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Information Overload: Ohio U Tackles Student Data with Massive SIS Project

When Brice Bible was hired as Ohio University's new chief information officer two years ago, the institution's IT operations were "fairly disconnected and not as modern as one would hope," he said, and its student information system had recently suffered a security breach.

"We were one of just two public universities that were still using the Informs system," said Bible. "It was an older, proprietary technology that no longer met our needs." The vendor had also gone out of business, and Athens-based Ohio University would no longer have software support beginning in the summer of 2010.

"Getting a new student information system was at the top of my to-do list," said Bible, who conferred with the school's board of trustees and president, both of whom agreed that a replacement system was warranted. After shopping around, the university selected Oracle PeopleSoft Campus Solutions System, which is being installed with Data Privacy Shield, a CRM and an identity management solution.

"At first we looked at any vendor who was interested in working with us and then quickly narrowed the list down to the two or three best options," said Bible, who used faculty and staff surveys to drive the RFP process. "The evaluation process was conducted openly and transparently, with a lot of dialog, presentations, and a selection committee."

In the end, PeopleSoft won out. Campus Solutions is a comprehensive suite of software designed to meet the changing needs of higher education institutions. Its most recent iteration, Release 9, has been available since 2006 and focuses on three fundamental areas of interest to universities: flexibility to meet schools' unique needs without costly customization; better student and advisor collaboration to facilitate academic achievement; and more tightly integrated information and collaboration that improves interaction and helps users take action on the information.

With one main campus, five regional campuses, and 29,000 students, Ohio University is now in the middle of replacing its existing student information system in order to improve the delivery of services to its students, faculty, and staff through workflow, Web-enabled services, and service oriented architecture. SOA describes the structure of a software system in terms of its components and the services they provide regardless of the underlying platform that the service is running on.

Systems integrator CIBER is handling the 20-month project, which Bible said is the "largest and most complex project" upon which Ohio University's Office of Information Technology has ever embarked. CIBER's consultants are providing the institution with project management, functional and technical leadership, and support for the project.

Bible called the student information system the "foundational layer" for a larger, campus-wide IT program that will also include the replacement of its homegrown identity management system. "The new system will give us much better control over creation identity and how and where various services are accessed by users," said Bible. The school's use of SOA will allow it to determine how data is used, manipulated, and moved between the various aspects of its student information system.

"There's also a privacy shield angle to this project, which is particularly important in light of the security breaches we've experienced in the past," said Bible. "We want to protect our students and their information and identities." To do that, the school is creating a "lock box" where sensitive data will be stored and protected and accessible only through a series of checks and controls.

"Our new system will prevent hackers from proliferating Social Security numbers through the campus information system--a problem that every university deals with," said Bible. The university's new system will also include a data warehouse that will provide the entire campus with cross-sectional capabilities to make business decisions and a robust online portal.

The massive project is expected to cost Ohio University about $40 million, with about $23 million allocated for the student information system and the remainder of the funding for core infrastructure improvements to the school's network and data systems. "The board approved the funding in January, and the project is now well underway," said Bible. "We've developed a road map for moving forward and are looking to go live in the spring of 2011, with the system ready for full use for the fall quarter in 2011."

As the CIO of Ohio's first public university, Bible said the student information system is just one piece of a larger IT puzzle that his team will be working on for the next few years. "We're looking to provide a technology infrastructure from the ground up that can support an institution with a reputation like Ohio University's," he said. "We're continually looking at how we can optimize IT. Keep an eye on us over the next few years, and I'm sure you will see our institution become an even more efficient, modern university."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].

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