The Extended Campuses & Information Technology Services at Northern Arizona University

Migration Trends
University Business, July/August 2012
Northern Arizona University
Program Category: 

There’s a reason someone coined the term “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Northern Arizona University’s Extended Campuses division—with 36 locations plus numerous online offerings—has enjoyed rapid growth in enrollment, pressuring the division’s software development team to keep up with rising demand for student services, course management, prospect tracking, and staff support.

The team added personnel to handle the increased workload, but staying nimble to swiftly move increasingly complex programs and applications from development to production became challenging. “As our team grew and we were integrating these multiple development platforms and our content management system, we started stepping on each others’ toes [in trying] to be innovative and rapidly migrate to production,” recalls Kevin M. Hayes, technical team lead for the Extended Campuses’ technical team.

Using open-source solutions and home-grown coding, the team developed a management system and improved its software migration process, allowing new tasks to move smoothly and quickly through development and implementation. The management system, known as the Task Management Environment (TME), is a web application that breaks down jobs into smaller parts, allowing for software development to be tracked in more manageable increments. The software migration process (“MOP”), is a newly automated system that merges and deploys software changes from multiple programmers and development packages. Formerly a manual process, it takes web development changes, scrubs them of conflicts, and integrates everything into a package that’s deployed to the production environment.

TME and MOP were developed to work as an integrated process, and the results impress. Task completion has increased greater than eight-fold. Annual billable development hours are up more than 250 percent. Task completion time has been reduced from two hours to 30 minutes, and average job completion has gone from 18.54 hours four years ago to 5.24 hours last year.

Extended Campuses students are often working adults, and many take classes online. Those differences made it difficult for Northern Arizona’s central function to give them the attention they need, says Marc Lord, director of technology. Without a change, the team would have continued tripping over each other.

“Our team grew from that desire to be more responsive to the people we were serving,” he notes. “If the functional people need us to put some innovation out there quickly, something that offers up a new student service, say, our MOP system and TME system allow us to get that done quickly, so that we don’t find ourselves lost in the process and never able to push anything out.”