Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

More detail on University Operations Group changes

Monday, 27 March 2017 1:08pm

The University's new Operations Group is planning for the next three years.

Chief Operating Officer Stephen Willis says changes in his Operations Group aim to better support students, academic and research divisions, and the University as a whole.

Everything from centralising buying technology and driving sustainability, to investigating the possibility of a student-led wellness centre and making the campus a more vibrant place after business hours involves focusing more tightly on core tasks and creating opportunities.

The campus

“Having an outstanding student or campus experience is not just nine-to-five Monday to Friday,” Mr Willis says.

“We have thousands of students hanging out on campus, studying and attending lectures and tutorials around the clock. The campus is also a wonderful feature of Dunedin life and I think there is opportunity for more community and student engagement on campus.”

That could include providing more features that students want, changing hours of operations and rejuvenating the student dining areas and available service offerings.

Wellness Centre

Chief Operating Officer Stephen Willis.

The University is also investigating the possibility of a Wellness Centre for students, but has no preconceived ideas about that.

“A Wellness Centre can be all sorts of things … which is why we want to investigate what might be required or wanted by students, and what evidence actually demonstrates works, and what is appropriate for our unique environment here at Otago,” he says.

“What we want to achieve, regardless of how we approach it, is to maximise the health and wellbeing of the students who are part of our unique residential community.”

The Centre could provide more opportunities for students to volunteer.

Cafes and retail on the move

The Student Services Division has also been freed up to focus more on its core tasks of providing direct student services and support, and ensuring Otago adapts to provide the right services and support in the future.

That Division no longer looks after hospitality and commercially-focused operations which also cater to staff and visitors, including the University Union, cafes, events, College catering, and retail outlets.

Those business-type units have combined with Uniprint (previously part of Information Technology Services) and Colleges and Uniflats (previously Accommodation Services) to form the new Division of Campus and Collegiate Life, which is a logical functional realignment expected to create several efficiencies and a far more coordinated approach to maintaining a truly unique campus and College life.


The initiatives have all sprung from Mr Willis spending six months on due diligence and strategic planning with his senior leadership, their management teams and staff.

“The aim was to understand the environment, the key challenges and opportunities for the University, to better understand the academic and research divisions we support, identify key areas of weaknesses and strengths, and any gaps.”

That involved joining the dots and prioritising rather than Mr Willis just introducing his own ideas, and did not involve job losses.

His Group contributes directly to the University’s strategic imperatives of providing outstanding student experiences and campus environments. The Group also enables the University to achieve many of its other imperatives: excellence in teaching, excellence in research, sustaining capability, and strong external engagement.

“Everything we are doing is about directly and indirectly influencing the Otago experience.”

Major projects

Various departments and groups have been shuffled around to create sensible, cohesive new divisions.

Because Otago has started a major building development programme that is the largest, most complex and most expensive in the University’s history, a new division of Campus Development has been created from the Capital Projects Unit, strategic development, and campus master planning – which used to be in Property Services.

The aim is to have a small and dynamic team closer to the Chief Operating Officer to:

  • recognise the strategic importance of successfully delivering the projects, and ensuring the projects progress in line with University’s strategies and priorities;
  • draw more directly on Mr Willis’s experience with project management and allow faster escalation of issues which may be slowing progress;
  • let the Property Services Division focus more on its core responsibilities of asset management, preventive and reactive maintenance and, significantly, preparing for the huge task of commissioning several new and complex buildings currently under construction.

Project Management Office

Because the success of the major projects is “paramount”, a Project Management Office will be set up to “provide us with more project oversight and monitoring, while also developing systems, training, coaching, and support as needed for a range of project types and initiatives.”

“This is a fairly common feature in large organisations that take project and portfolio management seriously, have a large portfolio, and want to ensure projects are justified, and prioritised, and remain strategically focused and on track,” Mr Willis says.


Helping to ensure the success of sustainability initiatives has sparked the creation of an Office of Sustainability reporting directly to Mr Willis, because experience shows a whole-of-systems approach will be essential to achieving the University’s aspiration of becoming a tertiary sector leader in sustainability - nationally and internationally.

“We need to broaden our view of sustainability beyond just property-related initiatives and influence everything from senior leadership, organisational culture, information systems, financial systems and decision-making processes to human resources, campus planning, building design and operational activities,” he says.

IT buying

Centralising IT-related buying will help ensure purchasing is efficient and cost-effective – it will help the University standardise, ensure equipment and software meet expectations, create cost savings through bulk purchasing, simplify asset management, and make full use of staff with specialist skills in ICT procurement.


Wanting to get better use and returns from Otago buildings and facilities while also catering better for the needs of students, staff, visitors and tourists has prompted Property Services to investigate possible opportunities.


Every Division in the Operations Group now has priority plans for the next three years.