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IT 'Insourcing' at Creighton U

Instead of looking outward for a vendor-supplied solution, Nebraska's Creighton University tapped into its own staff's brainpower to develop a consolidated calendaring system from scratch. The result was not only an initial cost savings--even with a financial incentive offered--but also the addition of a new revenue stream for the school as third-party organizations became interested in using the internally developed code.

When colleges need a new piece of technology to solve a challenge or handle a specific task, the natural route is to consider options offered by one or more vendors, talk to other institutional IT teams about what they're using and, eventually, purchase and install a solution.

When Creighton University of Omaha, NE needed a more robust, campus-wide calendaring system, Brian A. Young took a decidedly different route. As vice president and CIO for the school, Young enlisted the help of his three-person IT team to develop the best possible solution to a problem that had been plaguing the institution for years.

Young said the university faced daily challenges of communicating messages and event information to a diverse audience comprising students, faculty, staff and alumni. Those various groups juggled a "huge number of independent calendars that supported individual schools, colleges, programs, and campus groups," according to Young.

"It caused confusion and led to an overlapping of events and double booking of resources, not to mention being cumbersome for audiences attempting to locate a particular event of interest," said Young. "There was no surefire way to see what was happening in totality across the university."

Young said he skipped the "shopping around for a vendor solution," stage because he felt such packages would only meet 60 percent to 70 percent of the school's calendaring needs. In 2009, he issued an "in-sourcing challenge" to his division and asked everyone to brainstorm and come up with a solution that would solve the calendar conundrum.

"My plan was to tap the brainpower of my internal staff to find a solution to the problem," said Young. To make the challenge interesting and worth the extra time it would take outside of work hours, he also offered a financial incentive to the team who provided the winning solution.

To get those teams onboard and up to speed on the project, Young said he came up with a statement outlining the problem and then assembled several IT teams to join forces and come up with an answer. The winning team of three was tasked with the project development. By using this "insourcing" strategy, Young said, the college was not only able to utilize its existing resources, but it also saved money by not having to purchase, install, and license a third-party's software package.

Composed of a programmer, a project manager, and a Web developer, the development team took about four months to finish the first rendition of Creighton University's campus-wide calendaring system. Since then, Young said, the IT team has been "adding new features left and right" to the program.

The team developed an innovative solution that allowed the university to do away with its multiple independent calendars in favor of a new "CU unified" calendar system. The feature-rich system is easily customizable for any campus, business, or community.

Before the program was rolled out on campus, Young said, a key consideration was exactly who would have the right to publish content in the calendar. Rather than restricting access to a certain group of administrators or faculty members, Young said, he opened up the portal to everyone on campus. Much like an open source system allows all of its users to modify and add information as needed, users continually update the calendar, add comments, and modify information.

"We've found that giving everyone the ability to post to the calendar creates a sort of 'checks and balances,' and ensures that the information being published is accurate and updated," said Young. "Plus, the more people we empowered and enabled to post to it, the more the calendar grew and the more useful it became."

Using the calendar, students, teachers, faculty and administrators can set up event reminders via e-mail or text message; seamlessly manage events by adding, modifying, canceling, and deleting; and share the information with parents, alumni, and other individuals who aren't currently on campus. According to Young, the system generates significant traffic from Google, MSN, and Yahoo search engines and is also integrated with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Putting accurate calendar information at users' fingertips online has helped Creighton University increase attendance at campus events by about 30 percent, according to Young. The application is so unique, he said, that there is a provisional patent pending on it, and other universities have already asked if they can "borrow the code" to produce their own versions of the proprietary software.

"Not only do we not have to pay off-the-shelf purchase price and annual license fees for this product, but we've also received calls from numerous universities (and one local TV station) saying, "We love what you have done, sign us up," said Young, "As a result, our calendaring system has become a revenue stream for the school, which hosts the calendars for institutions that were facing many of the same challenges we were dealing with a year ago."

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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