to Increase Support for Computing
at Andrews University
November 10, 1997
Inadequate support for information technology is placing Andrews University at risk in several areas. The needs have not only been recognized by Information Technology Services (ITS) staff, but have been expressed frequently and vocally by users in multiple departments in committee meetings, in letters and memos, and in private conversations.
This proposal is intended to address the needs for additional computing support at Andrews University. Because some of the current problems are so critical to the operation of the University, this request for increased support is being presented in the middle of a fiscal year. It must be recognized, however, that solutions to the problems will require long term changes as well as an immediate infusion of resources.
Listed below are general descriptions of current serious problems in computing at Andrews University:
1. Banner: loading historical data. While all of the modules of the Banner administrative system are now in operation, some areas do not have data from pre-Banner years loaded into the system and therefore they cannot do their work properly. Principal examples are Development and the Registrar’s Office. Historic development data have been loaded into the current Banner database, but there numerous errors apparently arising from several causes such as changes in the numbering scheme, incorrect importing procedure, etc. The erroneous data cause embarrassment in relationships with donors and alumni as well as loss of funds in misdirected or duplicate mailings and lost gifts. Past academic records have not yet been loaded into the Banner database, so transcripts now have to be generated in two parts – from the old system and from the current Banner system.
2. Banner: data entry. The employees whose jobs call for regular utilization of the Banner system (e.g. entry of financial transactions or grades) are finding that their tasks are taking longer now than they did before. Where they used to be able to complete a transaction on one screen, with Banner they have to navigate through several screens to complete the same task In addition, moving from screen to screen is difficult in itself because it requires memorizing and entering arcane alphabetic codes.
3. Banner: updates, training, and testing: Updates to software systems are now a fact of life and Andrews University must keep up with the updates provided by the manufacturer of the Banner software (and the underlying Oracle database) in order to receive support and assistance (as well as to stay current with hardware and software technology). Each update requires software installation, testing, and user training. Previous updates to the Banner system have not gone well because of inadequate personnel to carry out the steps in preparation. Major university functions, such as registration, have been affected with resulting negative impressions made on our students and others.
4. Banner: reports and decision support. Many University users are not able to generate the reports they need from the Banner system. One notable example is the Office of Institutional Research, where Jim Massena has the responsibility of compiling data for government and accreditation reports. Another example includes all the administrators who make strategic plans and decisions for the University, such as department chairs/heads, deans, and vice presidents and the president. They need performance summaries to make accurate plans at budget time and whenever program changes are anticipated.
The Banner software system is delivered with minimal reports, the idea being that different campuses would need different kinds of reports and standardized ones would not be possible. Users are not able to generate their own reports from the Banner system and they have to depend on ITS staff to write the code to generate each report. In addition, it has become apparent since purchasing Banner that many of the desired reports cannot be generated on the same computer system where routine transactions are recorded. The process of generating a summary report requires so much computer power that the transaction processes are substantially slowed.
The industry standard method of solving these reporting problems is to create snapshots of the data in the transaction system when offices are closed and to put these snapshots in a “data warehouse” on another computer system. The data warehouse can then be queried for reports without slowing the transaction system. Also, new software is now available for data warehouse systems to speed and simplify the generation of reports. In some cases, users can generate reports without the assistance of programmers.
Andrews University needs a data warehouse system to complete the functionality of the Banner system. While some information has been collected on available systems, the ITS staff have so far not had the time to plan for and install a data warehouse system. Meanwhile, strategic reports are almost nonexistent and other reporting requirements are being met only with great difficulty.
5. Banner: auxiliary systems. There are numerous offices on the campus that have computer systems that should interact with the Banner system to look up student data. Examples are the swimming pool, the student health office, and the academy. Each of these offices have computer systems that were connected to the old administrative computing system replaced by Banner. Approximately twenty of these auxiliary systems still have not been connected to Banner because the ITS staff have not had the time to redo the connecting programs.
6. Academic: learning technology, multimedia. Teaching faculty presently have network support and connection to the Internet and Web as services supported by ITS. In addition, faculty can call on ITS for software and hardware installations and repair of personal computers. There is, however, no one on campus whose job it is to support, encourage, and develop teaching applications of information technology. A multimedia lab has been established for faculty, but so far it has been operated and staffed only by part-time students. Andrews University faculty need training and support in technology in order to stay current in their teaching methods. The North Central Association will expect to find support for learning technology in their 1999 visit. For example, the checklist they provide to be filled out and included in our self-study includes items on academic computing support.
7. Academic: distance education. Andrews University already provides education at a distance by various means, including traveling faculty, videos, and more recently by mail (through the linkage with Home Study Institute). Several newer technologies are now available for distance education, but are not yet being used by Andrews faculty: interactive video, computer based education, and the Internet and Web. Opportunities exist for expanding the educational markets of Andrews University with these new technologies – education can be provided to students who cannot come to the Berrien Springs campus or who cannot attend classes at their regular times. There are people and offices on campus ready to promote and utilize distance education technology, but no one to develop the applications and support and train the faculty.
8. Andrews University on the World Wide Web. Andrews University has a significant presence on the World Wide Web, including a main home page, pages for schools and departments, and many individual home pages. There is provision in the ITS staff and budget for support of the Web servers, but there is no provision in the ITS budget or in any other office for a “webmaster” – a person responsible for the content and appearance of Andrews pages and their organization. The Web Committee recommends policies for Web usage, but the Committee cannot take charge of content, visual design, or adherence to policies. Because the Web pages are a significant part of the public image of the University, it may be best to locate the webmaster in the Public Relations office and not under ITS. Nevertheless, a webmaster is sorely needed to give this face of the University a professional appearance.