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Reengineering from where I sit

Over the past two and a half years, as a member of the Steering Committee and as the sponsor of the reengineering Community Involvement Team, I have watched and participated in the Institute's significant efforts in reengineering. I would like to share some observations about how I became involved and why I believe in the vital efforts of reengineering. We must be able to adapt to a vastly changing world of intensifying demands for what MIT provides: well-educated alumni who think, and critical research. At the same time, we need to produce these things with sharply reduced support, especially from the federal government

First, I come at this issue from the perspective of an alumnus of MIT who has spent almost 25 years on the Institute's staff; I also bring experience from two separate business careers. The last 15 years have been spent looking outward as the senior officer of the Association of Alumni and Alumnae of MIT. In that role, I have been responsible -- with immeasurable help from the Association staff, the Resource Development staff, thousands of volunteers, faculty and many others at MIT -- for raising over $100,000,000 for MIT. Almost all of it came from MIT alumni. This external perspective meant understanding the outsiders' view of MIT as a national and international resource, and also required demonstrating an organizational commitment to very careful stewardship of the gifts given

During the last capital campaign, many more alumni and corporate supporters asked how well MIT is managed. Potential donors wanted to know whether we are really up to the challenges ahead, and, if we have used the most modern methods to ensure not only efficiency but also effectiveness. Do we compare favorably with other universities as well as with the best practices from all of the industrial and commercial worlds? The interest of our donors is in making sure that the resources they share with us go as far as possible to support the students and faculty who make up the magic of MIT. I have always been proud of being able to say that we are not only a group of hard-working faculty and students, but also a committed and hard-working staff

As we moved into the 1990s and the challenges increased, it became clear that more needed to be done. Few of us who work at MIT have not seen areas which could be improved and made to serve the faculty and students more effectively. Many staff have participated in attempts to upgrade procedures and even make revolutionary change. In my view, the rapidity of change in support for MIT and all higher education demanded a much more radical way of addressing our administrative needs. We chose a bold, some would say risky, strategy of reengineering in order to examine our work truly and make fundamental change

We are, as you all know, in the midst of change. The future sometimes looks murky and it has worried many of us. I will not be a Pollyanna and say it's all going to be fine. There is much to be done and we do not yet see the shape of things to come. The approach we have taken has its critics, but success counts on and needs them. We are redesigning the work of the Institute using MIT people, and we need help, feedback, criticism, and support from the whole community. Some changes have gone very smoothly -- others are off to a rocky start

There is a myth that reengineering is an outside force brought to us, rather than a method we have adopted to shape our own new work environment. Clearly there will be changes. Some will be wrenching ones, but the object is clear: to make MIT a more effective place so that the faculty and students can, even in times of restricted federal support, continue to do new things in innovative ways, adding to the stock of important teaching and research benefiting society

On the Community Involvement Team, we have the responsibility for engaging you in the work of reengineering. We need your participation in labs presenting real-time tests of possible elements and solutions. We need your feedback as solutions are rolled out in various areas to ensure that they really work and respond adequately to our actual needs

The decisions we make will be enhanced by your input. So give it to us. Become engaged. Be part of the solution so that we can preserve the treasured qualities of MIT and rid ourselves of inefficient approaches that inhibit high performance and diminish the quality of life here. We need your help to become a more resonant and exciting place, not only for faculty and students, but for all of us on the staff as well. MIT can and should be a place where we are all challenged to excel -- we cannot settle for obsolete systems and processes which hang together by sheer hard work. We are building a better work environment for all, and with your help it will be so!

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 13, 1995.

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