The paper chase at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, extended beyond term papers. Housing for staff and students, enrollment 28,000, used a paper-based system that hadn't changed much since the founding of the institution in 1892. The adoption of a Web-based housing management system provided by ASP WebRoomz of Atlanta, Georgia has made the process more efficient for both students and staff alike.
Barb Remsburg, associate director for residential living of the University of Utah, recalls the maddening process. She says there was no central repository for invention; if students needed several services, they had to see several people because nobody had all of the information. The previous process was like a lottery where students had to hope they got a room in an optimal location and got along with a roommate they had never met. Now they can screen potential roommates and select what they think is the best match.
After evaluating options, the University of Utah chose to outsource to ASP WebRoomz in March 2003 following many successful university deployments elsewhere since its founding in 1999. Remsburg had noted that other universities had attempted to automate the process in-house with less than spectacular results. "The detriments to doing it in-house were time, talent, and money. Other institutes tried to develop a similar product and scrapped the project because they couldn't get it to do what they needed it to do. Our time and money was better spent utilizing a product already in place," she says.
Raising the Grade Quickly
The objective was to have a functional deployment in weeks, recalls Remsburg. "We wanted to get the system up by May when students walk out the door after finals. We needed our returning students to be able to login and see where they were going and not be bewildered by the new system," she adds.
Functionality initially was the main priority, says Kevin Sessions, vice president of business development and sales for WebRoomz. "We constructed the process in a function by function approach. They needed to quickly get up and running with core functionality as opposed to having all of the bells and whistles immediately," he explains.
Webroomz set up a Web-based conference center for the staff and implementation team for training.
The transition was completed successfully and on time because the Web-services architecture interfaces with varied university systems, according to Sessions. "Our open architecture is designed to send data in a batch process or in real time as required by the university. Providing data back to the customer is important because data is a corporate asset."
Sessions explains that support is set up at two levels -- for the staff and the students, with an emphasis on the university staff. The staff receives 24-hour support while the students can study customized online FAQs that are integrated into the university Web site.
Making the Dean's List With the Students
With the Web based online solution, students have access to through the Internet. The system helps in selecting roommates in a fashion not unlike a singles dating site where profiles are filled out on attitudes, interests and lifestyles. Compatibility matches can then be run and contact initiated to determine rapport.
Room availability can be displayed to reveal what is available geographically around the campus. Once roommates and location are determined, everything can be booked and paid for online. Additionally, all of this can be done well in advance to provide the student with a proactive approach instead of the luck of the draw in the past.
The students are pleased with the improvement, according to Remsburg. "Students appreciate controlling where they were going and who they were going to live with. It invests the students in the decision."
Additionally, the paper chase for getting services is gone, adds Remsburg. Using the Internet, students don't have to wait in individual lines. Now every staff member can help every student with everything. She says "the time saved on our end is tremendous, especially when we get close to opening day and we don't have a variety of rooms available."
High Marks in all Classes
Dr. Katherine Jones, managing director, enterprise applications, at Aberdeen Group of Boston, Massachusetts sees the wisdom of a university using an outsourced solution provided by an ASP. "Matching students is an immense job that is not easily accommodated at all. By automating housing, students have more selection. Alleviating manual intervention to improve a student-run activity makes a lot of sense because it does take an immense amount of time."
Jones concludes, "This kind of functionality definitely has a place inside higher education just from a systems management point of view. The value really comes when an application is integrated with the rest of the IT structure for management of many specific functions. It can be another aid in maintaining the rules of the campus."
The University of Utah is progressing to enjoy other benefits. "We can streamline our system into a total housing system. Processes that were previously segmented will increasingly come together so that when you look up a student, you see the whole picture," says Remsburg.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Outsourcing empowers students in selecting where they want to live and whom they want to live with.
- Outsourcing provides a rapid and successful deployment.
- Outsourcing enables staff members to help students with all of their housing needs with one stop shopping.