Magazine article University Business

Looking Ahead @ TCU: From Tornado Alerts to Timely Financials, Speed Is of the Essence in Texas

Magazine article University Business

Looking Ahead @ TCU: From Tornado Alerts to Timely Financials, Speed Is of the Essence in Texas

Article excerpt

Keeping an eye on the future while serving a campus' current technological needs is one of the toughest balancing acts a higher ed IT department faces, says David Edmondson, Assistant Provost for Information Services, Texas Christian University (www.tcu.edu). "We worked with a variety of vendors to assess our status, including HE and we arrived at a plan that called for faculty, staff and students to share all applications, centrally hosted," he recalls. "We wanted to bring everything together in one place so if we have a tornado alert, we can put it on the portal; if a student wanted to register for classes, he or she just clicks on enrollment rather than waits in line; if one of our managers needed a budget report, they could go online and view--in real time--their department's financial status.

"Just as an example of the way we used to do things," he adds, "to access finance and HR information required an [admin] to run a query, ask for a specific report and then click 10 or 12 buttons--accurately and in sequence--to get the data. By the time they got the information, if they got it, it was closer to the middle or the end, not the beginning, of the month."

In fact, the business process was even less user-friendly than it appeared. By the late '90s, the school eliminated regular printed financial reports that, Edmondson notes, were awkward, late and confusing to read in any case. "So we decided that managers could go online for part of the financial data and anyway, we assumed that some information could be delivered via printed reports, which by definition includes a time lag."

"That was a misimpression on our part," he laughs.

It became clear--almost immediately, he notes--that the IT system was not serving its constituents and something had to give: either the school could continue to modify its non-centralized software to accommodate the school's business processes or it could design from the ground up a state-of-the-art IT structure that would serve the growing school well into the future. In fact, the decision was inescapable: do both, and throw in a showcase student administration system at the same time.

The umbrella brand for the system is my.tcu.edu, a personalized portal service that gives students, faculty and staff 24/7 access through a Web browser to the TCU information and Web-based applications. The portal system is customizable and flexible and manages such student, administration and faculty services as:

* Email

* Calendar

* Department Announcements

* Financial Data

* News

* Links to Frognet, TCU On-line, My Library, Writing Center, Student Government and more

* Student Affairs Calendar

* On Campus Events

* Discussion Forums

* Marketplace

"It requires little or no training to use it," says Edmondson, "and we think of it as a direct link to all students and administrators. They can find what they need, when they need it, and communicate with whomever they need. TCU teamed up with HP to help with planning and implementation.

"It took us one-and-a-half years to do this," Edmondson says, "and there were sticky moments, but I don't think I would have done anything very differently if I had to do it over. …

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