Process Improvement - EPIC Program


To better position itself for the future, Brown created an improvement process called the EPIC Program. This is a formal and systematic effort to streamline and improve key business processes in order to not lag behind our peers on issues of manual, paper-intensive processes, the ability to make decisions based on data and information, and the capacity to electronically manage, route, and approve documents. The current economic environment has led Brown to be cautious and deliberate in filling staffing needs, but also to take steps to make important changes to remain competitive. (E) in EPIC stands for Enterprise (since it is enterprise-wide), (PI) stands for Process Improvement, and (C) for Collaboration. Actually a series of projects, this Program reflects the belief that change is an incremental and continuous process.


To review potential projects, Brown began a process in 2009 to gather input through focus groups conducted by consultant Phil Goldstein. Based on feedback from more than 150 staff, faculty, and students, Brown moved ahead with projects, based on what was identified as the University’s most pressing concerns. Guided by the program’s Executive Sponsors (listed below), the EPIC Program will continue to review and add projects under its umbrella. Executive Sponsors are as follows:

  • Beppie Huidekoper, Executive Vice President for Finance & Administration
  • Mike Pickett, Vice President for Computing & Information Services/CIO
  • Karen Davis, Vice-President for Human Resources
  • Carolyn Dean, Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty
  • Lindsay Graham, Bio-Med Executive Dean for Administration
  • Susan Howitt, Associate Vice President for Budget and Planning
  • Don Schanck, Assistant Vice President and University Controller
  • Regina White, Associate Vice President for Research Administration

Program Objectives:

  • Respond to a more resource-constrained Brown
  • Deploy tools to improve work environment and productivity
  • Employ projects to improve the way Brown works
  • Empower department managers
  • Provide better access to information/analytics
  • Mitigate risks (compliance and security) with high consequences
  • Improve how work is accomplished
  • Add targeted functionality that addresses significant shortcomings

The first processes identified for improvement included Budget and Salary Increases , Personnel Action Form (PAF), and Check Request/Voucher. Budget and Salary Increase Processes were combined in the PRISM project, a Brown partnership with IBM Consulting. PRISM uses a single application - IBM’s TM1 product - to help integrate budget-management, financial-planning, and salary-increase planning. This will result in more efficient and effective management of resources and enhance analytic capabilities. (P) in PRISM stands for Planning, which extends well beyond the budgeting process, (RI) stands for Reporting & Information, and (SM) for Salary Management.

Early Adopters:

As the EPIC Program formed, two projects underway neared completion. The first was electronic distribution of Labor Reports. Its purpose was to convert monthly manual distribution of departmental salaries and benefits to a secure electronic format accessible through user id and password. The electronic version is available in either Excel or PDF format. The second project was the Pay Check+ Project. In partnership with ADP Financial Services, Pay Check+ provides several improvements to current procedures to deliver payroll checks, direct deposit advices, and W-2’s to Faculty, Staff, and Students, which started with the May 2010 payrolls.

Focus Group Findings:

In 2009 and 2010, over 300 Brown University staff from all areas of the University participated in a total of 18 focus groups convened to discuss how to increase the productivity and efficiency of administrative services. Staff focus groups identified 6 high priority process improvement opportunities. The 6 process improvement opportunities include:

  • Personnel Action Form (PAF) - Participants view creating PAFs as a completely manual process that is not well understood. Participants also questioned the number and levels of approvals required to process a PAF as it moves from department to division to human resources.
  • Planning and Scheduling Events and Meetings - Staff experience difficulty identifying available meeting rooms and confirming that their event can take place in a given room. Arranging for the required support for a meeting or event from catering, facilities, media services and so on requires providing similar information to multiple offices using different forms and processes. Finally, the Brown first dining requirement is a source of frustration to many.
  • Travel and Travel Reimbursement - Participants report that processing travel and travel reimbursement is paper intensive and seek the implementation of an automated, trackable system. They would also like to see clearer documentation of policies regarding documentation requirements and eligibility for reimbursement of various expenses.
  • Purchasing/Payables - Participants reported confusion regarding the preferred path for making purchases (purchase orders, check request, purchasing cards). Others suggested that the dollar level requirement for a purchase order be raised. Staff would like to see clearer documentation of processes and the implementation of a system to track the status of purchase orders, invoices and check requests.
  • Accessing management information/ eliminating shadow systems - Participants report that departments continue to maintain shadow systems due to a lack of familiarity with what reports or analytical tools are available to them from central systems or because data about expenditure or payroll transactions are not updated frequently enough.
  • Research Administration Processes - Participants reported the grant close out process to be labor intense and time consuming. Staff expressed uncertainty regarding how to build grant budgets at the proposal preparation stage along with the need for clearer guidelines for cost items, such as tuition expenses and overhead rates, in grant proposals. They also indicated confusion related to the frequency of effort reporting as well as how frequently labor distribution for faculty and staff should be adjusted to reflect changes in effort. Finally, staff would like to see the implementation of an on-line means to report and certify effort.

Though the PAF and Research Administration - Effort Reporting System processes have been selected as two of the EPIC projects currently underway, the remaining process improvement opportunities identified during the focus groups will continue to be reviewed and modified to obtain greater efficiency and productivity over the next several months.

For More Information:

Once again, the projects listed are just the first approved under the formal umbrella of the EPIC Program. As the process continues, more projects will be approved. Links to new projects under the EPIC Program will be added to this page and provide additional detail, project status, summarized feedback, and the ability to submit input. We hope you will access the information found here early and often!