The Frontiers of Integration
It’s time for a refresher course on what campus enterprise integration
is supposed to be about, and how to get there. Here, enterprise technology vendors
and their campus partners respond to the call.
How do we move to the next level of integration on our campuses? The answer
has been changing recently, as colleges and universities redefine what the experience
of students and others should be like as they interact with our systems and
A Little History
In one sense, all of our systems and services are already integrated—in
our clients’ minds, anyway. Those we serve already see the college or
university as a single entity, whether or not we are set up to operate that
way. Students don’t automatically assume that they are starting all over
when they leave one building or office and enter another. The goal of integration
is to remove as many rude shocks as possible from the clients’ actual
experience of our necessarily disparate systems.
The first generation of integration focused on the ERP (enterprise resource
planning) system, or on its predecessor, the loosely coupled suite of core administrative
apps. There was a simple test for basic integration: Was there a single “people”
file for all the applications? Did your name appear in multiple, separate database
tables if you were a student, employee, or alum? If you changed your name or
address in one place, did it automatically get updated everywhere else? The
metric for application suite integration was to discover how much data about
a person, course, student grant, gift, or other entity fell inconveniently outside
the magic circle, leaving duplicated bits and pieces to be synced and cleaned
up after a business process modified them in one area.
From There, to Here
Although it could have a profound effect on the quality of service provided,
this integration metric was mostly a technical, back-office concept. Integration
was largely a boon to those office workers who would have to compensate by manual
adjustments for any lack of consistency in the system. We have moved beyond
that standard of integration. The new emphasis is to think in terms of integrated
services and seamless experiences for clients themselves, rather than just database-level
This change is due to two factors: the increased focus on self-service, and
the arrival of major functionality that clearly falls outside the ERP realm.
Self-service demands deeper integration because there are fewer opportunities
for a human attendant to gracefully help the user over the cracks in the pavement,
as one system hooks up less than perfectly with another. The ERP setup, which
traditionally provided the bulk of earlier forms of integration, now has to
share the stage with learning management systems and other new environments.
No one these days wishes to cobble together a mega application suite that would
encompass card access, library, dining services, medical services, parking,
calendar, mail, contacts, and file storage, and all the other services that
our clientele interacts with on a daily basis.
Vendors Reach Out
The enormity of the new integration task has caused vendors to reach across
product lines. “The business of education is far ahead of the commercial
marketplace in terms of integration,” says John Speer, VP of Sales at
Datatel Corp. (www.datatel.com).
“Datatel customers are integrated with over 22 vendors’ applications,
from security and food service to library systems. How many businesses provide
all those services and expect to pull it all together?”
At SunGard SCT (www.sct.com),
the company’s approach is to focus its efforts under the banner of the
Unified Digital Campus (UDC). UDC is a combination of SCT’s integration
tools (Luminis Data Integration), the integrated architecture of their application
suite, and the company’s consulting expertise in tying campus applications
together. “Integration will look very different on every campus; it’s
not a case of simply using a workbook or pulling a solution out of the box,”
says Susan LaCour, senior VP, Solutions Development.
“We leverage what a campus already has,” adds Andy Cooley, senior
VP, Marketing. “We are not going to tear up the road and repave it.”
The glue to Jenzabar’s (www.jenzabar.com)
solution is Jenzabar’s Internet Campus Solution (JICS), a portal-style
solution for linking eLearning and other services. Jenzabar has been particularly
driven to develop a plug-in approach since the company got its start via the
acquisition of four software firms, and is still eager not to leave behind customers
on any of their various platforms.
Portals and Dashboards
Portals provide the one-stop-shopping approach to integration. They bring together
the entry points to multiple services on a single Web page and customize the
contents of that page to the specific needs and roles of the person using it.
Major ERP vendors, independent portal developers, and open source projects offer
a wide range of finished products or frameworks for rolling your own. The portal
is not a magic wand for integrating services—that still has to be done
in the background—but the ease of use and consistency of access g'es a
long way toward providing the unified experience that makes sense to users.
Specialized portals and dashboards form an important part of the solution at
many institutions. For instance, an executive dashboard might pull together
information about current enrollments, admissions applications, and up-to-the
minute financial data to give top administrators a way to monitor the institution’s
The PI (Principal Investigator) Portal developed by the Ohio State
University Research Foundation illustrates the value of this specialized
approach. The point of the PI Portal, according to Anne Moffat, deputy executive
director, is to provide information to faculty in a format that they can easily
use and understand.
“We wanted to make routine project management information available even
at 3 am, if that is what a PI wants. Users can see what their balance is, costs
incurred, encumbrances—an updated picture of the entire financial status
of their projects.” The system pulls information from Ohio State’s
PeopleSoft system, including Grants Management, Financial Management, and Human
Do You Have a Chief Integration Officer?
This question is only partly tongue-in-cheek. It comes from the recognition
that integration is not something you buy, but something you design. You can
buy products that boast integration, both within the product itself and with
other vendors’ specialized packages. But unless you design your institutional
workflows to actually produce meaningful integration, the data will not transform
your service and management environment.
Integration takes the same kind of participatory, inclusive, collaborative,
cross-functional effort that implementing an ERP system takes. It demands a
clear understanding of how one area creates information and how another department
consumes it. It requires paying attention to the customer’s own workflow,
and asking those most basic of questions: What is the client trying to get done,
and what information or access d'es the client need to be successful and happy