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Project ENABLE: On a Fast Track

By Project ENABLE Staff Support Team members

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 18 - February 2, 1995

Previous Spectrum articles relating to Project ENABLE have attempted to provide the reader with an overall perspective on the project--ranging from the basic goals for this administrative systems initiative to implementation techniques. A common theme in all these articles has been that this is a significant and aggressive effort being undertaken by Virginia Tech: an integral part of university restructuring, necessary to improve the work/service environment.

Project ENABLE teams and infrastructure teams are organized to work with functional offices, management, and end users to implement a more robust working environment based on client/server technologies, and to thoroughly analyze business processes for improvement. Replacing the outdated and obsolete software that is currently used with most administrative systems is a driving force behind this fast-track implementation strategy.

The strategy relies on some very straightforward requirements for the Project ENABLE application software:

* purchasing the application software from a vendor or vendors,

* using a relational database-management system,

* using an open systems UNIX operating environment for the application servers, and

* emphasizing the integration of application modules.

Acquiring application software (as well as access tools) with these characteristics permits the Project ENABLE teams to move from a traditional systems-development mode to a more aggressive and responsive implementation plan.

No software on the market today provides all the functional needs as defined by Virginia Tech for the core applications (human resources, finance, alumni/development, students, and financial aid). However, by purchasing baseline systems, Project ENABLE teams can work with functional offices and end users to determine needs and devise techniques to integrate additional functionality into a more robust client/server environment.

In addition, current processes can be analyzed to determine possible avenues for improvement. The institutional analysis approach is being utilized for the human-resources effort and has already identified some potential improvements.

Sponsors of Project ENABLE strongly support the concept of this fast-track implementation strategy which was originally proposed by Ray Smoot, vice president for finance and treasurer. He and others recognize that a traditional systems-development approach could take 20 years to sequentially address the needs of each functional area and implement state-of-the-art systems. That time frame simply is not acceptable in meeting the pressing needs facing Virginia Tech in the next five years.

The fast-track strategy has led to Virginia Tech signing a contract with Systems & Computer Technology (SCT) Corporation for a human resources (HR) system, as well as a site license with Oracle Corporation for their relational database product. The Computing Center has been moving applications to server machines for the last few years. Specifications for UNIX servers are configured for administrative systems as needed and coordinated with the Computing Center.

The HR software has been installed on a server for testing, and is accessible by project team members from their workstations for use in training sessions and preliminary development efforts. The Human Resources Information Systems Team has defined an institutional-analysis methodology to assist in collecting information and analyzing functional processes, as well as related policies and procedures. This analysis is essential in completing a detailed project plan for human resources which will help them meet the goal of a production payroll system in January 1996. Negotiations are currently under way to secure software that will satisfy implementation strategy requirements for the remaining core areas and also provide an integration path to the HR system.

In addition, several support teams are busy designing and developing the infrastructure upon which Project ENABLE applications can be built. The DBMS/Server Team is responsible for all aspects of the Oracle database platform, including hardware selection, software maintenance, and training. The Client Infrastructure project is devising the key elements of an architecture aimed at providing efficient movement of electronic documents, and the requisite approvals associated with those documents. The Information Access Team is in the process of identifying a standard set of query-and-report writer tools to use in the new client/server environment. The Network Security Team is working to define and implement a security infrastructure for Virginia Tech which is suited to a client/server environment.

Functional teams are beginning initial analysis and implementing applications that are strategically within the framework of Project ENABLE. For example, the Financial Aid team is implementing the new direct lending program from the Department of Education. This will greatly enhance the processing of student loans by directly depositing the loan in the student's account once funds have been released (eliminating any check distribution). Efforts are also under way in the areas of admissions, EIS (Executive Information System), data warehousing, alumni/development, student certification requests, and tuition remission. Finally, the Operational Support Team is holding everything together, ensuring that all of our current systems continue to meet our operational needs as we move forward.

Good things are happening with Project ENABLE. These Spectrum articles, The Enabler newsletter, our World Wide Web Home Page, and the gopher are among the resources that will be used to keep the university community informed and updated.

Additional information about Project ENABLE is available by accessing, via MOSAIC, Netscape, or another WWW browser, the Virginia Tech Home Page. To do so, under the FILE menu, open URL (location) 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.