Project Name: SMU Data Integration Exercise (SMUDIE)Lead Institution: Swansea Metropolitan/University of Wales Trinity Saint DavidProject Lead: Nick PotterThe current information management systems at Swansea Metropolitan, both human andtechnical, have evolved organically over the years and have multiple points of data entry,management and reporting that carry the risk of compromising data integrity, consistencyand accuracy. The aim of the Smudie project was to use evaluation and modellingtechniques to fully assess the existing information management systems at the university,identify opportunities to improve those systems, and to create new system models to deliverthose improvements. The project would use three complementary modelling techniques:Enterprise Architecture, Viable Systems and Soft Systems modelling; and would also drawon JISC resources and the outputs of other JISC projects in achieving its goals.BackgroundSwansea Metropolitan University merged with University of Wales Trinity St David on 1stOctober 2012. The new university is currently engaged in a process of managementsystems integration and institutional information management will be central to that process.The Smudie project is therefore very timely. It was originally conceived as a vehicle forimproving the student information management systems at Swansea MetropolitanUniversity, but now the project outputs will be available to assist in the design anddevelopment of an integrated information system across the new institution.Aims and objectivesThe broad aim of the Smudie project was to systematically analyse and model the studentinformation management systems at Swansea Metropolitan University, identify opportunitiesfor improvement, and to develop new models to deliver those improvements. The projectwould use appropriate JISC resources in achieving this outcome.The project objectives were to: Conduct a comprehensive series of semi-structured interviews with all the key users of the student information management system at Swansea Metropolitan University; Use the JISC-CETIS Enterprise Architecture Archi application to build an ‘as is’ model of the student information management system based on the outcomes of the interviews; Use Viable Systems and Soft Systems modelling techniques to supplement and enrich the EA model by evaluating the current communications and control capacity, as well as the human systems characteristics; Analyse the information gathered and use the ‘as is’ model to identify areas for improvement and optimisation; Use other JISC resources such as the JISC InfoNet Managing the Information Lifecycle Infokit and Business Intelligence Infokit in the design of an optimised system; Develop a ‘to be’ Enterprise Architecture model of the student information management system, using the JISC-Cetis Archi application, that delivered the improvements envisaged; Supplement the EA model with parallel VSM and SSM derived improvements in the final ‘to be’ student information system model specification;
Disseminate the project outcomes through stakeholder engagement workshops and, more widely, through the project blog, video stories, conference presentations and published reports.ContextA well designed and efficient student information management system is essential for theeffective management of any academic institution. However, it is common for such systemsto develop over time as the institution itself evolves and, as a result, sub-optimalcombinations of technical solutions and operational processes can emerge. This was felt tobe the case at Swansea Metropolitan University and the JISC Smudie project was seen asan opportunity to review and improve the information systems and procedures.Institutional staff view and use student information in different ways and for differentmanagement purposes depending on their functional role. This can lead to changes in thetechnical systems, for example, that deliver benefits to one stakeholder group whilst havingan unforeseen and unwelcome impact on another group. An intention of the Smudie projectwas to provide a systems overview that would help avoid such conflicts and ensure mutuallysupportive data communications between the different functional areas.Enterprise Architecture is a powerful tool for modelling management systems andprocesses. In particular, it provides an explicit link between the management, applicationand technical systems used. EA modelling was supplemented in the Smudie project byelements of Soft Systems modelling and Viable Systems modelling that reinforced thehuman activity nature of the systems being described. These recognised andaccommodated the fuzzy nature of human activity systems and the need to ensure thatcontrol and communications capacity was adequate between the different management sub-systems.The business caseAn effective and efficient management information system that meets the needs of allinstitutional stakeholders is easy to justify as an essential business tool. It is not so easy,however, to define the benefits in terms of cost savings and profit that would normally beused to build a business case. A more useful approach, from a business management pointof view, would be to accept the need for an information management system and to build abusiness case around the design and cost-effectiveness of the solution chosen.This is essentially what the Smudie project is aiming to do. It is a design and optimisationexercise that looks in considerable detail at the needs of each of the stakeholders anddevelops system models that meet the different needs, reconcile conflicts and specify thefunctionality required. An important factor that the Viable Systems part of the analysis bringsto the exercise is the recognition of self-managing information sub-systems and the need toensure adequate communications capacity between them.The resulting system specification, at a business operations level, can then be used toinform the design and procurement decisions to be made at the application and technicallevels. Clearly there are legacy issues to be dealt with here. The existing technical systemsin the merged university will be a mixture of home grown and proprietary applications withvarying degrees of effective integration. Part of the planning process will be to decide whichsystems and sub-systems to retain and which to replace.The outcomes of the Smudie project, in terms of a ‘to be’ model, is planned to be systemsindependent and will have the purpose of informing future systems design, investmentdecisions and hence the business case underpinning those decisions.
