Thursday, September 23, 2004

White Paper - Connected/Disconnected Campuses

White Paper

“Connected Campuses” A disconnect between technology’s mission and technology use.

“Connecting” a campus is no longer purely a function of pulling wires, building dedicated computing facilities and buying switches. Today, a truly “connected” campus has less to do with hardware and more to do with how students, staff, faculty, administration, alumni and a university’s broad public constituencies “connect” with the most up-to-date information available from the university. Given the pure volume of web-content available on university websites, a “connected” campus must utilize the most ubiquitous delivery mechanism available to them, along with software that automatically recognizes content updates and manages the flow of information to ensure that only user-specified information is sent. This class of software must also allow the user, through a modern, intuitive, interface to control the content, frequency, delivery mechanism, and routing of such data by incorporating ubiquitous technologies, like electronic mail, and new technologies like RSS (XML, Atom, etc.) and wireless/short messages for cell phones, pagers, PDA’s and other mobile devices.

We have all experienced the difference between being “Connected” to an organization through their web site and being “Functionally Connected.” Universities must face facts; when a student, faculty or administrative professional begins her day, the first work or school-related task that she undertakes most often is: “Check E-mail/Voice-Mail.” Among administrative professionals, administrative staff, students and university faculty daily e-mail use is nearly 100%. Additionally, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project College Students Survey “The great majority (85%) of college students own their own computer, and two-thirds (66%) use at least two email addresses. The majority of students (89%) have a positive attitude toward the Internet and its communication tools.” With knowledge of this information, it is reasonable to expect universities to leverage the huge investments they have already made, in their zealous quest to get information to the web, by alerting users, via e-mail, or one of their other preferred communications channels about changes to the specific information that they are interested in.

Why did universities start building websites?

The most common strategic-communications mission for universities was to make more information easily accessible, answer common questions and reduce costs associated with human interaction for redundant tasks and common services. This was the promise of IT departments and vendors across the globe. The first major wave of web-development technology spending in higher education moved in a predictable and consistent pattern across the broad scope of academic institutions, cost millions of dollars and completely changed the way people interact with universities, regardless of their individual affiliations with a specific institution. This development-cycle followed a basic model: Building a complete website, migrating most important public information to the website, building/buying a content management system that allows anyone with basic computer skills to publish and update any part of the site regularly. The next phase involved a task-centered reorganization back to a pedagogically consistent publishing environment; from dedicated IT-centered publishing to a decentralized model, so each department may again control its own content publishing. Finally, a significant number of academic organizations have moved toward an online standard in which the answer to almost every common university-related question is somewhere on its website and the addition of new information is instantaneous and outside the realistic control of a single set of university standards.

Now what do we do with it?

With this model having been engaged far-and-wide, and most college websites living up to the standard of ability to do most of the things promised initially, the new direction of technology migration on American college campuses has begun to form in hopes of actually getting people to rely on the web functions (the way they rely on email) as a first option rather than as a supplementary support tool. Thus begins the process of integrating campus-wide portals with content management systems, web publishing tools, Customer Relationship Management tools, course management software, technology based instruction software and multiple business processes. This movement has led to ever more information becoming easily accessible via “single sign-on” authentication procedures. Having completed all of this costly integration work, a typical user can personalize views of many different types of university-sponsored information but still may not be the ultimate arbiter of exactly what information is forced upon him by the university. In step with this movement is a new wave of technology spending on more integration initiatives. Supporting the massive investment made in the previous wave of technological advancement is, in most cases, being forgotten and still does not take advantage of the easiest and most widely used technologies. In some cases, as with Blackboard and Web CT, the software enables, within itself, proactive communication via e-mail, with its users. Many of the other tools, systems and software only attempt to move information from one environment to another, albeit a more accessible and convenient environment.

What’s missing? -Or- I thought we could already do that.

