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Mobilising your stationery

Tech is vital to a university’s administrative functions, and presents opportunities to revamp both the front-of-house and back-office

Digital innovations are widely trumpeted as a game-changer for HE. Coverage has often focused on the classroom, or its virtual extensions – with distance learning, interactive lessons and online resources now commonplace. But technology for admin functions is equally as important.

Digitally equipped administrators are perhaps better characterised as mice movers, rather than pushers of pens. Nonetheless, some old habits die hard. Fully implementing the concept of a ‘paperless office’ is challenging for many universities, whose administration partly relies on hard copy.

Alarmingly, according to a survey conducted by Ipsos for printer manufacturers Lexmark in 2010, wasteful office printouts were on the rise, with around 31 pages generated on average, per day. To streamline usage of printed resources, one option available to HEIs is storing more of their information digitally, via a ‘virtual filing cabinet’. Ellucian, a global firm providing software and services to HE, offer various tools to realise this. Based on an industry standard architecture, Documentum, the organisation has developed a product specially adapted for HE, which integrates with the Banner suite of solutions. “This kind of system offers greater efficiency through timely, compliant, and automated business processes,” comments Tracy Brobyn, consultant at Ellucian. “In an increasingly competitive market, it can help institutions to offer a better service, quicker response times and faster access to information.”

Banner Document Management (BDM) allows users to access archived information via the web from any location, and is directly compatible with Microsoft 2010, where it functions within standard packages, including Excel and Word. “The technology used and applications delivered provide features such as scanning, managing and indexing, as well as integration with Banner,” explains Brobyn. Although at least one Banner module is required to operate the system, once this is installed, it can, through the addition of add-ons, integrate with other, non-Banner or Ellucian systems.

Ellucian’s offering consolidates a wealth of functions which, in a previous era, would have been exclusively serviced by discrete software packages. These include document annotation, web rendering of 250 different file formats, image clean-up and automatic filing – all of which help to reduce dependence on physical media. The gateway to BDM’s vast repositories – its search engine – has been carefully engineered to help users locate specific records. Catering for full-text indexed searches, in conjunction with exclusion, phrase and thesaurus-based navigation, the portal can even, with the addition of an ‘OCR’ server module, examine text found in scanned images. “This notable feature allows users to select areas of an image document, or entire image documents, and convert imaged text into textual data associated with the document,” explains Brobyn. “This text can then be copied and pasted into other applications by users with appropriate permissions”.

One of the most recent additions to the BDM suite of applications is Banner Document Retention (BDR). This has been designed, Brobyn says, to help HEIs with their data management, and ensure that unnecessary records are discarded in timely fashion. “Over the years, an institution’s documentation mounts up, taking up storage space,” she rationalises. “Institutions might be legally bound to only store certain types of documents for a certain period of time.” By using data and metadata, the system can help to safeguard against manual purges, whilst identifying and punctually deleting superfluous archive in accordance with organisational policy.

Whereas some of a university’s communications need to be carefully preserved, in shared spaces, there’s a need for more rapidly delivered, ephemeral content. Such information is often presented via an HEI’s own network of video display terminals, which can exhibit graphic and video content across different parts of campus. One way of ‘going large’ in this medium – to impressive effect – is using an interactive video wall.

Prysm is a US-based firm which has supplied several such installations to HEIs, including Qatar University. The company champions laser phosphor display technology (LPD) which, it contends, performs far better than many market comparators. Some of its most notable advantages, the firm’s VP of Sales & Technical Operations, Dana Corey, suggests, are “a 178 degree viewing angle, which enables content to be seen by everyone in the room, and the fact that these systems emit nearly no heat. This makes them ideal for touch interaction and collaboration.” Minimal power consumption, at just 30 watts per LPD tile, makes the units economic in terms of their electricity usage, and Prysm also claim they require no additional cooling infrastructure or ongoing maintenance.

