SMUDIE: Planning The Student Information Management System To BeModel1. IntroductionPhase one of the JISC Smudie project completed a wide range of stakeholderinterviews which explored the ‘as is’ status of student information managementprocesses and procedures at Swansea Metropolitan. A series of reports wereproduced that described the outcomes of this process1,2,3. These reports detail thedifferent stakeholder viewpoints on the information management system and theextent and nature of their engagement with it.The second phase of the project will take the phase one outcomes, which representthe ‘as is’ model of the system, and will use the lessons learned to develop a ‘to be’model of the same system that incorporates a range of proposed improvements. Theresulting model will not be an implementation plan: rather, it will be an aspirationalblueprint for implementation planning. Given the current merger processes takingplace between the institutions in the region, the model will be designed to assistconversations about future student information management systems in the newlymerged University.The modelling process will use Enterprise Architecture modelling techniquestogether with some elements from Soft Systems and Viable Systems modelling asoutlined below. It will also draw from lessons and techniques delivered by other JISCprojects and services.The Smudie project deliverables required by JISC are a detailed case study outliningthe project achievements, together with a project blog that provides a narrative of theproject activities. The case study will be drawn from the ‘as is’ reports as well as fromthis ‘to be’ modelling report. The project blog is already in place and is up to date. Itwill continue to report on project activities and outcomes as they occur. It can beviewed here4.2. ContextTo provide a context for this planning document, some examples from the first phaseof existing good practice and identified areas for improvement are presented.2.1 Good Practice:Student information management at Swansea Metropolitan was found to operatewell overall with a number of good features. Two aspects of the existing informationmanagement system emerged from the evaluation exercise as evidence ofparticularly effective practice: the first was strategic, the other operational.The strategic approach was to provide the data owners with data input andmaintenance responsibility. The students self-enrol on the system and the academicstaff enter assessment and attendance data. In this way the data owners havecontrol over the information the system records, are accountable for the accuracy of1 http://www.slideshare.net/ttoole/jisc-smudie-project-report-12 http://www.slideshare.net/ttoole/jisc-smudie-project-report-23 http://www.slideshare.net/ttoole/smudie-project-report-34 http://smudieprojectblog.blogspot.co.uk/
that data, and contribute to an efficient process of direct data entry andmanagement.The IS Team at the University were responsible for the design and implementation ofthe technical infrastructure that enabled this approach. The strategy separated thetechnical systems from the data management processes, thus allowing thestakeholders on each side to concentrate on their own areas of expertise andresponsibility.The operational good practice, which may well be unique in UK Higher Education,was in the establishment of the role of a Management Information Officer (MIO).Each Faculty has an MIO who provides an interface between the Faculty and theAcademic Registry. The information management responsibilities and processes ofthese two key parts of the organisation are different, but are based on the same setsof data. The MIOs ensure that the needs of both are satisfied and they contributesignificantly to the quality assurance of the information management process.The stakeholder interviews identified the MIO role as being the single most valuedcomponent of the current student information management system. It was seen ascentral to the maintenance of data quality, consistency and completeness. The MIOsalso had an important staff support role, helping academic staff successfullynegotiate the information management software systems and acting as a centralinformation help desk in the Faculties.An additional feature of note is the regular weekly meeting between the MIOsmanaged by the Head of Academic Services. This enables the development andsharing of good practice and ensures quality and consistency across the institution.2.2 Areas for ImprovementThe student information management system at Swansea Metropolitan is complexwith many stakeholders inputting and retrieving data. There are several areas whereimprovements can be made and a programme of continuous improvement would beexpected in any institution. However, where significant problems exist, remedialaction needs to be prioritised. Two key problem areas that emerged from thestakeholder interviews, for example, were the usability of the informationmanagement software systems and the consistency and accuracy of the studentattendance monitoring system.A migration is currently underway between the original institutional FQS studentinformation system to the commercial Agresso QLS system. There have beenusability issues with the new software which have meant that FQS has been retainedto deliver certain levels of functionality that are not provided by the new system.Beyond that issue, many staff have reported the QLS system to be non-intuitive and,with data entry and editing, slow and non-user friendly.Those staff that use the system every day find usability less of a problem (thoughthere are a number of areas for improvement). However, academic staff who use theV4 interface only at set times in the year to enter assessment data and prepare forexam boards, need an interface that is intuitive to use. They are also confused bythe fact that there is more than one student information management system in use,particularly those who have experience of other institutions where a single system isin place.
