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CMS Performance Improvement – A Work in Progress

by Helen Norris, Associate Vice President

Hellen NorrisAlthough the so-called Common Management System (CMS) has brought many improvements to our handling of administrative functions across campus, slow performance has too often plagued users during peak usage times.  For example, in Fall of 2008 when students and faculty returned to campus, performance was unacceptably slow during the peak registration and advising time.  Since that time, staff in IRT, the central CMS support group in the Chancellor’s Office, and campus divisions have worked diligently together to improve performance of the Student Administration, Finance, and Human Resources systems.  Such improvements are critical to maintaining the confidence of faculty, staff and students in use of these essential systems.

This work has been a challenging and time-consuming endeavor, but substantial progress was made. The reward for our collective work was substantial improvement in CMS performance during the first week of the Spring semester.  We closely monitored system performance, using both advanced technical tools and the more low-tech approach of having staff observe both student and staff activity in Lassen Hall.  It was clear that the serious performance problems of Fall 2008 did not re-occur.  While some users noted some sluggishness during peak use times, the actions taken by the teams both on campus and at the Chancellor’s Office clearly had a positive impact.

What Actions Improved Performance?

 The first step in improving performance was to diligently catalogue and define the most serious performance problems.  Our cross-functional team worked with heavy users of CMS (e.g. Student Affairs, Academic Affairs) to track and measure all serious performance issues and plan for possible solutions.  These solutions were implemented during the fall semester.  They included:

  • CMS Technical Services at the Chancellor’s Office moved Sacramento State to an expanded set of CMS servers that handled only five campuses, instead of the eight previously served by a smaller resource.  Similar enhancements were made to the database systems that are the core of CMS services. 

  • Functional leads in Student Affairs, Finance and other departments greatly reduced the number of transactions run during the first two weeks of instruction, moving those functions whenever possible to late night or weekend hours.

  • IRT staff implemented a number of technical solutions, notably tuning database performance and creating additional indexes that speed performance of searches.  In one case, tuning of a single process within Student Affairs resulted in a ten-fold increase in speed.

  • The “Browse Catalog” feature was identified as creating especially serious slowdowns.  IRT staff provided a different method to access the same information without those delays.

Even though we have had a better experience with performance this semester, measuring and improving the performance of the functionality in Peoplesoft is still a high priority and an ongoing task for IRT and all the teams involved.  We are putting together a plan to measure current performance and then put specific improvements in place.  We expect to build a database of performance benchmarks based on the user experience; that is, how long a specific action in the CMS system takes at the user’s desk during non-peak times.  We will then compare our performance during peak times with that benchmark and evaluate our performance.  We are also exploring technical solutions with the Chancellor’s office, tools that will allow us to monitor the activities identified as performance issues and to pinpoint the cause of the performance slowdown.  We can then implement specific fixes in those areas.  We are also planning to offload a significant amount of activity from the CMS system with the implementation of our new Data Warehouse.  This will allow staff to run the reports they need outside of Peoplesoft, thus freeing up more resources for transactional activity by students and staff.

We hope that all these actions will result in continual improvements in the CMS functions you use each day.

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