The Concept of Benchmarking
Benchmarking is a self-improvement tool for organisations. It allows them to compare themselves with others, to identify their comparative strengths and weaknesses and learn how to improve. Benchmarking is a way of finding, adapting and adopting best practices.
This strand of Work Programme 2 of the DRUSSA project is based on process benchmarking, which is distinguished from statistical (or quantitative) benchmarking. Process benchmarking goes beyond the comparison of quantitative data-based scores and conventional performance indicators and looks at the processes by which results are achieved. Process benchmarking examines activities made up of tasks or steps, which may cross the boundaries between the conventional functions (e.g. finance, personnel) found in all organisations.
By identifying processes that are generic and relevant and by using a consistent approach, benchmarking can be carried out across boundaries of geography, sector, size or industry. This is not always possible with statistical benchmarking, which often founders on differences in definitions and cost levels between countries. Process benchmarking allows comparisons to be made, for example between large research universities and small monotechnics. Process benchmarking gives a mechanism for assessing continuing performance, the effectiveness of any new initiatives and relative aspects of improvements in performance.
The approach of ACU’s benchmarking has been developed according to the concepts described earlier, and according to the following values;
The benchmarking exercise does not seek to prescribe how a university should manage its research. There is no set checklist of specific tools, techniques or technologies that will be expected as part of any response. Similarly, there is no ideal organisation structure or method of operation against which the participants' responses are evaluated. The intention is to focus on the appropriateness of methods used in each case and the basis for their selection (i.e. fitness for purpose). In particular, innovation and creativity are encouraged and the focus is primarily on the results achieved (i.e. effectiveness).
Any organisation is dependent on its people to set its direction and create the environment in which it can achieve its goals. In universities, power and influence can be widely dispersed, creating a very important set of internal stakeholders. Their personal involvement in key activities and in communication and obtaining commitment to the objectives of the university is vital. The personal values of such stakeholders may have a profound effect on their organisation.
To achieve the highest levels of performance it is important that the university has a commitment to continuous improvement. This reflects both incremental or gradual changes that should be a key element of day to day work of all staff and the significant "step change" improvements that radically alter the way work is done. (These latter may sometimes emerge from root-and-branch reviews, using techniques such as Business Process Re-engineering). The university must provide the mechanism by which both can be achieved.
It is implicit in the philosophy of the exercise that university decisions, plans and strategies are based largely on facts and objective data. Given this, it is important that the results of key activities are measured and used as the basis for performance review and improvement. Such measures and indicators provide management with the key information on a timely basis and in a usable format.
The higher education environment is not particularly stable financially, although demand for education is rising in most countries. It is nonetheless essential that universities seek to plan for the long-term, with a long-term commitment to both students and staff.
The goals and missions of individual universities vary widely. Each may give different weights to aspects such as teaching, research and community service. The diverse composition of student populations, as well as the wide range of different academic specialisations makes it hard to compare them with each other. However, in terms of the processes selected for benchmarking, these differences will not be crucial.