Montgomery Business Journal

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Katherine Jackson AUM

SummaSource Designed for Public & Private Sectors

April 2016

Katherine Jackson is vice chancellor for the Office of Business & Community Initiatives at Auburn University at Montgomery. She was recently interviewed by the Montgomery Business Journal’s David Zaslawsky.

Montgomery Business Journal: Please briefly describe what is the Office of Business & Community Initiatives at Auburn University at Montgomery?  Jackson: We provide services for state agencies, private sector organizations and for individuals to try to help them become more productive. We do that in a number of ways. We do that through training. We do that through consulting services.

What is your role as vice chancellor? I am basically the administration and I help organize all of that and manage all of that. I’m in charge of marketing and making sure that we are out there – getting the word out, but also making sure that the contracts that we have are executed appropriately.

How many contracts were there in 2015? • Last year we had in the neighborhood of 150 agreements with state agencies; with private sector organizations.

Is there a goal for the number of contracts in 2016? • We have a basic goal of 100. The number of agreements doesn’t make such a difference because one agreement could be for $10 million.

It’s the quality and not the quantity. • Right. We do agreements for $2,000 and we do agreements for millions of dollars.

I know that there are several locations, including here at Halcyon Summit. • The Business & Community Initiatives and underlying units have four different locations right now. One small section is on campus, which is our ESL (English as a second language) program because we mainly serve, but not completely, individuals who want to be students, and lot of them live in on-campus housing. We have our Outreach unit and that’s at the Center for Lifelong Learning at TechnaCenter Park, and that is in an AUM building.

Isn’t there a downtown site? • Three of our units are all in the Bailey Building at 400 South Union. That’s a great location for them because they serve public sector and private sector. A lot of the groups they serve are state agencies, so that’s a perfect location to serve state agencies. They do training, and that’s a great location for people to come for training. The last location is in this building (Halcyon Summit office park). We lease space in this building. 

How long have you been at your current location?  Almost five years.

Are there plans to move on campus?  It depends on when the building is completed – probably around June 2017.

What other AUM entities would you be sharing space with?  It will be a shared building and the who is still up in the air, but right now it looks like it will be a welcome-and-alumni center. It will be advancement and possibly some admissions and some of my group. The group that is here is the Business & Community Initiatives – people that do some of the contract work and also marketing.

How many employees do you have in this building?  About 12.

How many employees overall are there in the Business & Community Initiatives group?  Full time we have about 75 to 80. When you consider part time, it could be up to 250. It just depends on the time of the year.

Would the majority of those be contract employees?  Right. Summertime, we do all those programs for kids and we employ a lot of extra people during that time.

The office is divided into two divisions: Outreach and SummaSource. Please describe the divisions.  Outreach is really our community piece. We do our business breakfasts. We do ESL. All that continuing education happens through our Outreach piece. We do wine appreciation classes. Osher Lifelong Learning Institute happens through our Outreach piece; our kids’ programs during the summer – all of that happens through our Outreach piece. All of that is at our Center for Lifelong Learning.

And the SummaSource?  SummaSource is our business piece and learning to be more effective in a business; as a business; or just individually – how can I be more productive at work. That happens through three different units and it may be as an individual or training a group; executive leadership training, but it may be, what can I do for my IT (information technology) system? How can I put in a more productive system? Do I need to look at my firewall? Is the security not up to par with my computer system? Do I need a new website? Things like that.

What are those three units?  Advanced technology, which looks at IT through a number of different methods. They do managed services, where they can come in and help you run your IT services.

A company can outsource their IT to you.  Right, and that works well with small nonprofits. They do this for Pike Road schools. They have their IT people, but (we’ve) been assisting with that. They help with large procurements. For state agencies to keep a very unbiased and fair approach when they are putting out RFPs (request for proposals) – we will come in and help craft those RFPs and determine what is it that you really need here, and work with the people who are looking for IT services or the IT equipment and determine how (the RFP) will be evaluated; and help put that RFP out there to meet all the specs required. Then help when it comes in through the evaluation process, which sounds minimal, but some of those are for major, major dollars. It keeps it a safe process and it saves the state agencies a lot of money. They help with IT strategic planning.

Sounds like an A to Z process.  Right. We have people on staff that we can plug into your organization if we need to. If you need a Web developer, but you don’t need them for more than six months or a year, sometimes we can put someone in your organization to work for you for a while. It’s just a broad range of services.

What other units do you have?  Organizational consulting unit. They work on making an organization more effective as far as people working together and how they approach working with each other and how they approach working with customers. They look at customer satisfaction and how to approach that more effectively. They look at your employees and how you’re treating your employees, which might be performance evaluation; performance management; how are you approaching that; how are you selecting employees? Are you doing that in a matter that is effective? Are you getting sued? Are you doing something that is likely to get you into a lawsuit? I work a lot with organizations that have been sued for race or gender discrimination.