The recording and management of student attendance information is notinstitutionally managed at Swansea Metropolitan. All programmes and Facultiesmonitor student attendance, but they all have different systems of doing so; somemore consistent and reliable than others. The requirements of UKBA for internationalstudents and, increasingly, the SLC for attendance information has highlighted thisas an issue. The fact that attendance monitoring is also central to the studentsupport system as an indicator of problems, shows the importance of consistency inboth monitoring and subsequent remedial procedures.The ‘as is’ models reported in the first phase of the Smudie project show thevariations in the attendance monitoring processes and give a clear indication of howsome fairly straightforward changes in procedure and practice can deliverimprovements.3. A Records Management ChecklistOne of the primary goals of the student information management system in anyinstitution is to facilitate the creation of auditable records. Records have beendescribed by JIS Infonet5 as: information created, received, and maintained asevidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legalobligations or in the transaction of business.For that purpose the records must possess: Content (information or data) Context (purpose, ownership and intended users) Structure (consistent, intuitive, interpretable)They must also be: Authentic (evidence of provenance, authorship and authorisation) Reliable (accurate and validated information) Managed (planned and monitored process of completion)Records are either in active use, archived or deleted depending on their purpose andthe point in their lifecycle.When records are active, processes must be in place to: Manage version control and the master copy Maintain the audit trail Ensure document security and backupThis is, of course, largely self-evident. However, it is appropriate to articulate thedefinition as it provides a checklist of essential features against which thecompleteness of any revised information management process or plan can beassessed.4. The Modelling ApproachThe modelling approach will be to identify the major information managementsubsystems within the organisation and to use Enterprise Architecture mapping tools5 http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/infokits/records-management/creation/what-is-a-record
to create a visual representation of an aspirational to be model for each. The aim willbe to deliver the potential process improvements identified during the evaluation ofthe present (as is) information management systems.Key features of this approach would include: The development of a high level, lightweight model of a student information management system to advance conversations about improvements and changing key processes6; The creation of a business case for change based on time-efficiency and costing metrics. Such a requirement emphasises the need to have convincing assessments of the existing and planned workflows; Enhancement of the student experience through efficient student records management and communications; improvements in the efficiency of staff workflows that reduce effort and cost; and a reduction in process variety across the newly merged multi-campus institution to ensure consistency and accuracy of information management and reporting; The intention would be that the model should aim for technology independence so that it can be applied regardless of the IT system(s) employed. The expectation is that the information management system processes would determine the IT system functionality required rather than the other way round; It also intends to avoid process silos where changes in one part of the system delivers the benefits there, but have unintended and detrimental effects elsewhere; The final key feature will be an assessment of process governance7. The current changes in the University structure mean that the redesign of formal mechanisms to deliver consistency and collaboration may be easier to negotiate and agree in this change environment.The basic objectives are to: Introduce business process improvements to identify and remove any duplicate, inconsistent and non-value-added information management processes. Key deliverables would include: increased consistency, reliability and accuracy of student information management, communications and reporting; a better defined IM business model leading to greater cost- effectiveness and a positive impact on institutional finances; Improve both the student and staff experience by making interaction with the information management system as efficient, intuitive and user friendly as possible. Key deliverables would include: qualitative measures of the system usability and user friendliness derived from semi-structured interviews; a quantitative assessment of the time overheads of system based processes and their variability across the institution; and an optimisation plan based on these assessments;6 https://jiscinfonetcasestudies.pbworks.com/w/page/47395241/Lightweight Enterprise Architecture7 https://jiscinfonetcasestudies.pbworks.com/w/page/46434437/EA - Staffordshire University
