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.


  1. Universities are inherently an aggregate community made up of people who feel important. People send out bulk e-mails stating minute information about insignificant events. Parking lot closures, hot deals on pre-paid food service, construction notices, grant offerings, library changes... it's 70%+ of my e-mail. In "Theory, AZ" I would like to only get information about my parking lot, or my building, or my interests... but many of these people think they are doing me a service by announcing their office's events. Hell, the president e-mails me to tell me new magazines that she has received in her office in case I want to read them.

    Also...e-mail has become a way to create a paper trail so that my bosses know that I have received that information. It doesn't matter if it is relevant, well though out, clear, or constructive... as long as they can prove that I received the information. You become paralyzed trying to keep all the information that you won't possibly remember (even though it's important) and it ends up in that long list of random e-mails that live on the bottom your account.

    What if, just what if... because I drink coffee I end up on the coffee list and end up getting 15 e-mails per day telling me about the new types of coffee available at the student union? What if by signing up I further empower morons to keep sending me information which although is important to them, is pointless?

    God, and don't get me started about professors who "fish" when board, they are like a virus.

  2. That's a great point Joe, but in the case of the particular class of software I am thinking of, it would solve the problems related to too much e-mail AND give immediate access critical information. Plus, one thing I didn't mention (and definitely should have) in the white paper, is that when an ESM system sends an e-mail, in most cases it doesn't contain a long story about the President's magazine collection, it usually just contains a link back to the web-site that contains the info that you have, ostensibly, subscribed to. This way, when the person publishing the information looks at a report showing them what people are actually clicking-through to, they can immediately see if there is a true interest in that specific item. If there are lots of subscribers and lots of click-throughs, like there inevitably will be for things like, benefits changes, payroll announcements or Regents meeting summaries, then the administrator will see that and realize that this kind of information is important to people and he/she will make it even easier to get at that information. Conversely, s/he will understand that it is not important to send out notices about the President's magazines because nobody actually clicks through to the info on the web-site.

    First, to your point about everyone sending you crap that you really don't want, the kind of system that I am talking about eliminates his or her ability to do so. (With some exceptions) Using an E-mail Subscription Management System one can subscribe to items of specific interest like YOUR parking lot, YOUR building, YOUR department and YOUR interests. While it is certainly feasible that an administrator could put you on a mailing list and you would start to receive stuff that doesn’t matter to you, the great thing about ESM systems Vs. a product like L-Soft's Listserv is that with an ESM system you just go to your profile and delete the subscription and you never have to receive that info again. Plus, while you are at your profile page, you can manage all of your subscriptions from across the campus. The benefit of this is that you can see the three items that you are subscribed to from the HR department, the two items that you get from the School of Music, the calendar of events for the Performing Arts Center, the notices about news and information from the President's Office and anything you get from anywhere else on campus. You no longer are responsible for trying to find individual list administrators and let them know that you aren't interested in getting their stupid holiday letter or their church bake-sale notification.

    The second thing ESM allows you to do that can't be done by traditional e-mail list software is that you can send a different kind of active message than you are sending now.

    You said: "What if, just what if... because I drink coffee I end up on the coffee list and end up getting 15 e-mails per day telling me about the new types of coffee available at the student union? What if by signing up I further empower morons to keep sending me information which although is important to them, is pointless?"

    The message that the morons are clearly getting right now is that you really like coffee. They then make an unreasonable leap and decide that if you like coffee so much you must want to get 15 e-mails a day telling you about coffee. In theory, AZ (the place where everything works - Even Communism works in Theory) they would get a different message.

    Let's say they have you on this e-mail list right now. You don't know how you got there and therefore have no idea how to remove yourself even if you wanted to spend the ten minutes to make sure you were typing the "unsubscribe" script in perfectly. So then the school gets access to an ESM system. The coffee dorks cut and paste their current e-mail list into the new system and you continue to get their meaningless e-mails. Now, though, you can go to a profile page that show's everything that you have subscribed to and can delete that one subscription.


    You can continue to get their e-mails but only click on the links back to the information that you are truly interested in. This would give them a very clear understanding of what is working and what isn't. Then they will hopefully learn to only send the kind of messages that are truly interesting to people.

    At the end of the day there is no system, software or witchcraft that is going to stop everyone from sending inconsequential, idiotic Spam. ESM just limits how much of it you have to continue to keep getting and also allows you to get specific info that YOU want rather than letting someone else decide what it is important for you to see.


Darren Cox

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