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Transforming our Professional Services (TOPS): How to get involved in the autumn term

By ucypasm, on 4 October 2017

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In the 20 July 2017 edition of The Week@UCL, we shared what we had heard so far on the TOPS programme. This included feedback from 1,700 colleagues on the key issues you face and your ideas for improving professional services.

Throughout the autumn term, we will continue talking and listening to you all – professional services colleagues, academics and students – again to test and gather feedback on the ideas for improving professional services.

To launch this activity, we wanted to provide a reminder of the ideas, explore these in a bit more detail and let you know the ways you can get involved to share your thoughts and feedback.

Your ideas about the future of professional services

Here is a reminder of the key ideas we heard along with a bit more detail on what these could mean:

Your ideas about the future of professional services   What this could mean
Make it simple: UCL processes are often complicated and time-consuming. We need to focus on making them simple. Whether it’s accessing advice and support needed to administer grants and funding, bidding for minor estates works or setting up research contracts, complex processes could be easier to navigate and streamlined. We could develop and train teams, who could then train others, to improve processes on an on-going basis.

We’ve already invested in LEAN practitioner training for colleagues in HR and process improvement training for colleagues in Finance and Business Affairs. And in CAM we’re starting some early process improvements including reducing the steps taken, from 43 to 12, for how we create and manage our subject-specific email communications to prospective students.

Money for systems: We need investment in techology so systems can help instead of hinder. Substantial investment in systems is essential for the future of professional services and to support the changes needed to make processes simpler. Investment could be made for Portico, estates, linking of finance and HR data and better reporting.
Make basic tasks easy: We need to link up services more efficiently to make basic tasks easy to accomplish.


Whether it’s recruitment and contract support, processing expenses or reporting problems with teaching space, simple processes that are repeated time and again across UCL could be brought together. There is an opportunity to support one another, better manage peaks and troughs and deliver these processes through a new service model.
Staff who meet my needs: Faculties and departments want local professional services staff who understand their needs and can deliver to their timescales.  As well as specialists, they want expert problem-solving generalists who can make things happen across a range of professional services. For most professional services areas, colleagues could be embedded within faculties and departments to provide immediately available support and advice.

For expert generalists, we could invest more in training and development and provide a clearer view for how colleagues in these roles could develop skills and progress their careers.

Help me to help myself: You want to access simple services and information to get your job done without getting bogged down in processes. We’ve also heard from students that they want to use improved technology in a range of areas. More activities, for example HR services, room booking or accessing handy statistics, could be automated and completed on a quick and easy self-service basis to align to expectations for how technology can be used in our everyday lives.

To save time and improve the student experience, more student services could be accessed on a self-service basis such as enrolment, module selection and registering attendance.

Better buying: UCL could save time and money if we improved our procurement processes. Substantial savings could be made if we improve how we buy things. By getting better value for money on the things we buy, we could invest the savings back into the academic mission.
Great careers: Building a strong career is high on your agenda. More investment could be made in development and training for professional services colleagues.

Clearer career pathways could provide a more structured approach to your personal development and greater visibility of how to develop and/or advance your skills, expertise and careers. And, better planning could mean you are supported when your workload increases at busy times in the academic year.

We have already started a fantastic pilot for Communities of Practice, bringing together colleagues who work in similar professional areas to share knowledge, best practice and expand opportunities for career development.

How can I help you: UCL professional services need to build a stronger service culture.


Greater transparency, when you use a professional service, could help manage expectations so you know when you will receive a response and how long it will take for the activity to be completed. This could be supported by better reporting and monitoring against service standards.
Get flexible: We’re overreliant on temporary staff and agencies. Significant savings could be made by managing our own bank of multi-skilled workers who can be deployed wherever there is need.
What’s the evidence?: You want to know that decisions are based on evidence. UCL could provide better and more accessible data to help make decisions. Better performance data would allow us to check if decisions were effective and make it clear who is accountable.

How to get involved in the autumn term

We would really like to hear your thoughts on the ideas for the future of professional services. This will help us to check that what we have heard is accurate and to understand if there are any further issues.
cop-internal-communications-image-1.1We’d also like to discuss how some of the emerging ideas might be framed into options for implementation and to understand how these ideas could work in divisions, institutes, departments and faculties as well as different professional services divisions. This will help us to understand where and why things need to be different to meet local circumstances and where they need to be consistent so that things work properly for everyone.

To that end, there are a number of ways you can get involved in the autumn term including:

  • Come hear more about the ideas for change and share your thoughts

The TOPS programme team, and UCL Senior Management Team (SMT), will be attending meetings across the university to share the ideas for change and gather your feedback. We are working with the SMT and Engagement Coordinators to agree a schedule of events for each faculty, professional services division and Vice Provost office. As and when dates and times are agreed these are posted on our website here.

  • Take a look at the information on our website and share your feedback online

Here you’ll find a series of documents outlining the ideas for change for each professional services area. We would welcome your thoughts on the ideas for change for any of the professional services areas and have some specific questions we need your help to answer. You can share your thoughts via one of our online surveys.

  • Contact the TOPS team to share your feedback directly

You can contact the TOPS team at tops@ucl.ac.uk to ask any questions or share your feedback on the ideas for the future of professional services.

Next steps

Throughout the autumn term, we will also be spending some more time with SMT to discuss the ideas for the future of professional services and share the feedback we have heard from you all.

We will also work through some of the options, and priority areas, for implementation in 2018.

We will be back in touch towards the end of the calendar year to provide more detail on what we have heard and what happens next.

If you have any questions please contact the TOPS programme team at tops@ucl.ac.uk.


Rex Knight, Vice-Provost (Operations) and Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs)


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