Did you know that there are over 25 OBFS units? On January 12, 2015, OBFS welcomed the Contract Services Office (CSO). Prior to that time, the contracts section in the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Business and Finance on the Urbana-Champaign campus didn’t have an effective identity or clear name identifying its services. Nicole Stewart, Associate Director for Business and Finance, shares with us why their FY15 iACTion Plan was about creating an identity and getting the word out to their customers.
What does CSO do?
The Contract Services Office (CSO) drafts, reviews, negotiates, and executes certain types of contracts related to the business and administrative affairs of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign including:
- Revenue generating services agreements
- Facility use agreements
- Intergovernmental agreements
- Student placement agreements
- Athletic event agreements
- Publishing agreements
- Financial assistance and sponsorship agreements
- Various types of public affairs agreements
What was your goal?
When I (Nicole) first started in this office, one of the first things I worked on was the creation of the Urbana Contracts website. The challenge was finding a concise and effective way to state who we are and what we do. CSO was often confused for other offices. Customers, external partners and clients, and even other OBFS offices mistook us for Purchasing or University Counsel. We needed a clear and concise identity.
There was also no efficient way for campus customers to communicate with CSO, submit questions and requests. With the implementation of the Illinois Contract System (iCS), CSO was able to receive and process things electronically. Before iCS, contracts came to Coble Hall in paper (in triplicate and signed by hand) and processing was done via campus mail or “runners” (students or employees who hand-delivered contracts, or went from office to office obtaining all of the necessary signatures). All of this changed for the better with iCS, but not all campus units receive access to the system. CSO needed a better option for its non-iCS customers.
How is this goal being achieved?
First we needed a name for our unit that made sense to our customers. We brainstormed several possibilities, then took the list to the Business Advisory Committee (BAC), a sub-committee of the Urbana campus Business Managers’ Group. They voted and Contract Services Office was chosen.
Next, CSO got to work rebranding our website and developing communications to unveil it to the campus. In addition to updating the website (/contracts) with our new identity, CSO worked with the OBFS Web Team to assess whether customers could locate answers to common questions and find information quickly and easily. Additional changes to structure and content were made based on their feedback.
We also created a shared email account, UrbanaCSO@uillinois.edu, to allow all customers to submit their contracts and forms to CSO electronically, receive faster and more consistent responses, and eliminate the need to send runners or wait for campus mail delivery. It also enhanced staff cross-training, since all contract coordinators had access to the requests coming in. We created standard responses acknowledging receipt of a customer’s request and identifying the individual who would be assisting them with it, and established standard processes for flagging items, and a standard filing and archiving system.
What has been the impact on your customers?
Since the implementation of the new name, email address, and updated website, I think it’s become much easier for customers to understand who we are and how we can help them. We’ve committed to acknowledging messages received in the shared mailbox within two business days. We can’t always resolve an issue or turn a contract request around that quickly, but we can keep the channels of communication open and let our customers know that we’re working on their request. Of course, we all still receive questions and requests in our individual email accounts, as well. It’s hard to break old habits and, understandably, some things need to be sent to an individual, rather than to the group; however, we are funneling things to the CSO account and helping to reinforce that new communication method for our customers. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the updated website and the recent web-based training (Contracts 101: Urbana Contract Basics) we offered, which was recorded and will be posted to the website soon.
We are currently waiting for results from a survey of our customers to help us gauge the impact of our changes. We want to know whether our customer are experiencing better service from CSO as a result of the new tools we’ve employed. We also want to continue to use those new tools more effectively and more consistently. Our FY16 iACTion plan is focused on more targeted interactions, not just with our campus customers, but also with our partners in OBFS and UA. We’re still working on getting our name out there and helping people understand what we do and how we can assist them. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, but there’s still work to do.
For more information on the Contract Services Office, please contact Nicole Stewart at email@example.com or visit /contracts.