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Using Implementation Techniques

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 16 - January 19, 1995

(Editor's note: This is the third of a series of articles designed to inform the university community about a major initiative that is an integral part of Virginia Tech's restructuring commitment and is currently under way within the university. Follow-up articles will focus on different aspects of Project ENABLE and provide progress reports as the project is implemented.)

The second article in this series described expectations of Project ENABLE, the administrative systems initiative, and discussed the impact it will have on the university community. The article emphasized that change, involvement, and improvement will be the order of the day during implementation of the project. Of these, change will perhaps have the greatest individual impact. All of us can-in fact, should-expect to see dramatic change in the nature and efficiency of Virginia Tech's work processes. Of course, being a part of any changing environment is always difficult and stressful. However, the successful completion of Project ENABLE will enable all of us to do a better job and ultimately result in a less stressful and more satisfying work environment.

With expectations so high, it is normal to wonder about how all of this is going to be achieved. The fundamental strategies for achieving these expectations are: acquiring state-of-the-art application software, implementing a client-server distributed-computing architecture, and the selective redesign of our fundamental administrative business processes.

Future articles will discuss the state-of-the-art application software. The remainder of this article is dedicated to discussing the concepts of client-server computing and business process analysis and redesign.

THE CLIENT SERVER CONCEPT
Primarily, client-server computing consists of two programs interacting with each other in a cooperative processing environment. The client program initiates work by issuing a request to the server program. Cooperative processing describes the computing environment within which multiple components of a software application interact and execute concurrently on multiple platforms. This type of distributed process takes advantage of the operating characteristics of the multiple platforms involved, including Virginia Tech's network infrastructure, rich client base and existing workstations. The user perceives administrative applications running within a client-server environment as an integrated application.

The production tools available in a distributed computing environment will empower Virginia Tech employees, enabling them to access university information in a quick, transparent manner. Informational requests and reporting needs that normally take days will take only minutes. The set of robust, flexible information access tools provided within a client-server computing environment will benefit the university in a number of ways.

These powerful end-user tools allow the university to become more competitive in recruitment, to greatly enhance administrative services to the student, to drastically reduce time required by the administrative decision support process, and increase staff productivity.

Client-server computing also benefits Virginia Tech's application developers. However, it will require a radical change in mindset. Current mainframe-based, Cobol-oriented development staffs will need to acquire new skills and experience. Some of these skills include developing graphical user interfaces and rules-based applications, learning advanced programming languages, and learning advanced-database technology. This effort will allow the university to realize the benefits of rapid application development and software reusability.

Finally, client-server technology supports redesign of the university's administrative business processes. Rapidly deployed teams consisting of end-users empowered by client-server computing will streamline our administrative processes and enhance the service facet of these processes.

THE CONCEPT OF BUSINESS PROCESS ANALYSIS AND REDESIGN
While client-server strategies tend to be somewhat esoteric and complex, business process analysis and redesign is simple. It involves thoroughly examining an organization's business processes with an experienced and objective eye. The goal of this examination is to identify all facets of the process that do not add value and propose new approaches and tools that will make the process more effective. Using information and ideas generated by the process analysis, it is possible to create a redesigned process that is easier and less costly to perform and, because of its increased effectiveness, is able to deliver improved services to the organization's customers.

The key to successful business process analysis and redesign is the use of experienced and objective people to accomplish the redesign. University staff members currently responsible for executing administrative processes are obviously the most experienced resources regarding details and needs of processes. The contribution of these front-line people is absolutely essential. However, because of their direct involvement with only a small part of the total processes, these people seldom have the overall knowledge necessary to develop a comprehensive process redesign. This is the reason for using cross-functional and multi-disciplinary "teams" to analyze and redesign business processes. The idea is to form a team of resources-with each member bringing special knowledge and/or skills-that will have the range of experience and objectivity to develop the best redesigned process possible.

Effectively redesigned business processes are frequently very different from the processes they replace. Typically, the streamlined processes will be characterized by fewer steps, less effort and equipment, and decreased need for paper transactions. Unfortunately, in the interim, old processes must be applied while new ones are developed.

For Virginia Tech, the combination of redesigned business processes supported by client-server computing systems can be incorporated into the state-of-the-art applications software. This effort will provide many opportunities for administrative departments to reduce costs, improve the work environment for their employees, and provide better service to their customers.

The next installment in this series of articles will begin to describe the current status of Project ENABLE and will discuss the status of the project's applications software.

Additional information and news about Project ENABLE is currently available electronically by accessing, through MOSAIC, the Virginia Tech Home Page. To do so, under the file menu, open URL (http://www.vt.edu). The VT Home Page will come up. Select "University Initiatives," then select "Project ENABLE: the Administrative Systems Initiative." This will bring you to the Project Enable Home Page.