which option is right for us and how this should be implemented. Implementation of some of the agreed changes could begin from the start of the next academic session (September 2017).

You can find out more:

·       At the dedicated TOPS webpage, including presentation slides from previous events (under “Resources”)

·       Email the TOPS team at 


Networked Organisational Communities as a Transformation Tool

I attended a lunch and learn event earlier this week on Networked Organisational Communities as a Transformation Tool. The emphasis was very much on the “learn” aspect and food for thought was the only sustenance provided. The hors d’oeuvre was a presentation from Faith Wainwright, Head of Skills and Knowledge at Arup. One of the founding principles of Arup, which is a global engineering firm, is that professionals from different disciplines come together to work on projects. In what is known as Ove Arup’s Key Speech, he set out a vision for a practice where experts in their respective fields work together to deliver an outcome which is better than what would have been produced had each specialism worked in isolation.

In her role, Faith oversees the organisation’s focus on networking & communities in practice. What that means, effectively, is that she helps specialist teams around the world in a particular discipline (like fire, materials or environmental analysis) to meet and exchange their knowledge and good practice. These networks of staff who share expertise and interest in a particular area complement the teams defined by the organisational structure. In establishing communities of practice, Faith made the point that it would be very easy to go “strategizing” but people love to talk about what they do, so her approach has been to create opportunities for people to tell others about what they do, and that in itself has allowed Arup staff to express their creativity and innovation. Faith’s key ingredients for managing communities of practice were: training, funding, leadership and management.


The main course was a two-part presentation by King’s College London (KCL) colleagues on Professional networks and transformative initiatives, by Laura Clayton – Director of Planning & Transformation at KCL and Ian Barrett – Director of Administration for KCL’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

Laura explained the rationale for establishing professional networks:

–          Frequently observed duplication of work across different units of work at King’s

–          High turnover of emerging talent, who could not see a career pathways through the organisation

Individuals felt pulled between different teams and the sheer volume of work was unsustainable. KCL senior management also hoped that having communities of practice would help demonstrate and develop the expertise of professional services teams which support academic mission.

KCL have set up 11 named professional networks established so far, each has a lead or co-lead (encouraging partnership between faculties and central services) and also a sponsor from senior management. Each network can have multiple goals, either related to their area or broader institution-wide improvements. For instance, their Business information group is looking to launch a Hackathon sponsored by Microsoft to look at ways of developing “King’s by numbers” visualisations.


Ian gave a detailed perspective on the Programme Administration Network (PAN) which he co-chairs with a senior manager from King’s central Registry & Student Administration. The network has been in existence for around one year and experience of running networks is “messy and contested, but that is ok and can be a good thing”. Ian noted that this type of initiative, in order to be successful, has to go “where the energy is” and “where the productivity can be”. The context for his network was the “One King’s” Journey, moving from local manual processes to standard processes underpinned by enterprise systems. Their network comprises 350 staff across central professional services and faculties. A Steering Group of 18 staff helps to lead the work. In terms of progress to date, Ian explained that they started with a 2-day away day for the Steering Group, established a Sharepoint site, held launch event, launched newsletter, and ran a full-day PAN conference for 350 staff with 35 sessions.  There is now a sense of momentum building and the network is working to prepare a career development framework alongside an integrated training programme for all staff involved in programme administration.


As the lunch and learn session came to a close, the pudding substitute was a Q&A session where UCL staff who had attended the session then asked questions to the panel, to try and learn any lessons which might apply to TOPS. One question was how did King’s fund this initiative, with the away day, conference and other activities all requiring resources. Ian explained that there was no major central budget but that faculties had invested a bit of their non-pay budgets into the Programme Admin Programme. They found that even a modest budget had enabled them to make some significant inroads towards improving their communication and start looking at ways of making their processes more efficient. I asked how they avoided duplication between workstreams, since 11 networks working towards similar high-level objectives might find themselves undertaking parallel work. Laura explained that all the Network leads meet quarterly, and report back to the Professional Services Executive. Their work also informs the institutional Planning round. Slides from all the presentations will be added to the TOPS webpage in the near future.


I will continue to inform you and will work to ensure that Library Services engages with the TOPS process. Faculties are being encouraged to promote TOPS with students, since it is important that UCL students and staff help shape these changes as a community. I would encourage you to keep an eye on the TOPS News & Events page, where you can find information on forthcoming information sessions open to all staff.


TOPS and UCL Library Services

Paul Ayris27 March 2017


As colleagues will know, UCL is currently investing time and energy in developing a TOPS programme for improving the delivery of professional services across UCL. With the move of UCL Library Services into the Office of the Vice-Provost (Research), an important task has been accomplished by  ensuring that the mission and vision of the Library are fully aligned with the educational and research ambitions of UCL. To deliver this, the UCL family of libraries is one family, contributing to an overall library strategy for UCL, with a unified budgetary process and a joined-up reporting structure for all colleagues. All this is fully in line with the ambition of the TOPS programme.

The Dome, Wilkins Building, UCL

The Dome, Wilkins Building, UCL

From 1 April, I have asked Ben Meunier as Director of Operations to be the operational point of contact between the TOPS Team, UCL Professional Services and the Library, following separate meetings which the TOPS Team are having with the Vice-Provost (Research) and with me as Pro-Vice-Provost. It will be important to ensure that current library operations which perform so very well should not be disturbed by any new TOPS arrangements. Ben’s role going forward will be to ensure that the principles of TOPS, which have been agreed with the TOPS Team, are implemented and sustained.

I understand, of course, that until the full operating model for TOPS is known, colleagues may feel apprehensive. It is currently planned that the new operating model will be made available during Summer 2017. Any colleague who has immediate questions about TOPS should contact Ben Meunier, who can offer advice and ensure that your concerns are reflected in ongoing discussions.


Dr Paul Ayris

Pro-Vice-Provost (UCL Library Services)