IT Funding & Finance

It's Time to Insource

One CIO 'insources' a new calendaring solution, and gets top-flight technology in exchange for creative and financial incentives.

DURING MY TENURE as the vice president and CIO for Creighton University (NE), I have had plenty of explore and implement new technologies that support our mission of teaching, research, and patient care. Yet,always with the implementation of new technologies comes the search for resources (both financial as well as human)needed to develop, implement, and support applications and infrastructure. Of course, exploring each new technology challenge gives us the opportunity to apply lessons learned, as well as the latitude to search our creative spirit for unique ways to bring the best solutions to campus. It is this kind of innovative approach that has enabled Creighton technologists to plan and successfully institute many projects that enhance our mission-- all to the benefit of our students,faculty, and staff.

It's Time to Insource

CREIGHTON UNIVERSITY's calendar application was the product of internal IT brain power and teamwork.

Meeting the Challenge

Not long ago, for instance, a calendaring dilemma presented just this type of challenge to surmount. Creighton, like so many educational institutions, has faced daily challenges of communicating messages and event information appropriate to its diverse target audiences of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The result of such a diverse group of interests was a huge number of independent calendars that supported individual schools, colleges, programs, and campus groups. These numerous and independent calendars caused confusion, event overlap, and double booking, not to mention thwarting audiences attempting to locate a particular event of interest. So, when it became apparent that the calendar communication challenge was only mounting, we knew that technology would be the answer.

The core problem, we realized, was the absence of a simple, single calendar solution that would provide a total picture of academic, student, athletic, and campus events occurring on any given day. Finding the dollars for a market or custom solution was the secondary-- but no less daunting-- problem. I realized, though, that right in house there was a wealth of the brain power needed to create our ideal solution, so I issued an "insourced" challenge to the men and women of my division and charged them to brainstorm and develop a solution that would solve our calendar conundrum. Importantly (to make the challenge even more compelling and worth the extra time it would take outside of work hours), I also offered a financial incentive to the team who provided the winning solution. The incentive bonus varied with the amount of work each team member did; on average, it was comprised of a bonus of $1,000 per team member, plus, for each team member, a percentage of the patent filed. (I used resources that were saved from not having to buy a commercial product.)

In the weeks that followed, several teams brought their solutions forward, but one group consisting of a programmer, an applications developer, and a project manager showed tremendous promise and ended up delivering the winning solution. The team developed an innovative solution (calendar.Creighton.edu) that would allow the university to do away with its multiple independent calendars in favor of a new "CU unified" calendar system. It was designed for ease of use and intuitively recognizes users' patterns and recommends related events.

What's more, it is feature-rich (see "Marketing the Benefits") and easily customizable for any campus, business, or community. Not surprisingly, the new campus calendar solution quickly won over the Creighton campus community, but other campuses, too, already have requested the code for this solution and there is even a provisional patent pending for it. (Creighton is currently developing an affordable, full-service hosted solution to provide this service to interested organizations.)

Marketing the Benefits

Armed with this new tool for the campus, the team began a series of "show and tell" sessions to groups, sharing the exciting new application and all of the customizable features that would be available for use in the ensuing weeks. Just some of the benefits of our new homegrown technology:

  • Informative. Reminders for events can be set up for either e-mail or text message.
  • User-friendly. The calendar allows for seamless maintenance of events, such as adding, modifying, canceling, and deleting events.
  • Search engine optimized. Large amounts of traffic come from the Google, MSN, and Yahoo search engines, thanks to the calendar's refined design.
  • Highly customizable. Users can select which calendars they want to view, and can add the entire calendar to their iGoogle setup, or add specific events to Facebook, Outlook, and other calendars.
  • Scalable. Adapts easily to existing web environments.
  • Functional. Allows audiences to know what, when, and where things are happening.
  • Popular. Our data show that this tool is widely used not only for the intended audience (campus), but for external audiences as well (parents, alumni, etc.), across the US and several other countries.
  • Smart. Adapts to an individual user's event preferences and suggests upcoming events.
  • Maintainable. The calendar's concise, elegant design and implementation makes it simple to add new and exciting features as need arises.
Taking the time to find a creative solution to a problem that did not require posting an RFP to external vendors afforded not only a huge financial savings for the university, it enabled in-house talent to share their innovative ideas and see them come to fruition.

Is Insourcing for You?

Fortunately for us, our Creighton IT team was ready, willing, and able to step up to the "insourcing" challenge, and we had the required talent on board. The project was developed over lunch hours, after hours, and on weekends so no other duties or projects had to be put aside. Community input meetings were factored into the work schedule of the project team during normal business hours.

Taking the time to find a creative solution to a problem that did not require posting an RFP to external vendors afforded not only a huge financial savings for the university (five to six figures), it enabled in-house talent to share their innovative ideas and see them come to fruition. For us, insourcing a much-needed technology solution was a win- win solution. With some careful planning, scheduling, and skill-set assessment, it might be an ideal solution for your own campus tech needs during an economically challenging time. [Editor's note: To find out more about the Creighton University calendaring solution, go here.]

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