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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Carolina Counts reaps $58 million in savings


Graphic: Max Englund

In spring 2008, when an anonymous donor funded a private outside study to explore ways the University could be run more efficiently, it was difficult to imagine the dividends – in the form of cost savings – that would come of it.

And no one predicted that in October, on the cusp of a presidential election, the national economy would teeter on the edge of a depression, or that the housing market would soon collapse and millions of U.S. jobs would disappear.

Nor could Holden Thorp have known, when he became chancellor in July 2008, that the University would face cuts in state appropriations each of the five years he was in office, including a $100.7 million cut in 2011–12 alone.

The effects of the Great Recession hit North Carolina – and this campus – hard.

But the impact might have been even more drastic if not for the study completed by Bain & Company, which grew into a campus-wide initiative called Carolina Counts. Mike Patil, the executive director of Carolina Counts, spearheaded and continues to lead the effort.

In its first full year of implementation (2009–10), Carolina Counts tracked cost savings of $21 million per year in the recurring state-funded budget. For the fiscal year just ended, Carolina Counts reached recurring savings of $58.1 million per year in state funding. During the past four fiscal years, the cumulative savings stand at $160.1 million in state funding.

Patil said there are two important points to remember behind these impressive figures.

First, the University did not undertake these efficiency measures in response to budget cuts. Carolina Counts was set in motion the summer before the economy collapsed.

Secondly, the credit for the significant savings does not belong to Patil or his office, but to the people across campus who changed the way they did business to create greater efficiencies.

“The work is done, not by this one-person office, but by a community of people who have done what they thought was the right thing to do and more,” Patil said. “We just helped to provide a structure and impetus.”

During the upcoming academic year, thanks to the campus’ continuing efforts, Carolina Counts is projected to surpass $66 million in annual savings.

Some of the movers and shakers of Carolina Counts

law_mugBernard Law, Equipment Maintenance Management Program

Before Carolina Counts, each department entered into an annual service contract with outside vendors for equipment maintenance, based on vendors’ estimates of anticipated repairs. Under the new program, rolled out in April 2012, two outside management companies were hired to pay vendors for each job based on the actual time and materials required. Bernard Law, director of purchasing services, and his team visited 87 departments to explain the new program. Among the 21 departments that agreed to try it, service costs were reduced an average of 28 percent.

“It was exciting to see how the new program saved $153,000 the first year. The challenge in the months ahead will be to get more departments to see the benefit of trying it. And that benefit is huge because all the money saved gets to stay within the department.”

crabtree_mugMary Crabtree, Health and Safety Management Information System

Mary Crabtree, manager of workplace safety, led efforts to upgrade the electronic database system known as Health and Safety Management Information System, developed in the 1990s. One new feature is a web-based scheduling system that employees who are under occupational medical surveillance programs (such as a physician who must undergo annual tuberculosis screenings) can use to schedule required evaluations.

“Improvements to our electronic workflow system have made vital information more accessible, and needed services more convenient to schedule and receive. As a result, the process for employees to comply with state and federal safety regulations is simpler. It takes less time away from work to meet these requirements, which in turn saves money. It has also placed emphasis on making UNC a safe place to work, which in my job is the bottom line.”

Andy Johns in South Building at the University of North Carolina at Chapel HillAndy Johns, Activities, Interests and Relationships

The integrity of Carolina’s vast research enterprise is ensured by federal conflict of interest (COI) policies, the University’s internal COI policy and a UNC system policy on external engagements. As these regulations have grown, faculty members must provide the same information again and again. One faculty member did this 17 times in one year. Andy Johns, associate vice chancellor for research, led efforts to develop a software system enabling information to be kept on file and downloaded as needed for all COI policies. The system will operate this fall.

“We can’t change the policies imposed on us, but we can control how we administer these policies to better support our research faculty, who now spend an inordinate amount of their valuable time responding to them. We want to help give them more time to focus on their research and teaching.”

tresolini_mugCarol Tresolini, Unified Business Center

Traditionally, each academic unit reporting to the provost’s office, including small public service and instructional centers, designated staff members to perform needed human resources and finance functions. Under the direction of Carol Tresolini, vice provost for academic initiatives, a new unified business center now performs these functions for the smaller units – not only increasing efficiency and saving money, but also allowing staff to focus on programming.

“We started talking about doing this about five years ago, even before the Bain analysis, but Carolina Counts gave us the impetus, the imperative and the sense of urgency to make it happen. It was not an easy transition, but one worth doing and one that has also produced dividends in countless ways.”