Integrated Information Systems for the Campus
Today’s administrative systems are powerful, Internet-connected,
and merging with academic systems. In a conversation with John Camp, Wayne State
University’s Associate VP for Computing and Information Technology and
CIO, Syllabus learns about the issues and opportunities associated with integrated
information systems on campus.
Syllabus: How have administrative
systems changed in the past five or ten years?
John Camp: In general, evolution
has led to bigger, better, more complex systems—certainly very much more
complex than the legacy systems from a decade ago. And almost everything has
to work together today; there’s clearly a merging of administrative and
academic systems. Integrating them can be difficult and challenging, but very
few stand alone any more.
S: What do these systems help you accomplish?
JC:When I think about information systems in higher education, I don’t
think initially about the systems per se; rather I consider
strategic goals and one of those is to make it easy for people to
do business with us. This is coming a little later to higher education
than to corporate America, where making it easy for people to do
business with you is absolutely vital. People walk away from a company
today if it’s difficult to do business with. And the same thing
is happening in higher education, especially with the growth of
broadband connections that enable access very conveniently from
home to services and education from universities anywhere. If we’re
not easy to do business with, people will look elsewhere.
Prior to Internet-based services, at my university and many others, if a student
wanted to register for classes, she had to find an advisor in one location,
register at another, and then pay fees elsewhere. It was pretty difficult to
do business with higher education. The Internet has changed all that.
S: So is Internet access causing a lot of change in administrative
systems? Are these systems very different when you factor in Internet access?
JC: In higher education, the Internet is a huge change agent.
And it d'es enable potential students or current students to get to information,
services, and education electronically
at their convenience. There’s still going to be a huge place for face-to-face
instruction. However, there are educational experiences that can be meaningful
and effective, done conveniently online. Every college or university that’s
going to survive in the future will have to provide a variety of ways to educate
students. One way will be electronic.
For example, students at Wayne State can get to a schedule of classes online,
register for those classes, and then pay their fees online. Minutes later they’re
all set to access course materials in advance of the start of the classes. So
Internet-based, self-service is here to stay, and in most cases, it must be
continuously available. That’s radically different than a decade ago.
S: Are there opportunities for your institution to consider
JC: Lots of opportunities. Wayne State University ranks about
seventeenth in the nation in the number of international students served. That
means, by the way, when international students want to contact Wayne State to
inquire about programs or to apply, or if they’re home and they want to
register for classes for the next semester, they have to do it in their time
zone, not ours. That means WSU’s information systems have to be highly
or continuously available.
In the old days of administrative information systems in higher education,
legacy systems ran from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and then you shut them down so
you could do backup and maintenance. That’s all changed with the Internet.
We have to be almost always available. And that places a huge burden on the
infrastructure you implement to run these systems well.
John S. Camp, Ph.D.
John Camp is the Associate Vice President for Computing & Information
Technology (C&IT) and CIO at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
He is responsible for enterprise-wide strategic and tactical planning
activities, implementing those plans, and coordinating information technology
activities at Wayne State.
A notable initiative under Dr. Camp’s leadership is the Sun Center
of Excellence for Administrative Systems at Wayne State, one of a small
number of centers of excellence worldwide. Sun and WSU are designing an
integrated solution for optimizing SCT’s Banner suite of administrative
applications. The center also sponsors research and development projects
that benefit other colleges and universities using SCT’s suite.
Among them are knowledge modules for SCT applications, and Banner forms
Camp served as chairperson of the EDUCAUSE Network Awards Committee and
is on the board of directors of Merit Network Inc. He is currently a Member-at-Large
on the SCT Banner Advisory Board and is Wayne State’s representative
on the SCT Pillar Institutions Group.
S: How would you characterize the merging of administrative
and academic systems?
JC: The walls are already coming down. I recall debates in
the past about the pros and cons of consolidated versus separate administrative
and academic computing divisions. I think separate and independent divisions
are dinosaurs. With the growth of portals and the potential to unify access
to any and all systems, there is very little way to tell whether a system or
function is administrative or academic.
"Certainly academic and administrative systems
They have to, because they’re related and must be integrated."
S: Do you have an example?
JC: Consider the tight integration required between course
management systems, like Blackboard, and the core information systems that you
run. We happen to run SCT’s Banner suite at Wayne State. If students want
to get to Blackboard for online education, they sign on to our unifying portal—we’re
using the Pipeline/Luminis product. Once they get into that portal, they might
want to first check their e-mail. They could even register for classes or check
their grades, or do a whole host of other things, and then go seamlessly into
Blackboard where they complete or submit course requirements and participate
in interactive discussions that professors have established on topics of interest.
All this—general productivity work like checking e-mail, administrative tasks
such as registering for classes, and academic activities like participating
in an online teaching/learning experiences—is done in a seamless
way, through the unifying portal. Certainly academic and administrative
systems are merging. They have to, because they’re related and must
S: How critical are today’s enterprise systems to supporting
the institutional mission?
JC: Well I happen to think they’re absolutely critical
and strategic. They bring the teaching, learning, and research elements together.
