Davidson College, a liberal arts school, caters to students with high expectations for themselves and for their educational institution. The college responded to students’ technology demands by investing in a Microsoft Enterprise Client Access License Suite agreement. It has embraced a variety of innovative technologies, such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, which Davidson uses for collaboration and improved access to college services. Davidson faculty and staff also benefit from new portal functionality, which provides a single source for budgetary and logistical information, as well as committee collaboration. Additionally, Davidson upgraded to several other systems, such as Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 to provide greater parity between the experiences of its PC and Macintosh users, and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to reduce the IT support burden.
The world of higher education is no longer limited to dusty tomes; tech-savvy students use technology in the classroom and as a part of daily life. Davidson College knows what today’s students expect in terms of technology as a vital part of the collegiate experience. “Technology has become inseparable from what students demand from their college educations, and we strive to meet the high expectations of the students—our customers,” says Rob Smith, Director of Systems and Networks for Davidson College.
The college works to fully integrate technology into its environment, not just to benefit students but also to ensure a smooth-running administration. “Our forward-looking technology approach is driven by the school’s core mission to educate young people,” says Mur Muchane, Executive Director of Information Technology for Davidson College. “Providing a high-quality education involves a strong technology offering, and it’s equally important to maintain a first-rate technology infrastructure to support the top education that Davidson delivers.”
||The investment that we’ve made in the ECAL will serve us well with our student population because it helps us deliver the sort of experience that students expect.
Executive Director, Information Technology, Davidson College
Three key factors compose the college’s technology philosophy. Davidson looks for proven, reliable technologies and mainstream applications. Also, any technology that the college adopts needs to add value in some way to the school’s core mission of teaching and learning. Finally, Davidson seeks technologies and partners that can provide administrative process improvements for its business offices. “We like to see strong support from vendors and partners because we have a small IT staff here, with finite resources, so we look to them to fill in the skill gaps,” says Smith.Giving Staff Access to College Resources
One of the areas in which Davidson sought to update its technology was the realm of business intelligence (BI). The college had an outdated Hewlett-Packard Unix (HP-UX) data warehouse that posed numerous challenges. Over time, it had grown with no set plan and, therefore, contained duplicate data and lacked organization. HP had discontinued support for the architecture, and the system represented the largest hardware expense for Davidson aside from its network. The system could not scale to meet the changing needs of the school, and too much of the small IT staff’s valuable time and resources were spent simply maintaining it. “We wanted to chart a new, more sustainable path for empowering users to get their own reports, without the need to rely on IT staff to get the information,” explains Muchane.
Previously, IT staff members had to manually compile reports on a regular basis for faculty and administrative staff to know the status of individual and college-wide annual giving campaigns, wage scales, and other areas of interest. The controller’s office required help to manually produce the college’s widely used monthly budget status report, which involved time-consuming efforts to gather all the necessary data across all departments. “We wanted to give faculty and administrative staff the ability to easily access the college’s data themselves, conducting queries and running reports whenever necessary,” says Smith. Simplifying Student and University Communications
Davidson also wanted to provide its students with unified access to information. As students prepared for their freshman year, they received separate mailings from various offices with information relating to housing, financial aid, and other concerns. Once on campus, students had to use multiple websites to access the college’s range of services and information—from their campus credit-card balances to schedules of the numerous events on campus. “We looked to fuse and streamline our students’ fragmented experience in accessing our offerings and to satisfy the student government’s request for more of a ‘one-stop shopping’ experience,” says Muchane.
Davidson has long relied on technologies from Microsoft to power college-wide efficiencies and turned once again to Microsoft when it came time to migrate and upgrade the college’s environment to support the changing needs of faculty, staff, and students. “We view our relationship with Microsoft as one of great strategic importance,” says Muchane. “The company has proven that its products and its people meet our needs as they arise. We can count on Microsoft to be there when we need support, which is very different from other technology vendors.”
||We realized that we could use the products that are included in the ECAL to gain efficiencies in other areas and establish useful building blocks to benefit our students.
Executive Director, Information Technology, Davidson College
The college appreciates the efforts that Microsoft has made regarding hardware and software interoperability, because approximately half of its students and employees use Apple computers. They also use a wide range of handheld devices from a variety of manufacturers, so Davidson makes it a priority to deploy software that is cross-platform compatible. “It’s key that we provide equal access to resources for both our Macintosh and Windows users, and we trust that Microsoft will continue to deliver products that meet our interoperability requirements,” says Muchane. Building Long-Term Solutions with Cost-Effective Investments
To ensure that it made a smart investment, Davidson chose to enter into a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, featuring the Microsoft Enterprise Client Access License (ECAL) Suite. The ECAL offers a cost-effective way for organizations to extend the value of their existing environments by adopting innovative collaboration, communication, security, and IT management solutions.
