When you think about the blinding pace of technological change, it’s a wonder the University of Iowa’s student information system worked for as long as it did.
More than 30—yes, 30—years old, Iowa’s SIS was less an integrated series of data processing functions and more a collection of individual siloed systems that didn’t work very well together. Because the underlying technology and architecture were so old, enhancements were difficult. Data were redundant and difficult to synchronize. And manual, paper-based processes frustrated users.
Mike Noel, director of ITS administrative information systems, says that the systems, which had their own applications and databases, could communicate—but there was still “a lot of redundant data. That meant we had a lot of syncing of data between the systems, which could be problematic.”
Rather than go outside for a solution, IT administrators built a new SIS to meet all of the institution’s specific needs.
The project team broke the work down into modules aligned with the functional units of Iowa’s provost’s office. Each unit had a work group with a functional co-leader and a technical co-leader. Subject-matter experts cycled in and out of the groups as needed.
The challenges—staffing, timing, budgeting and leadership changes at the university—were fairly typical, said Doug Lee, assistant provost for international programs who, along with Noel, is co-director of the project. But focusing on the task helped the team see it through.
“One of the major differences between building it ourselves and having a vended product is that we had to supply our own discipline,” Lee says. “I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
The new system, called MAUI—“Made At the University of Iowa”—gives students a contemporary user interface, greater integration with other systems and more functionality. From initial inquiry to graduation, every step of the student lifecycle is supported, including admissions, student records, advising, billing, financial aid, orientation, relationship management, academic support and events management. Data redundancy is a thing of the past, as manual processes have been automated.
MAUI’s comprehensive suite of services has increased efficiencies across a wide variety of areas. For example, with add/drop gone paperless, the registrar’s office processed nearly 17,000 changes last fall without needing a signature and without long lines of students. Student relationship management grew much smoother, and more than 15,000 applicants received news of their admission decision within two days instead of the prior SIS’s more than two weeks.
Despite the challenges and the scope of the work, a homegrown solution provided exactly what was needed, Lee says. Vended solutions aren’t bad, he says, but if the university had the chance to do it all over again, officials still would choose to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
“We didn’t want to adapt to the software,” says Lee. “We wanted the software that would allow us to do business the way we want to do it. We’ve been able to accomplish that.” —T.W.D.