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Education means business: the role of KM

This article appears in the issue May 2006, [Vol 15, Issue 5]
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Content management, search and business intelligence are among the core KM technologies being enthusiastically adopted by the academic world. Many of the tools being applied in educational settings help achieve such goals as enhanced customer service and greater productivity.

At the University of California San Diego (UCSD), for example, a committee established by the vice chancellor of business affairs was set up to explore ways to shift the structure of the UCSD employee Web site from an organizational to a service-oriented approach.

The committee visited corporate giants such as IBM, Gateway and Intuit to observe industry best practices and gain insights on specific issues, such as how to maintain productivity with a smaller work force and how to simplify complex processes. The committee wanted to focus on developing content rather than creating a homegrown software product. After an evaluation process, the group chose Vignette as an off-the-shelf product that could be set up quickly to meet its requirements.

"Our initial project was to publish information that would assist new employees in doing the things they would typically need to do when they begin their jobs," says John McCleary, director of business process initiatives at UCSD. "The intent was to provide an alternative to the network of experts that a longtime employee would have but a new one would not."

The Human Resources (HR) Department at UCSD provides a good example of the transformation that has resulted from the services-oriented approach allowed by the Vignette content management system.

"We put all the basic HR information into the content management system," says Karen Cangialosi, manager of portal services at UCSD. HR experts on all personnel-related material were interviewed, and the new material was tested for usability. "We also indicated to the experts that their name and contact information would be on the relevant Web page," adds Cangialosi. "They were not enthusiastic, but in fact, their calls dropped to one-third of the previous volume because employees could get basic information from the Web site, and only the more complex issues needed to be fielded by HR."

A number of Vignette's other applications in higher education are focused on providing a consistent look and feel, as well as consistent content, to the many Web sites that tend to develop throughout an academic environment. "University content management initiatives are focused on the aggregation of content into an extension of back-office information, using the Internet as the primary transport," says Bruce Milne, VP and general manager of industry solutions at Vignette. Through those sites, universities are able to offer better services, automate outreach to potential students and enhance alumni relations.

Hosted CM option

Secondary education institutions represent an underserved market for content management because they often cannot afford the initial cost of the software and do not have the infrastructure or staff to support it. For those facilities, a hosted content management system may be a viable option. SpringCM developed a product specifically for users who need full enterprise content management (ECM) functionality with distributed access at an affordable price.

Geared toward midsize businesses, SpringCM caught the eye of the Kanu o ka 'Ania New Century Public School (KANU), a charter school in Hawaii that was looking for a collaborative content management system. The school is currently piloting SpringCM to set up curricula for the coming year. In addition, SpringCM and KANU are jointly evaluating various Web-based educational applications, including curriculum software, grade book software and learning management systems, for possible integration.

Schools need content management for a range of functions, including posting school policies, collaborating between the school and parents, and compiling information for federally funded programs while maintaining online privacy.

"With SpringCM, a school, a department or workgroup can be up and running within an hour," says Christine Mason, CEO of SpringCM. "It's well suited to multicampus school environments and school systems where facilities are separated geographically."

Search and research

From a researcher's viewpoint, search technology is one of the most valuable KM tools available. At the University of Nebraska, accounting professor Burch Kealey is pushing the envelope in terms of what search solutions normally do. His research projects involve searching company data filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). For example, a recent project required him to identify listed companies whose audits indicated they had "material weakness" in their internal financial controls, and correlate that characteristic with audit expenditures and stock prices. "This was the first rigorous academic study on the effects of Sarbanes-Oxley," says Kealey.

In the past, Kealey's research efforts required a great deal of manual review of documents to find the target companies. In order to search and filter the data more effectively, Kealey selected ISYS Search Software, a search vendor that develops tools for users ranging from individuals to large enterprises. He began using the company's ISYS:desktop application to search through the documents in order to identify Fortune 1000 companies with material weakness, and was able to do so much more easily than through previous search methods.

The subsequent filtering was not the usual process of narrowing a search within the first set of results. "I needed to compare the search hits to records on a spreadsheet that contained financial data for many companies, and then eliminate companies in the spreadsheet that did not match the search hits," says Kealey. By linking the two data sources through an identification number and using a simple Visual Basic program, Kealey was able to filter the spreadsheet data to include only the companies of interest. Although the matching process could have been achieved through the use of a relational database, that approach would have required much more data transformation and significant programming. Kealey's solution was economical, both financially and in terms of effort.

"We are seeing a noticeable increase in the number of people who want to carry out post-query processing," says Dave Haucke, VP of global marketing at ISYS. "For example, they may want to create a timeline and extract the data to a spreadsheet. They don't want just a list of results—they want to do something with the data." For academic researchers, that capability is a valuable resource that provides more options than other desktop search engines.

Consolidating BI on campus

Several years ago, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at Princeton University took a look at the reporting solutions in place and discovered that 15 different sets of tools were operating. OIT decided that consolidation was in order, and created a selection group composed of business customers and technical staff to participate in the selection of a campuswide reporting solution. The group generated an RFP, and after evaluating several contenders, selected ReportNet, BI reporting technology from Cognos, which has since been rebranded as Cognos 8 BI. Despite the diversity of software products that the Cognos software was replacing, coming to a consensus was not difficult, because the technical staff liked the architecture and the users were comfortable with the interface.

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