Universities are missing one critical piece of the ever-expanding puzzle. Managing the information so that it is usable, easily retrievable and most importantly “personally subscribable.” E-mail list software, personal address books, and vast array of manual processes threaten to choke the use of new and, in most cases, better and more appropriate technology that is simple to integrate into the new wave of technological advances. While it may seem that the old standards like e-mail list software do “just enough” There is a more appropriate technology to tie the massive investment universities have already made into the major initiatives and, consequently, investments being made today. The answer is, simply: Subscription Management Systems.

E-mail list software Vs. Email Subscription Management Systems.

Most e-mail list software is built on technology developed in the 1980’s and does not allow for integration with the vast array of new, user-friendly, technology like campus-information portals without significant and costly customization. When new or updated information is published, a manual process must still be undertaken to get the same information, which now resides on the website, out, via e-mail, to its intended audience. Further, the same process must be repeated each time there is an update. There are several problems created by this type of antiquated solution.

The signup process is often cumbersome. In most cases while browsing a web page a user will come across a link that says, “Sign up for e-mail updates.” Upon clicking on this link the user is usually brought to a page that gives them an email script that they must then execute perfectly. If each part of the instructions are not followed exactly, the user will not be subscribed to the intended content item and, in most cases, will not be notified that there has been a problem.

The user-profile management is often more cumbersome than the signup process and inevitably requires human intervention. In many cases one only has the ability to sign up for a subscription item, though more frequently users may, if they again execute a complicated script perfectly, remove themselves from an e-mail list. Using standard e-mail list software, the user may not temporarily stop delivery, use alternate addresses for delivery of updates or view and manage a single user-profile that spans across multiple departments or list administrators.

Traditional e-mail list’s administrative abilities lack necessary options to integrate with new technology to reduce redundant processes. Fully automated integration of personalized e-mail communication with your organization’s content management processes and systems is not available with traditional e-mail list software. Notifications are not, and without major customization cannot be, distributed immediately when website content is updated. For this reason E-mail lists limit users to a small number of broad announcements such as newsletters and bulletins. E-mail lists also frequently require administrators to guess who would like to receive certain types of information. E-mail list software makes it likely that disparate kinds of information will be packed together in broad categories, reducing the likelihood of subscribers consistently reading messages sent because most of the message is seen as Spam and has nothing to do with the specific information that the user really wanted to be updated about.

Cost and resources needed to set up and maintain. Because “old-style” e-mail lists are based on extremely old code, there is rarely an easy way to set up and manage a list. The lack of an intuitive or modern Graphic User Interface means that building and maintaining a list using this old software most often requires a dedicated, experienced, technology/ software headcount just to manage the help-desk-operations related to this specific type of software.

There is a better way!

There is a class of software called E-mail Subscription Management (ESM) systems that allow universities to leverage and utilize all successful e-mail lists created-to-date as the first building block for the long-term, automated solution. ESM systems take a fraction of the time to set up and once in place can operate completely without intervention.

Benefits of E-mail Subscription Management:

  1. Enables universities to offer every user an easy-to-manage, university-centric, profile.
  2. Users have the ability to subscribe to content at a specific level as well as by content-categories and subcategories.
  3. Users can view and manage a single user profile that spans across multiple departments and can easily be integrated with most major authentication procedures and “single user-sign-on” features included with today’s Enterprise Portal Software. (i.e., one-stop service)
  4. Students, faculty, media, parents and other key stakeholders can subscribe to any or all website content at a specific level that matches individual interests.
  5. Provides Web-User Focused Service: 10-30 times* more subscription options for interested parties.
  6. Engages Users: 300-1,100%* more subscribers through greater availability of subscription options.
  7. Increases Return on Investment: 20-50%* increase in website usage from subscribers returning to view new website content as well as proactively communicating revenue generating activities in real-time.
  8. Offers fully automated integration of personalized e-mail communication with your organization’s content management processes and systems and is easily deployed to an unlimited number of administrators throughout a university.

Darren Cox

Darren Cox
Founder and Chief Evangelist - CaSTT - Commerce and Search for Technology Transfer