For example, one of the non-SCT modules in our information systems environment
is research management. Most of the federal agencies today require that you
interact with them electronically. They don’t want to deal with paper.
And so, universities like Wayne State have to figure out how to manage the research
process electronically—submitting proposals, establishing accounts for
awards, managing accounts, and submitting final reports. Research management
is an important, strategic component of WSU’s underlying information systems
environment. A first-rate information systems environment in higher education
is absolutely essential. It supports teaching, learning, and research as well
as the general business of the university.
S: What are the main issues in planning and implementing
large administrative systems?
JC: There are several that I consider vitally important. One
is selecting the right partners. When we were doing this in the late ’90s,
we looked at all of the major software and hardware companies, and we also had
to make project decisions. We selected SCT software and Sun hardware and middleware,
along with a commitment to strict adherence to project management principles
A Sampling of Products
Integrated into WSU’s Information Environment
SCT Banner and Pipleline/Luminis: Information
suite and access to all e-services
Course management system
eCard for bookstore, libraries, parking
Sun Microsystem’s Java Enterprise
Suite: OS/clustering, enterprise directory
We considered and then rejected a strategy that might be called ‘best
of breed,’ building an information systems environment using components
from various software and hardware companies: the best housing component form
this company, and the best human resource module from that company. And the
best human resource module from that company. You’ll cobble them all together.
Not too long ago I had lunch with a CIO from one of the big three automotive
companies. I asked him about his strategy for building information systems to
support the worldwide global needs of that giant company. He told me that the
company used to purchase best-of-breed products, but couldn’t afford that
approach anymore because it’s too difficult to integrate products from
many different companies and ensure that they work well together. The first
step in planning and implementing large information systems is to select the
right partners for implementing a truly integrated solution.
Buying an integrated suite gives you more assurance that when new versions or
releases come out, the components within the suite are tested and certified
to work together. Integration, for me, is key. Best of breed has appeal, but
you have to have very deep pockets to do that. Some universities can. But most
universities and colleges cannot.
S: What are some of the other issues you wanted to mention,
concerning planning and implementation?
JC: I think it’s vitally important to do good, consistent
project management. In general, IT projects have historically tended to take
too long and go over budget. There’s a lot of research to suggest this,
and much of the reason for it has to do with ineffective project management.
So at Wayne State we took about a year to prepare staff, both from IT and from
the business units, to use and understand project management principles, methods,
and tools. When we replaced every one of our legacy systems, brought up a portal
and a course management system, and integrated e-mail and other systems, we
were within budget and almost right on schedule. Good project management was
key in all of that.
We wanted personnel to understand in advance that they would participate in
weekly or bi-weekly status report meetings. These are not working meetings,
they are status meetings focused on major tasks to determine if they are on
schedule or if there are problems. If a major task is on schedule and has no
problems, we move on to the next task leader. The whole purpose of a status
report meeting is to identify problems sooner rather than later. You have to
teach this to people who manage projects as well as to those who work on projects
so they understand both the theory and the methodology. And good project managers
are not a dime a dozen. We’ve had, here at Wayne, some project managers
who are worth their weight in gold because they really know the art and science
of managing projects.
Another related issue is developing realistic project and annual budgets.
We try to present both one-time and annual budgets simultaneously. Initially,
I may not know all of the costs on the annual side, but I want university executives
and others to understand the categories of annual costs. On an annual basis,
you have to implement new releases. You have to replace hardware periodically.
You’ve got lots of licenses to pay for.
Everyone should understand that when the project is done, annual activities
and associated costs continue. Once that’s understood, we can proceed
to work together to document, discuss, and determine what those activities and
costs should be.
And finally it is important to be sure, that people involved in
these projects are engaged, and are encouraged to hang tough and
hang together when problems occur—and they will. This is, you know,
the art of getting people to work well together. But I think it’s
also an issue about how you develop that top-down and bottom-up
buy in. In effect, these are not IT projects; they are university
S: Are there any differences in technology
implementation strategies between very large institutions and mid-sized
or smaller institutions?
JC: In general, I would say no. There aren’t
many differences in the strategies for large and small implementations.
I’d still focus on project management, on budgets, and on selling
why we’re doing this within the university. I think the strategies
aren’t different. It’s just a matter of scale.
"When we replaced every
one of our legacy systems, brought up a portal and a course management system,
and integrated e-mail and other systems, we were within budget and almost right
on schedule. Good project management was key in all of that. They have to,
because they’re related and must be integrated."
S: How do you make these systems scalable?
JC: Much of that is just architectural. For example, we’ve
implemented clusters of Sun servers at Wayne State, with automated fail-over.
If there is ever a problem on any one of these servers, we automatically fail
over to another so the service is not disrupted. And this model of clustering
and fail-over is scalable. I can cluster small servers or large servers depending
on the size of the institution. On the software side, the scalability issue
comes back to the vendor. In most cases, software vendors like SCT are architecting
their information systems in a way that they can scale up to a university with
fifty thousand students, or down to a college with many fewer.
