With the IT of eight schools and 16,000 students under his control, Rusty Bruns, Chief Information Officer, American University of Kuwait, has a lot on his plate. The vast responsibility has sharpened his sense of IT’s role in education, and he saw the need to make some important changes to the services on offer to his fee-paying students.
“IT’s function has changed,” Bruns says. “It now has to align with and be driven by business objectives. From our point of view, in 2012 we felt that our infrastructure had reached a point where we were not working merely to ‘fix stuff’. We were able to add real value to the business, and deliver an enhanced customer experience.”
AUK’s students had been reluctant to contact the University for day-to-day matters, even through channels that were expected to facilitate smoother contact, “They were not using email, Facebook or Twitter to get in touch with us,” Bruns says. “Around 50 percent of our students’ mailboxes were full, which tells you one thing – they were not even reading the emails we sent. Something had to be done.” Following interactions with a number of students, it was made clear to Bruns how they wanted to receive their notifications. “Their information had to be fed through apps, in a news feed format with updates at the top of their devices,” Bruns says. “Students had been asking us to produce an app for a long time so for us it had become a necessity.”
One of AUK’s most drawn-out processes had been gaining approval from heads of department over course changes and sick leave. Seemingly simple tasks were taking days to complete due to the number of people involved. “Say for example a student wanted to join a class that the system already recognised as full,” Bruns says. “From our point of view this wouldn’t be an issue with an overspill of one or two people. However, the system could not accommodate extra students, so they would have to visit a faculty member, then their department head, then the registration office. This process could take up to three days, as teaching staff do not have office hours.”
In light of the technical challenges AUK’s students were facing, Bruns opted to progress the University’s IT in three key pillars: workflows, mobile apps and cloud – although he has yet to begin work in the third area. His market research led him and his team to opt for education tech specialist Ellucian’s offerings. To cut down on prolonged paper-based processes, Bruns selected the company’s Banner Workflow management software, and for the much-needed app, Ellucian Mobile.
The Banner Workflow package cost Bruns’ department $5,000, which included a week of training for his team, as well as basic configuration assistance. The Mobile package included the same services but came in at an outlay of $6,000.
When it came to convincing the AUK hierarchy that the Ellucian technology was necessary, Bruns recalls a slight stumbling block, “Making a case for ROI wasn’t initially straightforward,” he says. “The investment was relatively small, but it still has to be justified to the board. Given that the benefits of the project would largely be intangible, the stakeholders took a bit of convincing.” By December 2012, Bruns and his team had completed the installation of the solutions.
He says it has been easy to justify the investment in terms of what it has done for AUK’s quality of service and reputation, “At the end of the day it’s all about the quality of customer service,” he says. “We’re making the job of our students easier through the use of these apps, which improves their experience and satisfaction, which in turn enhances the image of the university.” The applications project has not only been a great success, but has also made AUK the first university in the country to implement a mobile app for its students. “This is a major selling point for us,” Bruns says. “It’s not hard to convince prospective students to enroll when they see the quality of technology services on offer. Students from around the world will also look at AUK and see us as a stronger option for their studies; it’s a huge add.”
The amount of contact with students has now greatly increased, the news feed feature of the application clearly doing its job. Students are now also able to receive news briefs that are specific to them, look up their grades and check their course schedules all via the app. Although difficult to quantify, this has saved a large number of man hours that were previously consumed with a variety of admin tasks.
At worst, various paper-based workflows used to take up to three days to complete before the introduction of Banner Workflows. “Now they take as little as two hours,” Bruns says. “Taken to its extreme, this has saved university staff thousands of hours that were being needlessly wasted.”
Bruns is in no doubt that talent at his disposal was key in the project’s delivery. “My staff are very smart,” he says. “I’m fortunate to have them, and they were absolutely critical to this project’s success. They possessed the technical intelligence and shared the vision that was needed to allow this project to achieve its full potential.”