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Strategic Directions | Feature

Moving Campus Services From the Portal to the Cloud

A Q&A with John Robinson

How many times have you heard "Our students are used to Google and Amazon… How could we ever match that here on campus?" Maybe now you can. Through a partnership with Indiana University, rSmart is offering OneCampus, a cloud-based service that gives institutions an easy way to transform older, portal-based systems into updated, cloud-based campus services that rival any online shopping experience.

rSmart, a company that has a history of associations with pioneering efforts in the education community — the Sakai and Kuali communities, to be specific — has in the past few years offloaded its Sakai and Kuali offerings and will now focus exclusively on OneCampus. CT spoke with John Robinson, a co-founder of rSmart, about OneCampus.

Mary Grush: What is the background of OneCampus?

John Robinson: During the past ten years there has been very active use of portals on campuses. But it seems that portals have gotten difficult to navigate, and they're no longer meeting the expectations institutions have for students, faculty, administrators, and their communities to access information within the university that quickly addresses the reason they are contacting whatever the information source is on campus.

A little more than a year ago, Indiana University set about resolving this issue. They developed a solution for IU called "One.IU". It has been very successful, and IU wanted someone to help them provide it to other institutions. rSmart has partnered with IU in the past, so we offered to provide the cloud-based service more broadly. This is what rSmart is focusing on now. Our product is called "OneCampus". Tony Potts, a co-founder of rSmart, will lead the rSmart team in this exciting new chapter.

Grush: What does OneCampus do for end users?

Robinson: Part of the objective is to allow users looking for campus information to access it from whatever device they have available to them, whether it's a desktop, laptop, cell phone, or whatever it might be. And, we want to replicate the common communication capabilities users are accustomed to with Google, Amazon, the Apple store, and similar services.

OneCampus allows students, faculty, and others to access the services of an institution through a search engine. So, you might pick up your phone and look through the bus schedule, or access your grades, or if you're staff you might input your hours on a time sheet… there are endless scenarios I could offer.

The search system goes into the existing data spaces, allowing users to have a much simpler experience finding the information they need. This will replace the more complex process of using portals. Portals have done a nice job, but over the years, they've gotten quite "heavy" — with OneCampus, it doesn't have to be that way.

Grush: What does OneCampus do for the institution?

Robinson: OneCampus provides a simple, cost-effective solution that becomes a new look for the institution — a look that is consistent with the institution’s ability and interest in meeting the expected user experience.

Part of its simplicity is that it is cloud-based, and we think that's where the nature of providing services is headed in general. We think that OneCampus is right in its construction and architecture, a departure at last for institutions, from the complex and heavy IT-oriented systems of the past.

In the long run, this technology will enable the campus owners of data to monitor use and their users' comments and levels of satisfaction. Campus data owners can very easily change their presentation to the end user, given this feedback. Over time, service levels will improve. So, the whole institution becomes involved in improving usability in a loosely coupled manner. The fact that OneCampus gives a broad range of users within an institution this kind of influence, we think that the service will ultimately take on the kind of light that the institution is interested in projecting — without a lot of technical complexity and overhead. This is where the industry is headed, and we're pleased to offer some leadership for higher education institutions in this realm.

Grush: What makes it easy for institutions to begin offering this?

Robinson: First of all, the configuration capabilities are very simple for the data owners. It's very easy to manage — for example, to change the content, customize the look-and-feel, add more information about a service, etc. It is designed so that data owners can make these changes themselves, without going back to the vendor or even involving the IT department.

For the overall university, it is not a big-ticket, complex process to acquire OneCampus. We've priced it low because we want many institutions to start using this rapidly. We want the decision not to involve a cumbersome, bureaucratic process.

OneCampus is a service capability that is controlled by the service entities on campus themselves. They can jump in as independent departments and start running without a lot of coordination across campus departments, if that's what they wish to do. It's just that simple, and cost effective.

Grush: What are the options for acquiring this cloud-based service?

Robinson: We have two options. Institutions can get the cloud services directly from rSmart, or, they can get special pricing as an approved service of Internet2 Net+ if they are among the 260 Net+ institutions.

Grush: rSmart has a history of working within the higher education community on efforts that are beneficial to the community — Sakai and Kuali are the two main examples. I trust this aspect of rSmart will continue…

Robinson: rSmart has always had the primary objective of accommodating institutions in their efforts to acquire technology that's easy to use and helps them meet their mission of service to students. This will continue.

About the Author

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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