The Amazonification of Service With Respect to Academics

By Jack Suess,VP of IT & CIO, UMBC

Jack Suess,VP of IT & CIO, UMBC

One of the talks that I give on campus is one that I call “The Amazonification of Service.” I point out how our students and young faculty and staff expect to interact with service providers and lay out five themes we need to take into consideration when providing service:

• Me. Me. Me.

Personalization and tailoring to the user is the expectation.

• Support. Self-service. Concierge.

Personalized self-service (concierge) is becoming the expectation.

• Data. Information. Decisions.

Data is ubiquitous. Information is data, placed in context. Decisions are the information used to support institutional strategy. We need to help users make better decisions.

• Smart. Smarter. Smartest.

Why software is using AI to add intelligence is the rule.

• Easy.Easier.Easiest.

Students have high expectations for technology and ease-of-use.

I would love to say we can compete with the best of platforms, but the reality is we are mixed in our results. Saying that, we do have a strategy that we are implementing to make all these a reality.

For personalization, we consider our portal, my UMBC, to be the critical IT resource. It provides personalized content and services to users, who can enroll (or be enrolled) in groups and get a feed that shows events and news associated with their groups. Academic departments use my UMBC to keep their students informed of department activities, and Student Affairs uses this to support student groups and organizations. Through application program interfaces (API), we present important information from our student information system (SIS) and 3rd party software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications in a consistent user-interface. Through their profile page, students get personalized information on their degree progress, courses, billing, financial aid, career services, campus one-card, and learning management system (LMS) activity.

For support, we adopted a common service platform across the university. Last year we had 125,000 service tickets with over 1100 people able to resolve tickets. Of that number, only 25,000 tickets and 100 users were in IT. The largest division generating tickets is Academic Affairs – registrar, admissions, advising, and financial aid with over 60,000 tickets. Having a common platform for all campus service allows service requests to be internally routed to the right group and doesn’t force the user to understand our campus support structure. In addition, when one area develops a service improvement, it can be applied across all service departments. Through this common approach to service, we are now reviewing how we will deploy chatbots and other artificial intelligence (AI) services that will use our common service platform and leverage our portal.

Data. We have integrated our business intelligence (BI) & analytics team with our SIS team. The goal is to move from simply providing data to students, faculty, and advisors, to enabling them to make better decisions. For students, we want them to pick the best set of courses to help them maximize their GPA and minimize their time-to-degree. For advisors, we want them to understand the risks associated with a student and suggest best practices for that student. To do this, we are working closely with our academic programs to model student behavior and identify practices that our best advisors recommend to students. To support this initiative, we have expanded our internal data science capability by adding undergraduate and graduate students in public policy, data science, computer science, and math to work in the BI & Analytics team.

Smarter. We are building new tools, such as our student registration guide, that incorporate best practices from our professional advisors with personalized advice for students to prepare them for a well-structured advising session prior to registering for classes. These tools guide students to do the preparation that advisors identify in our best students. The guide leverages other tools we have built, such as our visual degree audit system and degree planner that are built into our myUMBC portal. By anticipating errors and codifying best practices, we can raise the bar for all students.

Easier. We are designing all our efforts with a mobile-first strategy by using responsive web technology. Thinking about the mobile-experience required, we simplify the user-interface and focus on the user’s experience, not our organizational design. By using data from our portal, we know what services are accessed heavily at different times of the year and make them trending links. A mobile-first strategy also drove our effort to bring important data from 3rd party applications into our portal through what is called application program interfaces (APIs). We want everyone to have a place to get important summaries of information they need without clicking links to a variety of systems, and we want these systems to work the same on mobile and laptop and be as easy as possible to use.

These five principles for user experience are built on an infrastructure strategy that emphasizes a cloud-first strategy and is leveraging a robust identity management infrastructure built using the Internet2 Trusted Identity in Education and Research (TIER) toolset. By using the TIER toolset, we can leverage tools such as Grouper to manage roles and access dynamically. By leveraging the E&I and Internet2 NET+ procurement contracts, we can quickly leverage products to support new initiatives incorporating some best-in-breed products. One example of this is our use of DocuSign through the Internet2 NET+ program. With DocuSign, we have converted over 200 paper forms to electronic workflows in less than a year. In the last nine months, we have more than 45,000 forms that were processed and fully expect to end the calendar year, processing over 60,000 forms. As we do with many tools, we are integrating DocuSign with our portal and adding to our myUMBC profile a “card” that will easily track the forms you have submitted or approved without learning DocuSign.

These efforts are designed to support both administrative and academic processes. Getting buy-in for automation requires that the change improve the end-user experience. All too often, automation takes a simple process — sign my name on a piece of paper — and turns it into a 5-minute online transaction. As technology leaders, our challenge is to make a move to automation as simple an experience as possible and provide secondary benefits to the person through the use of the data that comes from moving to online. Whether you are submitting a travel reimbursement or advising a student, the five themes user-experience themes described above should be considered and applied.

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