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Administrative Computing Supports the Academic Environment

by Helen Norris, Associate Vice President & Shiva Pillai, Analyst/Programmer

Administrative Computing Services (ACS), an integral part of the Information Resources and Technology (IRT) division, provides campus-wide support services for enterprise-wide computing applications used for student registration, grading, advising, financial aid and many other academic and student-related functions.  Although much of the work of ACS is accomplished through support of automation and self-help processes via the Peoplesoft Common Management System, the real role of ACS is simply to make the work of students, faculty and staff easier.  Some key examples of this support role of ACS are noted below.

Faculty Advising

Effective academic advising of students is critical to student success. A new module for faculty advising was implemented in the Student Administration module of CMS in October 2007.  My Sac State, Faculty Center, (general self-service for Faculty), has been available since April of 2007.  The initial self-service features included access to teaching schedules, class rosters, class schedules and class search, faculty search and Sac State messaging.  The faculty advising module provides an additional advising tab for faculty in the Faculty Center.  This tab provides access to academic information about specific students including degree progress, grades, transfer credit reports and unofficial transcripts.  While much of this information was also available in the old SIS+ system, the difference with the newer faculty advising module in CMS is that the data is consolidated on a single screen, making it much easier and faster for the faculty member to access this information.  A sample screen from the Faculty Center, showing the advising tab, is shown below:

An upcoming feature that will improve the functionality of this module will be the ability for the student to request an advisor.  Normally, when a faculty member accesses the advising tab, he or she much search for a student record in order to access a particular student’s information.  However, if a student requests a faculty adviser through a department, departmental staff will be able to assign a faculty advisor to the student.  The student will then automatically appear on the correct faculty member’s advising tab, thereby eliminating the need for this lengthy lookup.

Protecting Student Information

Administrative Computing Services has responsibility for ensuring the privacy and security of the personal information about faculty, students, and staff entrusted to it.  Some of the most sensitive data is found within the advising module.  For that reason, faculty members are required by CSU policy to complete online security training that provides guidance in handling of these hyper-sensitive data.  ACS has worked to make this task as painless as possible, by providing online training through LearnerWeb, by providing access immediately upon request, and by providing a grace period of 30 days to complete the requisite training. To date, approximately 70% of eligible faculty members have complete the security training and have access to the advising module.  Please keep in mind that CSU information security policies require that if the security training is not completed within the proscribed period, access to the advising tab is removed.  Other support staff, such as Career Center staff, non-tenure track faculty, and departmental staff can also be granted access to the advising tab as professional advisers.

Better Reporting through the Data Warehouse

Another area of support of the academic function is the transition to a new so-called “data warehouse”.  Wikipedia defines a “data warehouse” as “a repository of an organization's electronically stored data… designed to facilitate reporting and analysis.”  The general idea is to get data, reporting, and analysis tools into the hands of the department chairs, faculty, and staff who need those data for their daily work, rather than locking the data up within CMS and other systems.  We have already begun to develop pre-planned reports for use in areas such as student enrollment planning, based on data from both CMS and non-CMS systems.  Data available from CMS in the data warehouse includes information regarding transfer credits and advising. Information from non-CMS systems includes special information used by Financial Aid, class scheduling information, and information on student housing from the new online housing system.  The Data Warehouse team has been working with reporting groups such as the Advising Implementation Policy Team (AIPT) and key users from the Faculty, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and Finance groups to identify additional needs and to develop additional reports.  We expect that the delivery of additional reports from the Data Warehouse will be a near constant activity for the foreseeable future.  We also plan to leverage the data warehouse to provide better access to administrative data.  In March 2009, coupled with the Finance 9.0 upgrade, all financial reporting will be moved from the slow and cumbersome nVision tool to the much speedier and more effective Data Warehouse. 

Improving Performance for CMS

Occasional slow performance of CMS, especially during peak use periods, has been a significant headache for many. A related article in this newsletter addresses the number of approaches ACS is taking to prevent those slowdowns from occurring. One of the many benefits of the transition to the Data Warehouse is the relief of heavy traffic loads on our already overburdened CMS production system.  By moving reporting from direct use of the Student Administration, Human Resources, and Finance modules of CMS to the Data Warehouse, the number of users accessing CMS and the number of transactions CMS is required to process is greatly diminished.  We should all begin to see incremental improvement in CMS performance for two reasons.  First, the individual reports and analyses re-located to the Data Warehouse will run faster (sometimes infinitely faster) since the Data Warehouse is optimized for such reporting.  Second, those users who still must access CMS will notice performance improvements as we lighten the load, including faculty accessing the self-service module and advising as described above.

These are only a few of the ways that Administrative Computing Services provides support to the University’s core mission of student education, by providing tools to both faculty and students to ease the administrative burden associated with the educational process.

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