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Review of the Corporate Information Systems

Information Resources & Communications is pleased to share with you the report, "Review of Corporate Information Systems", prepared by Deloitte & Touche. The report is available in PDF format.

You may recall that IR&C initiated this study last summer and engaged Deloitte & Touche to conduct an independent assessment of the corporate systems. They were specifically asked to evaluate the ease of access to the corporate data by management and staff for reporting and ad hoc retrieval of information; to assess whether the data currently captured in the systems meet the needs of Office of the President staff today; and to recommend directions, including retrieval and reporting tools, that the University should explore to enhance the ability of the Office of the President to use corporate data more effectively in analysis and decision-making. The evaluation was conducted through a series of interviews with managers and analytical staff who are the primary users of the corporate data and staff in Information Resources and Communications who are responsible for the maintenance, technology infrastructure, and data quality of the systems.

Deloitte & Touche identified technology and process improvement findings and recommended short and long-term actions to address the findings.

Technology Findings

Three of the six technology findings relate to the user interface to the corporate systems. Users and potential users of the systems find that the lack of an easy-to-use interface for querying and reporting, the inability to drill-up/down on corporate system information, and the lack a multi-dimensional querying capability are impediments and discourage them from using the systems. Users also feel that not enough historical information is maintained online and that the lack of integration between the corporate database limits the analyses possible and results in increased work. Deloitte & Touche observed that these technology findings result in some users replicating all or part of the corporate databases on their own workstations and concluded that these "shadow systems" potentially compromise data integrity and increase overall costs of operations. This criticism of shadow systems, as they are defined by Deloitte & Touche, is a view not shared by IR&C: data replication, data manipulation on desktop computing platforms, and user choice in desktop query tools are strategies commonly employed in state of the art data warehousing environments and are ones that will likely be components of the long-term vision developed for the corporate systems.

Process Findings

Deloitte & Touche found that data quality in the corporate systems is generally good even though the University operates in a complex, decentralized systems environment. Users did identify specific areas where campuses fail to comply with the required data input specifications. Late or incomplete campus data submissions were also cited as a problem that results in delayed availability of data for analyses and reporting.

User documentation for the corporate systems is outdated and inadequate. Several of the databases are very complex with many data elements and users who do not frequently access the systems are often confused by this complexity. More documentation with business-like definitions, comments, and usage hints would be helpful to them.

There is user interest in making two additional databases available in the user access environment, the equipment database and the Corporate Personnel System Fiscal Year Database. Both of these are large and historically were not available online because there was no perceived need. Deloitte and Touche also found that users perceive that they are denied access to the corporate systems by IR&C even though access is readily granted to anyone who receives authorization from their department.

The final process improvement finding is the chargeback mechanism for access to the systems. Users state that charges for CPU cycles for accessing the data results in them either not using the systems to the fullest, delaying analyses by executing jobs at cheaper, off-hour rates, or in unnecessarily replicating large amounts of data just in case they might need it at a later date.

IR&C Action Plan

In response to these findings and acting upon the Deloitte & Touche recommendation for short and long-term action, IR&C will undertake the following:

To respond to the technology findings in the short term, IR&C will:

  1. Evaluate the end user reporting tools offered by Information Builders Inc. (IBI).

    As recommended, IR&C will evaluate the IBI product offerings to determine the cost and effort required to implement and support them in the current environment. If it is determined that the products can be implemented with current financial and staff resources in the short term, users will be asked to assess whether the products address the user interface findings. It does not appear that other vendors offer query tools that can access FOCUS databases. If IBI’s product offerings do not satisfy user requirements or are too costly to purchase or support, then the standard user interface to the corporate systems may not be able to be improved in the short term.
  2. Expand the amount of historical information available online.

    The user access environment has recently been modified to make an additional cycle of Corporate Financial System data available online and work is in progress to add five years of October Corporate Personnel System data.

To respond to the process improvement findings in the short term, IR&C will:

  1. Update user documentation.

    IR&C staff is currently working on updates to user manuals. Data dictionaries for all corporate systems will be made available on the Web.
  2. Convene regular corporate system user group meetings.

    IR&C will increase the effectiveness of the user access environment through additional training and education. The focus group sessions conducted by Deloitte & Touche demonstrated the value of user meetings where information and knowledge can be shared. IR&C staff will set up frequent user group meetings where data quality issues and reporting tricks and techniques can be discussed and potential system enhancements can be presented, evaluated, and prioritized. Several user offices are extracting data from the corporate systems and have developed innovative approaches for querying and analyzing the data. Other users may benefit from seeing these various approaches.
  3. Improve data quality and improve timeliness of data.

    IR&C will continue its effort to identify data quality issues and work with users and campuses to resolve them. The user group meetings, mentioned above, will be an excellent forum for bringing these issues to light and for developing strategies for resolving them. IR&C is also committed to ensuring that production schedules are met and databases are available in a timely fashion.
  4. Review recharge/chargeback mechanism.

    IR&C will review the current recharge structure for access to the corporate systems that is based on machine cycles used. The goal will be to identify a funding/recharge model where users do not need to consider the cost/benefit of each ad hoc query they perform.

To respond to the technology findings in the long term, IR&C will:

  1. Develop a "blueprint" or "vision" of the future corporate systems environment.

    IR&C shares Deloitte & Touche’s view that the corporate systems should be migrated to a modern data warehousing environment in the long term. However, the systems can not simply be ported to a new environment if the technology findings relating to integration and historical data are to be addressed. This will require considerable analysis of user data and access requirements and the development of new relational data models.

    As a first step, IR&C will develop a "vision" of a new environment that will include many of the components mentioned in the Deloitte & Touche study, e.g. acquisition, edit, and validation of campus data, storage of data in a relational database, the introduction of business intelligence tools (on-line analytical processing, decision support and executive information systems), and replication of subsets of data for use by specific units or individuals.
  2. Develop a timeline and action plan for implementing long-term vision.

    In parallel with developing a "vision" of a new environment, IR&C will develop a timeline and action plan for implementing it. The action plan will include undertaking a needs assessment, conducting an evaluation of alternative technologies, conducting a cost/benefit analysis, and resolving any funding issues that may arise.