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Building a more powerful information system

University Business, July/August 2012

On any university or college campus, information is held in numerous content-related, department-specific applications. For example, HR likely has its own system that allows staff to easily access information through a primary portal; accounting may be set up the same way. And so it goes throughout the campus, with departments utilizing their own systems to conduct business.

That would be fine if all the information required to get the job done was confined within that particular application, but that's hardly the case. There's always the need to access supporting information collected and held by various sources, often in various departments—a reality prompting the search for ways to make this task less onerous and costly.

Integration, a concept of taking multiple systems and making them seem like one, provides an effective way to tie these information silos together, making them far more powerful than when they stand alone. It's an effort that Millersville University is undertaking, says Roger V. Bruszewski, vice president for finance and administration.

Located in Pennsylvania, Millersville serves approximately 8500 students. Bruszewski says several departments/functions are integrated, such as student billing; the SAP finance and HR systems, which are integrated into the SCT Banner Student Information System; credit cards; and the procurement card system. He'd like to see integration occur in other areas, such as billing, parking tickets, procurement, making payment, payroll, class grades/lists/schedules, and admissions.

Integration provides immediate, real-time data, Bruszewski explains. Where information is needed immediately, or where the same task is performed daily or frequently, integration is critical, he says.

One strategy that can help colleges and universities maximize their technology investment is deploying enterprise content management software (ECM) as integrative middleware to link together data generated from various business applications and to integrate with existing systems, says Linda Ding, program strategist for Laserfiche. Also, because this integration is seamless—by virtue of an open API and support for industry-standard platforms such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, and Microsoft.NET—people can easily access information in a familiar way, ensuring ready adoption across the board; a critically important benefit.

"Having to search through multiple applications impedes decision making," Ding explains. "It's far more efficient to have one single point of information. Using ECM as integrative middleware can help people make the right decisions in a timely manner, increasing their effectiveness and the level of customer service."

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