Safety in numbers

One engineer is good. A team of engineers is better. And a team of Berkeley engineers . . . well, you can’t get better than that.

This is my mantra as I welcome Dean Sastry back, wrap up my six months as acting dean and prepare for my next assignment. It was a privilege to apply at the college’s highest level the skills I have acquired in my 27 years here. Everything I brought to the experience—especially my team-building and problem-solving skills—I learned as an engineer, an engineering educator and an engineering administrator.

And we engineers must be doing something right. I say that because I now have the distinct honor of serving as faculty head of the Program Office for UC Berkeley’s Operational Excellence, Chancellor Birgeneau’s initiative to enhance administration campus-wide and simultaneously achieve $75 million annually in savings within three years.

Last year, as you may know, the college absorbed a 20-plus percent cut in state funding. It was painful, but we survived by working positive change and collectively tightening our fiscal belts, while still maintaining our top-ranked research programs, our superior teaching staff and our stellar students. Campus-wide, of course, the pain was even bigger: a 2009–2010 deficit of nearly $150 million and permanent budget cuts of $67 million.

In response, Operational Excellence (OE) was launched last October to maintain our momentum in cutting costs. A task force of faculty, administrators and students—working with global consulting firm Bain & Company—has already targeted several areas for improved efficiency, among them procurement, administrative structure and energy consumption. I am gratified to have more than 250 volunteers from across campus offer to join my team in helping achieve such tough goals!

As someone who has depended on all these systems to accomplish my work for nearly three decades, I know we have no choice but to succeed. (I will keep a 25-percent faculty appointment and return full time to mechanical engineering once the OE mission is accomplished.)

Specifically, it will be my job to appoint and coordinate seven specialized teams to design and implement concrete solutions to streamline and significantly reduce the cost of our administrative operations, align them with best practices, and get them functioning at the same level of excellence as our teaching and research missions.

As thousands of Berkeley engineers successfully leading businesses and industries know, budgets go up and down, and universities are not immune to these real-world fluctuations. The solution requires a team effort, and I will need help from all my engineering and campus colleagues to position UC Berkeley for maximum financial rebound.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Albert P. “Al” Pisano
Faculty Head, Operational Excellence Program Office
Email OE Program Faculty Head Pisano