Davidson investigated a number of new technologies and functionalities that were part of the ECAL, including Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and its reporting infrastructure, and advanced features in Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 email messaging and collaboration software. “We ended up doing a lot of math to determine whether it made more sense for us to purchase products individually or as a suite,” says Smith.
The deciding factor in favor of the ECAL came in the form of advanced features in the ECAL edition of Office SharePoint Server 2007, which Davidson wanted to use to support a new BI solution. “The ECAL gives us the safety net that we wanted,” says Muchane. “Plus, we realized that we could use the products that are included in the ECAL to gain efficiencies in other areas and establish useful building blocks to benefit our students.”Adding Business Intelligence Capabilities
As it took steps to replace its HP-UX system and improve business intelligence, Davidson accepted an invitation to participate in an Architecture Design Session at a Microsoft Technology Center (MTC). There, Davidson IT staff members attended a session in the Envisioning Center, where they saw new technologies in action and realized some of the possibilities with regard to collaboration. They also worked with technology specialists who went beyond the BI capabilities in SharePoint Server to show how the product could be used in a variety of ways at Davidson. “We derived great value from our trip to the MTC,” says Smith. “While there, we worked with a higher-education BI expert who guided us through the technologies and knew exactly the problems we were trying to solve and how Microsoft could help.”
After returning from the MTC, Davidson successfully implemented a BI solution in which SharePoint Server is the interface for data access. Davidson employees use the solution to run status updates at any time, and the controller’s office can set parameters that will alert individuals of certain changes in the budget. In addition, the college’s faculty and staff receive automatic notification through the reporting platform when their paychecks have been wired to their accounts, and the Davidson development office tracks and reports on annual giving by using the new SharePoint Server–based solution.Expanding Portal Functionality
Although Davidson initially set out to use SharePoint Server solely for BI reports, it quickly realized that it could use the product to establish additional useful portals. The IT team has set up an employee portal environment that faculty and staff use not only to get individualized paystub information, but also to collaborate, share documents, compile wikis, and more. For instance, Davidson undertook an institutional planning process that involved 21 teams, each composed of a combination of faculty, staff, and students. “SharePoint Server came to our rescue,” says Smith. “We were able to give the mixed teams an easy-to-use, intuitive, and complete set of tools that they can use to work together to achieve their objectives.”
The Davidson human resources department has taken full advantage of the possibilities provided by SharePoint Server. For example, it converted the college’s cumbersome paper-based policies and procedures into a dynamic, searchable information portal solution that is readily accessible by employees throughout the institution. “With human resources and other departments now doing self-service reporting, there’s less need for IT help,” says Muchane. “For us, SharePoint Server has become a central piece of infrastructure for delivering on a variety of fronts. We consider it a fully enabling technology, one that gives us a rich set of tools to use to address all manner of issues that arise on a college campus.”
As for training, the Davidson administrator for SharePoint Server provides a one-hour session to new users. “After that, the tools are intuitive enough that most users can do what they need to, especially with the resources available from our help desk and the web,” says Muchane.
Davidson IT staff also set up a student gateway portal, and administrative departments began using it as a central repository for all student-related information. The college plans to release a student portal at the beginning of the 2010–2011 school year and aims to upgrade its solution to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 in mid-2011. Upgrading for Greater Efficiencies
To further take advantage of the benefits of the ECAL, Davidson opted to upgrade from Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 to Exchange Server 2010. As of August 2010, the college has deployed its Exchange Server 2010–based servers, finalized configuration, and begun moving its approximately 3,000 mailboxes—about 2 terabytes of data—to the upgraded system. “We’re looking forward to the improved user experience and technical efficiency gains, such as the load-balancer cluster for access to the Microsoft Outlook 2010 messaging and collaboration client, which will enhance reliability for our student and staff users,” says Smith.
Davidson also eliminated its previous combination of homegrown shareware approaches to system management and security. Instead, it adopted Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 and System Center Operations Manager 2007 to deploy products and manage the health of the environment. It also replaced its third-party antivirus software with Microsoft Forefront Protection 2010 for Exchange Server, which is part of the Forefront Protection Suite in the ECAL, to help safeguard its messaging environment and reduce costs. The college also uses Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway 2010 to extend off-campus access to the SharePoint Server 2007 solution.Benefits
Students, faculty, and staff at Davidson College are all experiencing benefits through the ECAL, with improvements in communication and collaboration, increases in productivity, and overall cost savings. “Our ECAL investment is of vital strategic importance as we in IT seek to support the college’s mission of teaching and learning,” says Muchane.
