Overview of the Reengineering Project at MIT

MITís reengineering effort was begun in March of 1994 in response to the growing gap between the Instituteís income and its expenses. The definition of reengineering that we used is the following: Reengineering is the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of support processes to bring about dramatic improvements in performance. We defined good ďsupport processesĒ as having the following characteristics: they are simple, lean (with little non-value-added work), results-focused, and consciously organized to achieve goals.

Overall, MITís reengineering effort has attempted to simplify administrative processes while improving quality, enhancing customer responsiveness, and reducing costs. Thatís a tall order, and though we have had some important successes, we still have more to do to streamline administrative work and reduce expenses.

The following material gives a brief summary of the projects we undertook. More information is available in the articles and supplements in Tech Talk, MITís campus newspaper.


Some of our earliest reengineering efforts were in MITís Department of Facilities, which was then called Physical Plant. The redesign of Custodial Services resulted in the formation of 26 self-directed teams who are cleaning an additional 300,000 square feet of new buildings with no increase in the headcount. Weekday and weekend service were increased, again with no additional employees. Communication between customers and teams was improved with the use of electronic mail. Service measurements for quality, cost, communications, timeliness, and safety were established and are tracked on a monthly basis.

The redesign of Repair and Maintenance functions called for dividing the campus into five zones with a resident team in each zone to correct problems in the following kinds of systems: electrical, heating and cooling, structural and mechanical, and plumbing. Customers report problems or make requests for routine service via a form on the Web. (Emergencies are, of course, reported by telephone.) The mechanics have become very familiar with the buildings in their zone, and often spot potential problems before they become serious. In addition, the team members have a greater sense of accountability and connection to their customers.

The Mail Services redesign had a number of components that address the problem areas identified by the teams who reviewed mail processing at MIT. The redesign began with the hiring of a professional mail manager and the creation of a centralized Mail Services operation. We now have 36 Distributed Mail Centers across campus, where customers have 24-hour access to their mailboxes. This model replaces an inequitable delivery service in which a small portion of campus received desktop delivery while at the other end of the spectrum, some buildings received a single unsorted bag of mail. Mail Services also has negotiated service level improvements with external providers.

One of the essential elements of the redesign -- the centralization of outbound daily office mail -- is not yet complete because some departments are still handling their own outgoing mail. In order to take advantage of the maximum postal savings allowed by bar-coding and presorting, all of the Instituteís outbound mail must be processed through one point. The manager of Mail Services is currently working to broaden participation in this program, which also will reduce costs by eliminating departmental postage meters and their substantial annual fees in leases and maintenance contracts.

Supplier Consolidation

Our efforts in the area of Supplier Consolidation have included new ways of purchasing temporary help, office and laboratory supplies, bottled gases, furniture, publishing services, and most recently, computers and related supplies. By consolidating the number of external suppliers we use, negotiating volume discounts, and establishing partnerships with outside vendors, we have reduced not only our costs but also the paperwork involved in ordering and paying for these products and services.

After thorough reviews by several reengineering teams, MITís internal Office of Laboratory Supplies and the Graphic Arts offset printing and binding operation were closed. Though both of these organizations had provided good service to the Institute community, they had to mark up their costs in order to be self-supporting. The reengineering teams found that large and specialized outside vendors could provide office and laboratory supplies and printing services more economically. In addition, the MIT spaces formerly used for warehousing office and laboratory supplies and the building housing the printing plant are now available for other Institute operations.

Another project of Supplier Consolidation was the development of ECAT, MITís electronic catalog. It allows members of the community to place orders electronically with our partner companies, speeding the orders and reducing paperwork.

Management Reporting and the Installation of SAP R/3

The installation of MITís new financial system, SAP R/3, was the largest and most difficult project associated with our reengineering efforts. The software has now been installed throughout the Institute and is used by financial staff in central offices, academic departments, laboratories, and centers. Non-financial staff members tend to use a Web-based interface called  SAPweb that was developed at MIT. SAPweb allows the many employees and graduate students who do basic ďbuy/payĒ functions to use the Web, rather than having to learn the more complicated graphical user interface of SAP.

Student Services

Major improvements were made in the support services MIT provides to its students. Some of these projects included the establishment of the Student Services Center, electronic pre-registration for courses, on-line graduate awards and appointments, and major improvements in loan and financial aid processing. Another effort, combining Deanís Office and Facilities staff, involved an audit of all the space in the Campus Activities Complex, the Athletics department, and the residence facilities. The audit provides a tool for making decisions about deferred maintenance and capital renewal.

Human Resources

In June 1996, MIT convened the Human Resource Practices Design (HRPD) team to look into the issues and challenges of our changing work environment. Team members began their project with extensive community outreach to determine which of our HR practices needed improvement. This work led to the formation of five project teams that studied and made recommendations about the following: generic roles and competencies, orientation, performance management, recognition and rewards, and training policies and administration.

In addition, core team members of HRPD analyzed MIT's classification and compensation system and recommended major changes. That project was then assigned to the Compensation area of MIT's Personnel Office, which is in the process of developing a new, simplified system for the administrative staff.

The next phase of the overall HRPD project involved developing the recommendations into an integrated competency-based system for MIT and its employees. A small implementation resource team was formed in the spring of 1999 to work with MIT areas that will now pilot test the recommendations.

The Performance Consulting & Training team has offered several workshops on change management, and they identified and prepared a curriculum for the core technology training that employees will need. Workshops on both giving and receiving performance appraisals were developed and presented to more than 1,000 staff members. In the spring of 1996, MIT opened its Professional Learning Center, which is a multipurpose training facility. The Center is being used for core technology training and other computer courses, SAP classes, and professional development seminars for employees.

    Edited on June 1, 1999 by Janet Snover
Copyright © 1999. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.