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University of Virginia UVA Arts & Sciences Default

An Update on 'Ufirst' - the UVA HR Transformation Project

Apr 11, 2018

UVA Human Resources is undergoing a major transformation with the goal of improving the workplace experience for faculty, staff and student workers. The transformation project, called Ufirst, involves restructuring the HR organization and implementing a cloud-based, online technology platform called Workday.

“In the past, there were a lot of extra steps, manual transactions and workarounds that were being done because our systems that support HR work were so antiquated,” said Erica Perkins, a project manager and co-lead of the communication team in the Ufirst project. “[Employees] would have to log in to Jobs@, Lead@, and Employee Self-Service for different tasks, as well as Oracle and Discoverer to run reports.”

With Workday, Perkins said, all of those functions will be within one platform, available as icons when you log in. Through cloud technology, Workday has the infrastructure to maintain data security.

“If we were trying to maintain the technology here, we would have to host the server, to host the infrastructure to keep it protected from a security standpoint,” Perkins said. “Another nice thing about this particular cloud technology is that we get automatic updates. They’re constantly improving and helping enhance the user experience.”

On Feb. 22, the Ufirst team held a Workday preview for UVA’s academic division in Newcomb Hall; nearly 400 people attended.

“We provided demonstrations of how you might submit a time-off request, and how you will go find your W-2, and how you might make a change to your benefits—whatever the scenario might be,” Perkins said. “We also showed how recruiting works, for student hiring, faculty hiring, and staff hiring.”

The feedback, she said, was “overwhelmingly positive.”

“The system is really fast and wonderful to navigate, and people were quite receptive to the little things,” she said. For example, to apply for a job through Workday, “all you do is upload your resume, and it automatically populates the application for you.” As a manager, you can see your entire team in the system. “If someone requests time off, you can see where they’ve requested time off and where the rest of your team might be,” she said. “People have been doing these side workarounds to gather the information that is just automatic in the Workday system.”

Numerous universities have selected Workday for their HR systems, including Yale, Brown, Carnegie-Mellon, Cornell, Washington University, and Georgetown.

The Workday platform was originally scheduled to go live at UVA in July. Its launch was pushed back to January 2019 after the Ufirst team discovered issues with how the Workday system processes benefit deductions during a recent testing phase.

“We in Arts & Sciences recognize the importance of taking the time to make sure the new system works to its full potential—we know the University cannot implement a new system until it is fully functional, and we are grateful to our colleagues on the project who are laboring on our behalf to make it a success,” said Adam Daniel, senior associate dean for administration and planning.

Switching to a Single Team

Ufirst’s other major change is a restructuring of the existing HR organization. This decision stemmed from a 2015 Hackett benchmarking study that looked to improve the delivery of administrative services across the University. That led to a focus specifically on HR, as the need for change, Perkins says, was clear. Over 18 months, leaders in central HR and those embedded in schools and units held strategic discussions with deans, faculty members, and Health System executives. The result is a single HR leadership team that serves both the Academic and Health System divisions, with what Perkins and Ufirst call an “HR Solution Center” as its hub.

“You can call one number for any HR question you have and reach the Solution Center,” Perkins said. “And they are able to solve or route you to a specialist within 30 seconds.  You’re not put on hold.”

UVA HR employees have had their jobs shift over the past year as the structure of the organization has changed. Some are leaving the schools in which they’ve been embedded to become specialists in the Solution Center. “A lot of times in HR, folks have been spread quite thin and have had to know a lot about different things. In this particular model, we hone in on their expertise,” Perkins said. “You have compensation specialists, you have employee relation specialists. And we’ve ramped up the areas where there seems to be a need for more experts in a particular field to serve the organization.”

There will still be HR staff aligned with various schools and units. “In the past they’ve been called HR consultants or HR generalists,” Perkins said. “In this particular model, they’re referred to as HR business partners.” There is a network of experts within the HR organization that also align with schools and units and help support the business partners. “For example, recruiters and employee relations specialists, talent support folks,” Perkins said.

The business partners, Perkins said, are “the glue that binds,” helping to chaperone the network of specialists that are there to support each of the different schools and units. The majority of the business partner positions have been filled by HR professionals who were already working in an HR capacity at the University, Perkins said.

Four Arts & Sciences HR employees have transitioned to new roles in UVA’s Chief Human Resources Office. Debbie Mincarelli, the College’s former director of human resources, is now a senior HR business partner aligned with the Provost’s Office. Lori Willy, formerly an A&S HR generalist, is also a senior HR business partner, aligned with Curry, Batten, and the Comm School. Brandi Shifflett, a former A&S HR generalist, is an HR specialist in wage hiring. And Kati Runkle, the former A&S human resources coordinator, is now an HR assistant in talent support.

The incoming HR professionals to Arts & Sciences have not yet been named, although it is known that the College and Graduate School will share one of its business partners with the UVA Library.

“On behalf of Arts & Sciences, I want to express my deep gratitude to the team we have had the privilege of working with for many years, and wish them the very best in their new roles,” Daniel said. “Likewise, I am excited to have the opportunity to collaborate with our talented new business partners, who will bring a welcome combination of expertise and fresh perspective to our school.”

HR staff members are transitioning to their new roles all around Grounds, and training and support will be ongoing for them through this fall.

“Our famous line is ‘we’ve been building this airplane in the air,’” Perkins said of the massive organizational transformation. “We’re really excited to now be able to deliver HR services in a more secure and efficient way.”