Showing an organization the dos and don’ts.  Right. They can come in and develop a valid selection process for you. They look at compensation; classification of positions; organizational analysis. We look at your organization and say these are the things you need to do to be more effective. They look at managerial assessments and putting individuals through certain training processes and looking at what is effective; what is ineffective here; and how do we make it more effective. It’s all about looking at efficiency and effectiveness and what’s working and what’s not working. Because they do what they do, they are really good at listening to unique problems and determining what is the best approach for you. They also do grant evaluation. That’s a pretty unique niche that works well for us because we’re a university.

How does that work well for AUM?  A lot of granting funders now – particularly federal and even state – they don’t want you doing your own evaluation, which makes a lot of sense. They fund an agency or fund someone with grant money and they want to hear that you are using someone else to do an evaluation.

Is the evaluation how effective the organization was using the grant money?  Right. When you send in a proposal and say, ‘I’m doing this and I’m doing this’ – they want an evaluation piece in there and they love collaboration. It’s much more effective for an outside party evaluating it, and it’s great to have a university evaluating it because universities are very strong on assessment and that’s something that looks very good. We do that. We will help groups write the grant and then we do the evaluation piece. Also in that unit, we do economic analysis. We have done a number of studies to look at the economic impact.

That could be for the public sector or private sector.  Correct. How much money has this festival brought in or what is the economic impact of our organization?

That unit also conducts strategic planning, which is critical for every company to do.  It’s what the game plan is going forward. Almost any organization needs a plan going forward, just to make sure budget-wise that you know what you’re going to spend your money on and where you’re going to be spending your time. What your priorities are. You may think that small organizations or nonprofits don’t need it, but a lot of granting agencies will not give grant funds any longer unless you have a plan. It’s really important for any organization, and we do that for churches, for nonprofits, for state agencies.

There’s one more unit.  Yes, training solutions, and it does exactly like it sounds like. They provide training on the individual level, but also for groups.

Do you also conduct an analysis to determine what type of training is needed?  Yes. We almost always do that … because a lot of people are off-base with what they think they need.

Is the training built around how individuals and companies can become more efficient and more effective?  There are a lot of different types of training. There is some very basic training like business writing skills. Is that going to impact the company overall? Yes, but it’s going to affect the individual more. They have computer classes. They have Word classes and Excel classes and certification classes.

Does the training range from very basic to operating the company more effectively?  We have executive leadership classes – learning more about yourself and how you function as a leader and thinking about the people you supervise. Those (classes) can be done with people in the room from your own organization and sometimes they are done with people from other organizations in the room. Both of those approaches can be very effective. Right now we’re doing separate programs with a number of different organizations in town – one of those being Montgomery Public Schools with their aspiring leaders and with their current principals. We (are working with) a number of private sector organizations and with some state agencies and those have been very well received.

What is the new vision and brand for the Office of Business & Community Initiatives?  Outreach is just a very interesting word and it hasn’t always been Outreach. It’s been individual units for years and the individual units’ names have changed. The individual units have been around since the ’70s – some since the late ’70s. We’ve had continuing education. We’ve had the center for business. We’ve had the center for government; for demographic research. Outreach came into being in 2000. The name Outreach just doesn’t have a name that conveys a lot of meaning to people or the meaning that says business. We’ve had a lot of questions over the years about what is this. We did a lot of research on it and looked at other universities. We’re very unique in what we provide. There are not a lot of universities that provide the services that we provide. When we looked at Outreach, we found some continuing education-type of programs, but we also found some (other) services. And a lot of it said free. We like free, but of those 85 employees that I mentioned, we are self-supporting. We are a money-generating unit.

When did you become the Office of Business & Community Initiatives?  That changed in January. We launched it on Jan. 13.

It’s been a short time, but are you seeing some results?  We’ve had a very positive response. It’s not going to be an overnight thing. A lot of it is what is going to happen outside the River Region. Inside the River Region, people know Katherine Jackson; they know Kathy Gunter.

Is one of the goals or a side benefit for professional people to go back to school to get graduate degrees or undergraduate degrees at AUM?  I’m not specifically recruiting. Auburn Montgomery is a fantastic place. We offer a wonderful education. Certainly, I’ve answered a lot of questions while I spent time with the business community and people ask me about certain degrees. It is an awareness factor and because we’re a university, I am able to pull faculty in to our projects.

Can you bring in professors from the Auburn campus?  All the time. Our training solutions group in particular uses people all the time on both campuses and we’ve been doing it for years.

I know you work with a wide range of organizations, but are there some common issues?  Customer service is one. There are certain things organizations can put into place to improve customer service and a lot of it is thinking about it in the right way. Customer service is not a super easy fix, but it’s something that organizations could address and improve.

Is there another common issue?  Some basic supervisory skill issues, that kind of is an easy fix. We find all the time and this is such a common thing – people promote people who are good at what they do on the line. Let’s say you’re a good engineer and now you’re supervising engineers. I’ve said before that being an engineer and being a supervisor are different skill sets. Being a good anything doesn’t make you a good supervisor. It’s not that they don’t need to be a supervisor, it’s that there is no training.

Those are the key middle-level managers.  That’s right, and they are messing a lot of people up when they don’t have what they need. They are making people uncomfortable. 

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