Key driversThe key drivers for the Smudie project all related to effective student support, efficientinstitutional management, the provision of high quality services and meeting the reportingrequirements of external bodies. Central amongst these were: Ensuring the accurate, consistent and timely capture and management of student information across the whole institution; Aiming towards an integrated student information management system that was both effective and efficient as well as being user friendly; Improving the support of students through the early identification of problems from information reported; Providing high quality information for exam boards and other academic quality processes; Ensuring that all externally reported information is accurate, meets all statutory requirements and effectively presents the institutional performance profile.JISC resources/technology usedThe main JISC resource used by the Smudie project was the Archi Enterprise Architectureapplication developed by JISC-Cetis. This is a free, open source tool for the creation ofbusiness system models using the Enterprise Architecture ArchiMate modelling language.The Archi tool has been widely adopted in the commercial and educational sectors forEnterprise Architecture business modelling and has been used by members of the Smudieteam in other JISC and European projects. During the JISC Bracken project, which includedboth Swansea Metropolitan and Trinity St David as partners, Two Enterprise Architectureworkshops were organised, facilitated by an external consultant from StaffordshireUniversity, aimed at developing skills in the use of the Archi application.A range of other JISC resources were consulted as part of the Smudie project planning. Inparticular, the JISC infoNet InfoKits were a valuable source of information: the RecordsManagement InfoKit being a good example.Participation in the broader activities of the JISC community of practice has also been ofsignificant benefit for the Smudie project team. In particular, long term involvement in theJISC Curriculum Design programme with Staffordshire University, Manchester MetropolitanUniversity, Leeds Metropolitan University and the University of Bolton has provided valuableadditional experience in the use of Enterprise Architecture modelling. Similarly, regularparticipation in the JISC Learning and Teaching Practice Experts Group has enabled thevaluable sharing of innovative developments with other practitioners.OutcomesThere were two key outcomes to be delivered by the Smudie project. The first of these wasthe ‘as is’ model of the student information management system at Swansea MetropolitanUniversity that was created during the first phase of the project and was reported throughthree reports for university management (Appendix A), and also on the project blog.The second outcome planned for the project was the ‘to be’ model which took the lessonslearned from the first phase and used them to design new models that addressed theproblems identified with the existing student information management systems and proposedimprovements. A planning report was prepared for this phase and led to the detailedevaluation of information management modelling methods that, together, could contribute tothe planned outcome. This resulted in a project report that described the process of
synthesising the different modelling methods and included a case study of how the modellingwas applied in practice.AchievementsThe overall achievements of the Smudie project have included: The completion of a comprehensive stakeholder survey at Swansea Metropolitan University that gathered the views of all the different functional areas that used or had impact on the student information system. The key outcome was a picture of how the needs and viewpoints varied depending on their different roles. This in turn, indicated where improvements could be made to accommodate those different needs; The creation of a series of Enterprise Architecture models of the existing student information management systems at the university. These models clearly indicated the inconsistencies that existed in the system and provided a focus for discussions about improvement; The production of a series of management reports and the presentation of project findings to senior management at the university. This had the immediate effect of informing decisions regarding, for example, student attendance monitoring and reporting; The development of a ‘to be’ modelling technique for future information systems management planning that combined the benefits of Enterprise Architecture, Viable Systems and Soft Systems modelling methods. The benefits here were seen to be not only for the improvement of information systems at the university, but also to advance