“Prysm LPD technology offers complete flexibility in terms of the shape and design of a video wall,” details Corey. “This scalability allows the installation to be configured to fit the space and use case as it was intended.” Video walls, the VP elaborates, typically consist of multiple screens fitted together. A common problem for such arrays is a discernible ‘seam gap’ between individual displays, which detract from or obscure content. To remedy this, Prysm’s LPD system offers a narrow seam of just 0.5mm, which, as Corey notes, is “less than a sub-pixel, and results in no data loss between tiles.”

Although individual screens supplied by the company such as the Cascade 117 and Cascade 190 offer diagonal display lengths of 117” and 190” respectively, Prysm’s installations can be scaled up to over 100 feet in width.

These terminals can simply be used to broadcast predefined content, but also offer a high degree of flexibility. Touch, annotation and interaction with mobile devices are supported, providing a versatility which lends itself to a multitude of applications. “Video walls are multipurpose solutions that enable content sharing and team collaboration, which raises productivity and bottom line results,” proposes Corey. “They create a large digital canvas for video, immersive telepresence and user-generated content such as presentations and spreadsheets. We’ve installed 20-metre wide video walls for school auditoriums, complex simulation/engineering laboratories and 25-metre wide curved video walls for educational innovation centres.” A major asset of this digital ‘canvas’ is that it can be dynamically manipulated in real time, and has been designed for compatibility with various content and playback units.

The imposing dimensions of these video technologies may leave an indelible impression, but universities are nonetheless being encouraged to manage all of their communicational touchpoints with students in a more holistic fashion. To implement this approach, educational software and services providers Hobsons have developed a new Student Lifecycle Management resource designed specifically for HEIs. Known as Radius, the system, a relational database, is scheduled for launch in September 2014. “Every university wants to ensure students feel they are receiving value, that they graduate, go on to complete the NSS favourably, become engaged alumni and an advocate,” argues Jamie O’Connell, the firm’s Product Director. “Radius enables you to put the student at the heart of your institution, and deliver personalised information to them, from admission to graduation and beyond,” he adds.

The system can also help different departments to communicate – thereby avoiding potential mishaps caused by administrators working in isolated silos. To increase opportunities for collaboration, Radius seamlessly integrates several important admin functions via the cloud, using a two-way Open API interface. These include existing record systems, recruitment, traditional application management and customer relationship management (CRM). Each of these capabilities is supported via separate modules, which can be flexibly acquired as necessary, and nestles within the overall Radius framework. “Radius uniquely addresses the breadth of the student lifecycle,” says O’Connell. “It enables an institution to manage prospects, collect and review applications and support current student success in one system.”

Due to its involvement in various phases of a student’s engagement with the HEI, Radius can monitor and consolidate a wealth of disparate data. The richness of the information lends itself to advanced predictive analytics, (also supported via a separate module), which are displayed via a customisable dashboard. Whilst administrators gain greater oversight of university activities, the system simultaneously simplifies core functions – leading, Hobsons anticipate, to improved effectiveness. One of Radius’s several inbuilt features designed specifically to help administrators is a self-service form builder, which allows templates to be created for application management and information requests, which would allow HEIs to manage and host these services entirely online. To permit bespoke interaction with individuals, a live chat interface is also provided, and Facebook integration is also set to be supported.

An additional benefit of the data Radius gathers is the potential it creates to automate marketing, through scheduled email and case creation, in an intelligent way. “Behavioural marketing capabilities in Radius allow you to target students who are responsive and interacting with you, capture and manage their unique data types, and then connect with those students based on their interests and values,” explains a prospectus for the product. In addition to managing communications with existing students, it can also help to manage dialogue with alumni, deliver branded emails, and create custom web pages and micro-sites to appeal to niche interests.

A further critical business need – retention – is also addressed by Radius. Straying students remain a major problem for the sector. Data managed by Radius can be used to identify ‘at risk’ students. In response, it can be harnessed to formulate strategies based on targeted communications and resource allocation, to increase satisfaction with their HEI. The data can also be shared with managers, to assess which university services are working well – and highlight others which could be improved. The Radius system, in encapsulating a number of key responsibilities, emphasises the importance of delivering high-calibre admin throughout universities – and the possibilities cutting-edge improvements can create, in an increasingly competitive marketplace.