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From the Chief Operations Officer

(Photo - Alexander Merola)

The senior members of the Operations Directorate recently spent two full days together assessing how well we are serving the SLAC science mission and how we might do that better. We like to be our own harshest critics, and we are fully committed to improving the infrastructure and services that we provide. Let me just share our current thinking.

As you know only too well, some of Chief Finance Office and Human Resource department processes are sorely lacking systems that will provide you with necessary tools for budgeting or cost tracking, recruiting, on-line effort reporting, and employee information self service. Even while we figure out how to address this, we are modernizing the IT infrastructure on which these services will live; we have offered SLAC-specific finance classes; and we have introduced the foundation of online business-to-business procurement. SLAC performance appraisals are now based on performance and contributions, and clear roles and responsibilities, and we will simplify this process in the future.

Take a look at our computing infrastructure. We have underinvested for way too long. We have not done a major upgrade to our network in a decade; wireless network coverage is inconsistent; the phone system is 21 years old; cellular coverage is spotty at best; our document management capabilities are not meeting your demand; the computer room is maxed out in terms of both space and HVAC. On the upside, we have entered into conversations with main Stanford campus concerning a possible shared computer facility and we are putting together alternative scenarios if that does not work out. Further, our computing professionals have put together credible proposals to address the network, the cyber security architecture and the cell coverage at the lab.

Some of our general purpose facilities are just too old and in need of investment or replacement. The Environment, Safety and Health Department is working with Facilities to improve our site access posture, and we now have in hand in a proposal to move to card key access of some of our facilities. The Science Laboratories Infrastructure initiative is moving forward and includes a new building and modernization of other buildings. Further, we are preparing proposals to the Department of Energy for two other new SLAC buildings. Hundreds of SLAC staff will be in more modernized facilities within a few years.

Let me also mention that our collaborative approach by the Communications Department is broadening and strengthening the awareness of SLAC accomplishments and they are proposing more modern online communications tools as well.

The Work Planning and Control approach has helped us create a safer environment. Our shared safety efforts resulted in the safest recorded period in SLAC history, one million hours without a work related injury!

We have introduced the beginnings of a standard project management approach and have offered classes in this as well as classes in causal analysis so that when things do go wrong we can get to the root cause and fix them in a way that they stay fixed…

We are staying engaged with you through the subcouncils and Task Forces (Library, Communications, MidRange Computing, Financial Structure) so that we can jointly identify what is impacting the mission the most and work on that first. We are working with the mission ALDs to determine the amount of funding that we can apply during FY’10 toward major improvements in our services and infrastructure during the coming year.

One thing that you will see in FY10 is a common cost accounting methodology throughout all of SLAC. Without this, we have no institutional idea about how much we are spending on various support efforts, whether they are in the mission or mission support directorates. We have to know collectively how much money we are spending on support throughout our laboratory. That baseline will allow us to identify where our improvements should be made and then we can see and measure the real effect of those improvements.

The good news is that we have begun the identification and planning process to rectify issues. But we have neither the human capacity nor the financial resources to fix all of this at once. We share a long term challenge, one that requires a coherent plan and a collaborative approach. And that will happen.

—Alexander Merola
SLAC Today, September 11, 2009