Pathfinder update

Like many UK HEIs, the GW4 Universities have been busy over the last few months compiling policy and finance compliance reports for the RCUK.  The last sixteen months have been a steep learning curve for us all, working through processes, learning the quirks of finance systems, working with academics who are also on a learning curve in terms of open access.

In our spare time (?), we’ve met for a baselining workshop  to build understanding of where each of us is on the journey (to use RCUK speak!), experiences so far and thoughts on work to be done.  We are pinning this on a framework using LEAN methodology, and during the first workshop we looked at who our customers are for this process, what they want, areas of waste currently hampering efficiency, and a bit of crystal-ball gazing with our ‘to-be processes’ thoughts.

Our colleagues at Exeter have started work on looking at the issues surrounding third party intermediaries for APC payments, building on the work on the Jisc APC project.

We’re also looking forward to our colleague Liz joining us in Bath from the 8th October.  Liz will be focussing directly on this project, and we expect to have much more news and experiences to share once she gets her feet under the desk.  For example, one of the first outputs we’ll see is some work on Functional Cost Analysis – how much is it currently costing us to process APCs in terms of administrative effort.  This will give us a control to measure against at the end of the project.  More work in this area is ongoing via the Jisc Monitor project, and several other of the Pathfinder projects are working on similar analysis.


Baselining workshop

The first step in looking at administrative workflows and activities has been a workshop finding similarities and differences in OA payment processes and workflows between the four GW4 universities – Cardiff, Exeter, Bristol and Bath.  The workshop, held on 29/07/2014, was facilited by a colleague with Lean SixSigma experience.

Introduction to project

The overview of the day was to look at what we do at the moment (as-is process); think about who our customers are, and what do they want; where is the waste or non value-adding activity; and what should the process look like (to-be process).   The framework for our discussions uses a Lean approach to maximise value and eliminate waste, based on 5 Principles:

  1. Define value-add and non value-add (according to the customer)
  2. Map the value stream, eliminate waste
  3. Establish process flow
  4. Shift from push to pull systems
  5. Strive for perfection

Realistically we probably won’t achieve anywhere near principle #5  but we did do some aspirational thinking towards the end of the day in our ‘to-be process’ session.

As-is processes:

A representative from each institution gave an overview on their APC payment activities.

Prioritising the issues outlined by each representative, these are:

  1. Licencing – ie. CC-BY, checking by publishers would help; at least 50% of items have a problem with the licence
  2. Finance – lots of checking/double checking; double handling; setting up of vendors/payment schedules/ large invoice approvals.
  3. Publishers – many changes for business models; compliance and responsibility for authors?


Who are our customers (not ordered):

  • Funders
  • Authors/Academics
  • Publishers
  • Internal stakeholders (operational and management groups, university senior management and reporting line managers)
  • Finance or payment office (including purchasing/procurement)
  • IT people (ie. CRIS, rrepository, systems)
  • Research Office (pre and post award)
  • Admin support in departments/colleges (often devolved)
  • Subject Librarians (advocacy) and other Library staff/colleagues
  • Readers or the end users of the research / other researchers / businesses

What do our customers want?

  1. Authors want minimum administrative burden, maximum impact, high citations!
  2. Publishers want low admin; money(!); users with pre-pay accounts – licencing and money are contradictory issues for publishers.
  3. Funders want value for money, greater impact, many are finding increased accountability from the government, transparency agenda, they are looking for compliance with their policies.
  4. Internal reporting/management want us to be complaint with funders so as not to jeopardise future grants; quality measurement; watching involvement of women/ECRs; statistics to inform institutional policy and strategy.
  5. Finance office want to be compliant with audit requirements; new work should fit in with standard processes and have complete information; sometimes want to circumvent the library (ie invoice direct from author/publisher); not be overburdened when adapting to our systems.
  6. IT want specs in good time as they can’t always react quickly. They want to understand the processes to support us, and prefer a full unchanging specification on any systems developed.
  7. Research office want research information and statistics, tending towards broad brush strokes (versus ‘obsessed with detail’ [library!!]). They want funder compliance and need to provide mechanisms to help with reporting.
  8. Subject Librarians/library colleagues want a simple message, they want to feel supported for difficult issues and kept informed (dislike feeling that academics are communicated with outside of their channels).
  9. End users want easy free access to a broad range of information. The licencing should be clear and open, ideally information found on the publisher website, alternatively versioning made clear.

Our perceived most important customers are numbers 1,3 and 4 above.

What do the 80% care about?

Quote: ‘We are operating in a prestige economy not a cost economy’.

Funders – value for money is important to this customer

Internal management – information provided that demonstrates value for money

(Suggestion to log hours getting data together for reporting (gold/green/reporting time))


Discussion on the 8 wastes identified by the Lean Six Sigma methodology and examples:

  • Defects (rework, chasing between customers)
  • Overproduction (recording more information than is needed)
  • Waiting (waiting for next step ie. time between requisition and PO due to approvals)
  • Transportation (movement around the supply chain, ie. unnecessary movement of forms)
  • Inventory (amount of pre-payment, build up of forms before processing)

To-be process:

These are things to keep in mind when thinking about ‘to-be processes’:

  • What’s worthwhile doing? – ask our customers (ie. the authors/academics)
  • Aim for ‘one piece flow’ or small batches (not always achievable)
  • Parallel processing – avoiding single point of failure, removing bottlenecks
  • Work layout
  • Multi-skilling
  • Modular design – forms or systems, standardisation (typically reduces error)
  • Error-proofing – trying to ‘break’ potential ideal processes (poka yoke) – cheap, quick and visual / simple ie. checklist.

Thoughts from ‘to-be processes’ list:

  • An ideal process is where the Library receives the invoice first.
  • Pre-pay accounts have been questioned as the cash is with the vendor before the product has been received.
  • Publisher invoicing – batching by time or number of APCS as a way of introducing efficiency
  • Automatic systems where the publisher sends metadata and fulltext file
  • Validation of paper forms – would a checklist or colour-coding help? (training and guidelines)
  • Licencing – where is the power in the relationship? Authors, journal/publisher, payments?
  • Action: to exchange lists of publishers and numbers of APCs (RCUK reporting) – is there any mileage in a GW4 consortium?
  • Shared services – VAT efficiencies? GW4 coordination of APC payments?  Should we look at pre-pay accounts for this (to be discussed after the action above)?
  • More skills in Libraries to deal with finance. Improved access to finance systems and control over funds to make process more efficient.
  • Reporting – checking licensing is a very manual process. Publishers to report to say they’ve done what we’ve paid them to do?  We need to look at error proofing to stop problems to get this right.  We need to reduce re-work.
  • Reporting to different customers is time consuming (push and pull). Should we be doing bespoke reports to each or give total reports to all?  Desire for RCUK to notify of standardised core list for reporting data.


This brainstorming is reflected in the stream-of-consciousness capture below.

brainstorming at workshop July2014

Our next step is to look at capturing a baseline cost per article – more on this shortly.