Business Contracts Office brings innovation and services to thousands of university contracts annually

Every agreement that The University of Texas at Austin has, other than research agreements, comes through the Business Contracts Office. The unit’s 10-person staff handled approximately 6,000 agreements last year, according to Business Contracts Administrator Linda Shaunessy.

Shaunessy explained that Business Contracts reviews, approves and executes two types of business contracts. One enables the university to procure services when Purchasing Office approval is required, and the other allows the university to provide revenue-generating services. The Business Contracts Office also plays a major role in software and data agreement processes, reviewing and facilitating all of those agreements.

Contracting to procure services

Examples of the variety of service procurement agreements include handling a $21 million contract with Capital Metro, two agreements with a Spanish museum in order to obtain artwork for the Blanton Museum of Art and two agreements for the LBJ Presidential Library, where UT Austin will be providing police and custodial services, said Shaunessy.

Frequently, agreements have a student focus. Together with Enrollment Management, Business Contracts is working on multiple annual contracts and gift agreements to support the 10-year $100 million grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation for UT for Me-Powered by Dell Scholars.

The Purchasing Office and Business Contracts have collaborated with Enrollment Management to provide resources for all students who receive Pell grants, including new laptops for incoming students, annual textbook credits, backpacks and other services, according to Interim Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Carolyn Connerat.

“The work we do with the Purchasing Department and Business Contracts is critical for the successfully implementing the partnership we have with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation,” Connerat said. “We are so appreciative of the collaboration we have between Enrollment Management units and FAS to help ensure our students receive the resources they need to succeed.”

Previously, Shaunessy’s team and Purchasing assisted Texas Advanced Computer Center in procuring its $51 million supercomputer, roughly equivalent to more than 8,000 computers. Business Contracts and Purchasing also handled procurement and contracting for the university’s strategic planning and change process consultant.

New agreements underway between food providers and University Housing and Dining (UHD) will provide greater variety of dining options on campus while generating revenue.

“We are honored to handle all types of agreements, even ones as small as catering and as large as Capital Metro,” Shaunessy said.

Contracting to provide services

According to Shaunessy, all auxiliaries have revenue-generating agreements. For example, state agencies and churches use university parking lots at various times, and the School of Social Work provides conference support to the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services.

“Revenue generation agreements provide a new avenue for UT Austin to educate the world by offering educational opportunities for all ages,” Shaunessy said.

Facilitating software and data agreements

Business Contracts has collaborative teams working together on software and data initiatives, Shaunessy explained. Members include Information Technology Services (ITS), the Faculty Council Chair, the Provost’s Office, the Information Security Office and the College of Natural Sciences.

Shaunessy cited the university’s new research management system as an example of important software that the university has procured through Purchasing and Business Contracts. Business Contracts is currently working with ITS on an agreement for Software AG, which runs the university’s mainframe. Business Contracts also works with the various university career services offices to procure software that helps students to obtain employment.

Approaching agreements with best outcomes in mind

Members of the Business Contracts team go through the scope of work with the vendor in the case of purchased services, or the university in the case of revenue-generating agreements.

“We help people make sure they know what they’re getting,” Shaunessy said.

In all instances, Business Contracts seeks the best outcome for the university. Shaunessy gave the example of Athletics, whose agreements have clauses allowing for airline and hotel refunds when games must be canceled. This was especially important as COVID-19 necessitated certain cancellations.

“We solve problems, and we do that through a university-wide lens instead of just a department lens,” Shaunessy said. “We work with and have to consider every department. We send agreements to the Board of Regents, Legal Affairs and Procurement when necessary.”

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

When the pandemic affected university operations in 2020, Business Contracts moved quickly to obtain hotel refunds, drafting template cancellation letters. As of March 13, 2020, Business Contracts began sending letters cancelling hundreds of contracts. As a result, the university received refunds on 90 percent of hotel, catering and study abroad agreements during the pandemic, Shaunessy said.

“We also help solve university-wide issues with the assistance of a multitude of departments,” Shaunessy said. “In only three days, a new Zoom agreement was put in place that allowed the university to pivot and have classes continue.”

Embracing opportunities

Shaunessy noted that that Business Contracts continually faces interesting challenges and opportunities. Whatever those may be, staff must proceed thoughtfully and deliberately.

“We have an amazing team,” Shaunessy said. “We are very proud to represent and assist the university as it changes the world.”