Davidson is conserving its financial resources by using as many products in the ECAL as possible to replace third-party products, which makes it possible to not only add functionality but also to do so without placing an additional burden on the shoulders of its IT staff. “We have simplified our technology environment, reducing the number of technologies that we support and eliminating aging hardware standards—all while saving approximately [U.S.]$20,000 each year,” says Muchane. “The switch to having a managed, electronic flow of student information also represents a huge cost savings, reduced waste of paper, and employee efficiency improvement for Davidson.”
||We now refer to SharePoint Server as the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of applications. It alone helps us save tremendously on costs because it’s flexible enough to address a myriad of issues.
Director of Systems and Networks, Davidson College
Adds Smith, “During the decision-making process, we were able to easily demonstrate how the ECAL would help us fulfill so many needs around campus. In fact, we now refer to SharePoint Server as the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of applications. It alone helps us save tremendously on costs because it’s flexible enough to address a myriad of issues.”Increasing Student Access to Campus Services
The college’s disjointed mailings to incoming students are a thing of the past, and students now have a single, web-based source for all Davidson-related information, whether they are on or off campus. With a consolidated way to view critical information, optional events, and everything in between, students now have an easier time keeping up with what they need to know and making the most of all that Davidson has to offer.
For instance, student-run organizations now have a means of posting and sharing information with members and other interested parties. And Davidson expects that having easy, centralized access to event information, library resources, tuition details, roommate information, college credit-card balances, and more will foster a united community that students will appreciate. “Students do factor in the technology assets provided on campus. Our technology solutions help Davidson compete in the higher-education field,” says Muchane. “The investment that we’ve made in the ECAL will serve us well with our student population because it helps us deliver the sort of experience that students expect.” Facilitating Increased Faculty and Staff Knowledge Sharing
Everything that Davidson has improved for students also applies to the college’s faculty and staff. “They, too, have progressed from a fractured to a collaborative environment in which they can easily find institutional resources and information,” says Muchane. “They can be much more productive because they know where to go to quickly find what they need.”
Davidson has an institutional culture of collaboration, with a large number of committees that meet regularly. “Their activities—contributing to and sharing documents, reporting on discussions held and decisions made, and so on—all are facilitated by the SharePoint Server–based portal,” says Muchane. “Committee chairs, for example, can use the portal to easily post and retrieve information, which helps maintain version control and speed the decision-making process.”Increased IT Staff Efficiency
The Davidson IT team appreciates the efficiencies that it gains through its use of Microsoft technologies and the ongoing investment that Microsoft makes to improve those technologies over time. For example, it used to take three IT staff members to run the college’s instance of Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5. However, with advances in the capabilities of Exchange Server, Davidson is poised to launch Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and use just 20 percent of one IT staffer’s time to maintain it. “Within the IT organization, we have realized operational efficiencies,” says Muchane. “We are providing more technology services to the campus without increasing staff. From a campus-wide perspective, we’ve fostered administrative efficiencies by empowering functional units to do more with technology.”
The college’s IT staff members also enjoy the management experience that has come with the adoption of System Center products. “Now with System Center Operations Manager 2007 in place, we can take a proactive, enterprise-level approach to monitoring consistently, rather than the scattered monitoring that we did in the past,” says Smith.
Davidson IT staffers also have noted the positive impact that improvements in Microsoft products make on IT support. “I’ve already upgraded to Exchange Server 2010 and have noticed a nearly identical experience between the full Outlook client and Outlook Web Access. Everyone will value having the same level of functionality on the web as with the real application,” says Muchane. “We’ve also seen that increased level of fidelity between the Macintosh and PC experience with Exchange Server and Outlook. The previous differences really affected our help desk, but by providing close to the same experience for both Windows and Macintosh users, we can reduce that support burden. It’s a big relief to be better able to support our Macintosh community, thanks to the improvements that Microsoft has made.”Microsoft Infrastructure Optimization
With infrastructure optimization, you can build a secure, well-managed, and dynamic core IT infrastructure that can reduce overall IT costs, make better use of resources, and become a strategic asset for the business. The Infrastructure Optimization model—with basic, standardized, rationalized, and dynamic levels—was developed by Microsoft using industry best practices and Microsoft’s own experiences with enterprise customers. The Infrastructure Optimization model provides a maturity framework that is flexible and easily used as a benchmark for technical capability and business value.
For more information about Microsoft infrastructure optimization, go to:For More Information
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