S:And how do you design flexibility in the systems, to allow
for necessary modifications as your institution’s strategic goals change?
JC: First of all, we take, and I take, a perspective that we
cannot afford to build our own information systems. Years ago, many universities
did just that. At Wayne State, we built, acquired, and customized systems to
reflect the Wayne State way of doing business. And we learned a hard lesson—the
systems became extremely difficult to change as our institution was changing.
Today at Wayne State, to maximize flexibility we resist customizing the SCT
Banner system to reflect Wayne State’s way of doing business.
that there are some voids. So, we build a limited number of surround systems,
which augment, rather than customize, our core Banner systems. And then we work
assertively with SCT to encourage them to build these surround systems into
their base product. The flexibility you asked about comes, I think, from not
customizing core systems, building surround systems when needed, and then working
with your vendor to modify its systems to your requirements.
S: Do you have an example of one of the surround systems
JC: Yes. We needed a space management system that provided
us with good information about space utilization at Wayne State University,
for a number of reasons, including federal reporting requirements. The SCT core
system didn’t have an adequate space management facility, so we built
one and integrated it with Banner rather than customizing Banner itself.
S: Could you describe criteria for selecting vendors?
JC: I’m looking for a vendor that shares our vision about
higher education and how information systems can help to achieve that vision.
In addition, I look for a vendor with a track record for executing on its vision—vision
is important but without the ability to execute, you don’t get very far.
I look at financial stability, and then, of course, I look at functionality.
IT Steering, Advisory, and Oversight at Wayne State
Information Technology Steering
(Enterprise policies, priorities, and funding)
IT Advisory Boards
(Strategies and plans for the intelligent use of IT)
Project Oversight and Management Teams
(Oversight and management
of approved, major projects)
S: What role do vendors play in designing an implementation
strategy? How do they affect the way you approach this?
JC: The vendor partners are critical resources. Their consultants
have experience implementing their solutions elsewhere, so you want to capitalize
on that. And certainly when new versions or new releases come in, vendor consultants
have firsthand experience with the changes. We tap their expertise to bring
our staff up to speed quickly.
At Wayne State we used consultants from SCT and Sun throughout our implementation
project, and now periodically when major changes occur in their
product lines. We bring on-site experts to campus to work with staff
to understand the changes in the system and to mentor them so that
the changes move forward smoothly.
"The vendor partners are critical resources.
Their consultants have experience implementing their solutions elsewhere,
so you want to capitalize on that."
S: Should planning for administrative systems include various
constituent groups on campus? What are the practical limitations?
JC: You can’t engage everyone so you need a process that
includes key stakeholders. At Wayne, we are implementing four types of boards
and committees—advisory, steering, oversight, and management. The university’s
advisory boards provide advice about the intelligent use of information technology
to enhance teaching, learning, research, and services. The Information Technology
Steering Committee deals with funding, policies, and priorities, while the project
oversight and management committees support and guide the implementation of
major IT projects for specific applications of IT. These boards and committees
have specific roles so that the university’s IT strategies are sound and
plans to achieve them are completed successfully.
For example, our Information Systems Oversight Team is a group of senior executives
who have a vested interest in the quality of the information systems at the
university. The Provost, senior executive for academic affairs, the Vice President
for Finance and Facilities, the Chief of Staff and Executive Vice President,
who also deals with advancement and human resources, our Vice President for
Research, WSU’s director of University Budget, and the CIO serve on this
committee. This is a hugely important group to convene—it really ‘owns’
the university’s information systems environment and has a vested interest
in its quality.
In addition, for each major project we convene a Project Management Team with
a sponsor from that area—it could be an alumni advancement project or
a project in human resources, for example. The team includes the project sponsor,
manager, and key individuals who are able to allocate resources within the areas
served by the project.
S:Are administrative systems going to keep up with user needs and expectations?
JC: I’ve been in this business long enough to know that
if you simply go to any college or university campus and ask how well the information
systems satisfy needs, you’re going to get complaints as well as positives.
I don’t expect that we’ll ever get to the state where our information
systems satisfy all of our needs. Higher education changes and hence needs and
expectations change. The important role of IT is to help colleges and universities
achieve their strategic visions by enhancing teaching, learning, research, and
service. Not always easy, but certainly rewarding.
S:What do you see as the next challenges or potential opportunities
for administrative systems in the next five or ten years?
JC:It’s necessary to help the university community understand
that we’re in a new era of information systems. They have to be always
available, Internet-based and functionally rich, and they’re going to
change. We’re in a period of constant change. That’s a lot different
than in our legacy era during which many universities built or mass customized
like we did, and the information systems really didn’t change very frequently.
There will always be opportunities that we will want to pursue. One of the
newer things we’re doing at Wayne State is building a very robust grid
computing environment for research. If at all possible, we want to integrate
our grid into the university’s network, security, identity, and information
One of the important challenges is ensuring that over time you can maintain,
sustain, and enhance the systems you’ve created. That really g'es back
to annual budgeting and getting the key people together to think not just about
the project at hand, but about the future.