Identify, agree and apply established good practice in all areas where there are reported delays, bottlenecks and acknowledged process inefficiencies. Key deliverables would include: a good practice guide for information management in each of the main information processing areas and in the use of the information system applications; the continuation of the established operational level information management working group and a re- examination of its remit and modus operandi.5. The Practicalities of Management Modelling:Enterprise Architecture modelling of management processes8 has a similar overallpurpose to other modelling systems such as Checklands Soft SystemsMethodology9 and Beers Viable Systems Model10,11. They use their own (typically)visual languages to map and describe management systems and processes with thecommon purpose of aiding conversations about improvement and optimisation.A brief examination of the similarities and differences between these three HumanActivity modelling systems is worthwhile as it sets the context for the use ofEnterprise Architecture in this particular exercise and indicates how EA modellingcan be enriched by drawing in features from the SSM and VSM approaches.The fundamental commonality is the recognition that they are all attempting to modelhuman activity systems and that they will be fuzzy descriptors as a result. There isno attempt by any to eliminate the human variability factor, only to accommodate itand to exploit its strengths.The relationships between each of the institutional information managementsubsystems can be examined using some of the principles of Viable SystemsModelling to explore issues of control and communications capacity. VSM directlyaddresses the system inadequacies that lead to undesirable outcomes such asprocess bottlenecks.A further feature that VSM brings to the consideration of management systems istheir recursive nature: smaller systems exist within larger systems, but each has asimilar control and communications profile. All institutions are agglomerations of selfmanaging units within units.The Soft Systems Methodology encourages constant reflection on how thingshappen in real world situations. It doesn’t so much describe how the informationmanagement system actually works, but how the stakeholders think it works, howthey think it should work and how they would personally like it to work. This exactlydescribes the nature of the qualitative messages that came from the stakeholderinterviews carried out in the first phase of the Smudie project.What SSM and VSM both bring to EA is what Checkland calls the world view andBeer calls the environment. It is easy with EA to concentrate just on the enterpriseand its systems and miss the impact of the outside world when planning.It is also important to recognise that the fact that de-facto self managing systems willemerge to fill gaps in the management infrastructure that institutional senior8 http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/infokits/ea/index_html9 Checkland, Peter B. & Poulter, J. (2006) Learning for Action: A short definitive account of Soft SystemsMethodology and its use for Practitioners, teachers and Students, Wiley, Chichester.10 1972, Stafford Beer, Brain of the Firm; Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, London, Herder and Herder, USA.11 1989, Ed. Espejo and Harnden The Viable System Model; John Wiley, London and New York.
management are likely to have no knowledge of. The current student attendancemonitoring processes at the University provide several examples of such invisiblelocalised management arrangements.6. The Modelling PlanThe key features of a To Be Enterprise Architecture model design include: A top level representation of the business processes needed to optimally achieve the organisational information management goals. At this level, achievability is assumed, both in terms of management change and, where appropriate, technical capacity; A business process level representation of each information management workflow. The goal would be a high level of business process integration but with variable levels of business process standardisation to reflect the different needs and operational cultures across the institution; An application layer that provides the services to support the information management workflows. The to be model is aspirational and specifies the service levels that the applications chosen will be required to deliver; A technical layer that hosts the applications and supports the data capture, communications, information processing and user interface requirements of the planned system.In its first iteration, the model will be predominantly aspirational and, though basedon existing practice, will present idealised information management systems,processes and workflows. The objective at this stage is to stimulate and informdiscussions that will lead to further iterations with the ultimate goal of developingsystems that are optimal within the constraints of the environment in which theyoperate.It is not difficult to see how the key features listed above can be applied at differentmanagement levels within the institution. The top level representation, for example,could refer to academic information systems at institutional, faculty, programme orcourse level. It could also refer to functional systems in registry, IS, finance andelsewhere. This illustrates the recursive nature of the approach and indicates howconsistency in information management at each level would naturally contribute tooverall institutional consistency.The conversations between stakeholders in this iterative process will include the softsystems considerations outlined above and will ensure that a healthy dose of realismunderpins the final solution(s). The communications and control evaluationcontributed by VSM will also add to the operational viability of the systems design.The JISC-Cetis developed Archi application12 will be used to develop the EArepresentations of the ‘to be’ models and will be adapted to include the SSM andVSM components. The outcomes will be used in the case study deliverable from theSmudie project and presented in the project blog.Tony TooleNovember 201212 http://archi.cetis.ac.uk/