the debate on effective management modelling approaches generally.BenefitsThe benefits delivered by the Smudie project include: A better understanding by all the stakeholders across the university of the different viewpoints on the student information management system by the different functional areas. As a consequence, the ability of the different functional areas to understand each others’ needs and to work towards a mutually supportive solution. The production of a systems design model to assist management conversations and decisions about student information management in the merged institution. A contribution to the wider debate in the JISC community of practice about information systems management and the use of modelling techniques in systems design.DrawbacksThe main drawback for the Smudie project will be the timescale and processes involved inthe institutional merger. Although it is anticipated that the outcomes of the project will bevaluable when an integrated student information management system is discussed, therewill clearly be many other management decisions to be taken during 2013 and beyond. Anobvious option is for both institutions (which currently have different informationmanagement software systems) to continue to use their existing systems pending a planningprocess. As a result, implementation of the project outcomes may be delayed.It is for this reason that the project reporting focussed on presenting the outcomes andlessons learned in a more generic way. The intention was to provide a tool to assist futureplanning rather than make specific recommendations for the existing systems.
Key lessonsThe key lessons learned from the Smudie project included: The need for senior management sponsorship of any project that is addressing institution-wide issues. It has to be driven from the top and be seeking to solve issues already identified as important by management; The benefits of the JISC-Cetis Archi Enterprise Architecture modelling tool. The value of this open source software application cannot be over emphasised. It provides a cost-effective and comprehensive tool that works straight out of the box, is intuitive to use and will help anyone new to Enterprise Architecture modelling to develop competence and technique. Without a doubt, a hugely successful JISC-Cetis development; The importance of understanding the viewpoints of all stakeholders using a management system, of understanding that they are different, and of ensuring that all the stakeholders are aware of that. Only then can they all contribute to the design of an integrated system; The benefits of using management modelling techniques in systematically analysing and designing management systems. A key lesson here is to draw from the modelling methods that best suit the purpose of the exercise. In this case, Enterprise Architecture was not the whole solution (though it was the main visualisation method) and needed the additional human activity systems modelling considerations contributed by SSM, and the control and capacity considerations of VSM; A final lesson that came from the exercise was the recognition that institutional management systems are made up of self-managing sub-systems that need to be supported as such with the requisite variety of resources and communications channels to optimally fulfil their role.Looking aheadSwansea Metropolitan University, now merged as part of the University of Wales Trinity StDavid, will be planning the integration of all their management systems, including the studentinformation management system. It is hoped that the outcomes of the JISC Smudie projectwill be of assistance in that process.Beyond that immediate activity, it is also hoped that the experience from the Smudie project,particularly in the use of systematic management system modelling as part of the planningprocess, will be a valuable legacy. It is also hoped that the same value will be of benefit tothe wider JISC community addressing similar issues.SustainabilityA key feature of the Smudie project was its use of Enterprise Architecture and the JISC-Cetis Archi application. This software fits in well with the general sustainability strategy andobjectives at Swansea Met where all recent JISC funded TEL developments have had asimilar approach.Open source software, social networking applications OERs and cloud computing are allseen as components of a future sustainable online educational delivery environment. TheSmudie project has now made a modest contribution to extending the principle toeducational management planning.
Appendix AProject Documents 1. Project Report 1 2. Project Report 2 3. Project Report 3 4. The ‘to be’ Modelling Plan 5. A Synthesis of Modelling TechniquesProject Bloghttp://smudieprojectblog.blogspot.co.uk/