The Andrews University Information Systems Web

 

What is a web?  A web is a mesh of interconnections, and its use in describing the Internet is very appropriate.  But what is an Information Systems Web?  ITS Directors have been grappling with a plethora of seemingly disjoint technologies, and are beginning to form a uniform picture out of all the pieces of the puzzle.

 

The Information Systems Web Diagram illustrates the interconnections between many of the IT projects currently being investigated in ITS.  For example, the business world is rapidly learning that the key to survival is to become customer-centric.  They are investing in systems to improve service all the way from the first contact through to loyal customers.  Data warehouses have been used for some time now to analyze buying trends.  Now portals are being used to manage and maintain contact with customers and potential customers.  The technology that is getting a lot of attention at the enterprise level is Customer Relationship Management (CRM).  Contacts with possible clients via telephone, email, and the web are integrated and processed to ensure appropriate follow-up.  This has major potential benefits for Enrollment Services, and plans are being made to incorporate portal technology with customer service center or call center technology to make the university more responsive and more helpful to those who call.

 

Imaging technology promises to streamline document processing, by eliminating delays and the possibility of misfiling in handling admissions and applications for financial aid, and in other document intensive processes.  A crucial part of this is a workflow automation system, and this is now available as a standard part of Banner versions 4.  But before processes can be automated, they have to be fully understood, and if possible, simplified and streamlined.  The University is learning process analysis as part of the Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) movement initiated by Linda Wysong, Director of Human Resources.  Similar methodologies will be employed as part of the implementation of SCT Workflow.  SCT, the company who makes our Banner administrative software, call this methodology EPE, or Enterprise Process Engineering.

 

The process of automating a workflow can result in some quite radical changes to the way things are done.  How do you decide which process to automate?  How can you tell if you have achieved any improvement after making the changes?  You need to have a good decision support system in place, and you need to have identified key performance indicators that provide measures of the degree of success.  Business intelligence tools make this sort of information available when attached to well designed data marts in a data warehouse.

 

Andrews University Information Systems Web Diagram

 

Information Systems Web

The Andrews University Information Systems Web

 

1. Portal

·      CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

·      Imaging / Document Management

·      Groupware

 

Information systems are going web-centric, both internally and externally, using technology referred to as a portal.  There are different kinds of portals for each of these two groups (internal and external).  Campus Pipeline is a portal product that is available via a partnership agreement from SCT, and integrates the SCT “Web For …” products into Banner with a common look and feel.  Other portal products are referred to as Enterprise Portals or Knowledge Portals, and are targeted at Intranet (and Extranet) kinds of use.

 

A portal is a doorway, a gateway, or an entrance, usually with something special, even ornamental about it.  In relation to the web, it has built in intelligence, and is able to tailor itself for return visitors.  It constructs a profile from information supplied by the visitor, from the kinds of functions a person with this profile is permitted to perform, and from browsing habits.  It becomes an integral part of the way we present to new contacts, and in the way we maintain contact through tight links with Customer Relationship Management systems.  On the Intranet side, it provides decision support and business intelligence information through links to the data warehouse and Banner.  It becomes your virtual desktop for technologies such as workflow, groupware, and imaging/document management.

 

In addition to portal products, such as Campus Pipeline, there are portal development products.  Costs are roughly the same.  Both approaches require significant server hardware to run on.

 

One of the goals of the Web Committee at the time the Web Coordinator’s position was created was to make the Andrews Web a resource of such quality and appeal that high school students would make it their home, and consider attending Andrews University as a natural consequence.  The Andrews page needs to look attractive, work well, and present content of interest and value.  Portal products come with various content options, and news and information content is available for use with portals developed in-house. 

 

But there is a catch.  Portal content via either of these approaches is funded through advertising, and this is likely to be unacceptable to us.  Attachments A and B are copies of email sent to The EDUCAUSE CIO Constituent Group Listserv on this subject.  We are licensed to use Campus Pipeline at no charge if we accept the advertising content that funds the “grant”.  We can still use Campus Pipeline without advertising if we pay the $100,000+ license fee, plus $22,000 per year in maintenance.

2. Workflow

Banner 4.0 was released late last year, and since mid-February, SCT Workflow has been available.  One of the lessons that became abundantly clear during several of the sessions I attended is that benefits come from automating processes only after disassembling and reassembling those processes.  One statement I heard was that you have to “break the china.”

 

This process used to be called BPR – Business Process Reengineering.  But the term became synonymous with downsizing and cutting jobs, and gained a lot of negative connotations.  Now it is called EPE – Enterprise Process Engineering (at least by SCT).  The Quality Improvement initiative that Linda has been leading means we already have experience in process analysis and redesign.  We have been applying this in an incremental fashion for continuous improvement.  To take advantage of the process automation that is possible with SCT Workflow, we need to prepare for radical process redesign.  I have received via email a copy of the PowerPoint slides used in one of the presentations (from Anna K. Bennett, Ph.D., Business Process Analyst, SCT Enterprise Process Consulting Group).  She quotes Michael Hammer to show the complementary roles of incremental and radical change:

 

·      Reengineering: radical redesign of a process

·      Improvement: incremental change by modifying an existing process

 

According to Dr Bennett, best practices for improving business processes have three prerequisites:

  1. Document your processes
  2. Select processes to improve
  3. Involve all who have an interest in the process

 

Then, there are four steps to apply in sequence:

  1. Eliminate
  2. Simplify
  3. Integrate
  4. Automate