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Shared services praised at SUNY conference

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POTSDAM — SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam’s shared services initiatives were lauded by state college officials at a conference Thursday.

Representatives from about a dozen state colleges were invited to SUNY Potsdam for the “Harnessing Systemness” conference, the second in a series of meetings promoting shared services and cooperation among state colleges.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher coined the term “systemness” last year as a way of describing a stronger focus on collaboration between campuses.

“There is a long history of shared services, but they have been kind of disjointed,” said SUNY Chief Financial Officer Brian G. Hutzley, who attended Thursday’s conference.

While other schools look at ways to cut costs by merging offices, SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam are already ahead of the curve.

“They are a leader, both within the state and nationally,” Mr. Hutzley said.

Natalie L. Higley, Vice President for Business Affairs & Administration for both SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam, presented the day’s keynote address. She outlined the lessons learned from her year working for the schools as she oversaw efforts to rapidly establish a slew of shared services.

Her efforts did not go unresisted.

“When I came on board, nobody understood what shared services are. Nobody understood that they were a business process,” she said.

The resistance stemmed from fears that SUNY would hire a joint president for both schools. That idea was considered but eventually discarded.

“The concept was, would it be easier to share services with one president, but Canton and Potsdam showed that you can share services with two presidents,” Mr. Hutzley said.

In the last year, SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam have worked quickly to merge payroll, veteran’s affairs, university police and several other administrative positions. Their plans for the future are even more expansive, with talk of possible shared academic programs.

Ms. Higley warned that shared services must be approached with planning and purpose. They are not a quick fix, and without proper care, effectiveness might be accidentally sacrificed in the name of efficiency.

According to Mr. Hutzley, the entire SUNY system will be taking a closer look at shared services as a means to provide the best value for students.

“The cost of education should be a concern for everyone,” he said.

At Thursday’s conference, SUNY Potsdam President Dennis L. Hefner called for greater cooperation across the SUNY system as a whole, both to save money and to help students. He stressed the need for students to be able to transfer academic credits more easily between schools.

“We are the same system. We need to make sure credits from one institution can transfer to the others,” he said.

Mr. Hutzley said several initiatives are in the works to make moving between schools easier.

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