Getting Started: Introducing the Case Study

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Northeastern University (NEU) is a large, urban university recognized nationally and internationally for its commitment to applied learning and cooperative educational programs. Its main campus is located in the Back Bay of Boston, Massachusetts; NEU also delivers programs through several satellite campuses in and around Boston. The university includes schools of engineering, health sciences, computer science, business, law, criminal justice, and the arts and sciences. The NEU community serves over 30,000 students — including undergraduate, graduate, and nontraditional students — through the efforts of more than 4,000 faculty and administrative personnel. In total, the greater university campus includes more than 80 buildings, operating largely off a common, state-of-the-art optical fiber network backbone and running a vast array of IT platforms and products. The diverse nature of the Northeastern's investment in information technologies is typical of what one finds in higher education, where program offerings drive diverse IT choices and, therefore, the maintenance of a rather heterogeneous IT environment.

To manage this complexity, NEU funds a centralized IS division whose responsibilities encompass the ongoing support and maintenance of the campus's IT infrastructure of networked hardware and software, all university administrative and business systems, and all common campus IT services, such as the Internet, electronic mail (Lotus Notes), desktop automation tools (e.g., Microsoft Office), and group collaboration tools (e.g., Domino TeamRooms, Domino Discussion Databases, Lotus Instant Messaging, and Notes calendaring and scheduling). In addition, IS operates a number of large, public computer labs for the student body, a residence hall computer network on the Boston campus with approximately 8,000 network nodes, a walk-up help desk, a call center, campus-wide multimedia and audio/visual services, and a body of end-user documentation and training programs in support of core university IT offerings. Finally, IS works closely with the university's various colleges and schools, each of which sponsors its own IT organizations, to ensure that the program-driven technologies within these operating units integrate with the university's overall IT infrastructure.

This range of activities poses obvious challenges for IS. Clearly, the division manages services and executes projects that impact the entire NEU community. To that end, effective customer relationship management and communications, as well as successful delivery of products and services, are critical to the success and credibility of IS. Because most IS tasks require the complex coordination of working clients, various IS teams, and an array of external technology partner providers, coordinating all the moving parts in these processes is always difficult. So, too, is the timely communication of project and service statuses, issues, best practices, and lessons learned. Finally, within NEU's geographically dispersed work environment and where the residential population requires something approaching 24/7 service availability, IS personnel must have ready access to business and technical information and expertise across multiple disciplines. These challenges are further complicated by the fact that the IS organization itself is spread across campus limiting physical proximity to colleagues and making communicating and collaborating more difficult.

To meet customer expectations and achieve satisfactory results, the IS organization took steps in 2001 to break out of the mold of reactive, siloed service delivery. The leadership of Northeastern's IS division, Bob Weir (vice president and chief information officer) and Rick Mickool (executive director and chief technology officer) recognized the need for action and, as an initial step, established a new operating unit, enterprise operations — the NEU version of a PMO. The EO team's mandate included the following:

  • Formalization of a planning process that would align IS resources and work with those deliverables of highest value to the enterprise [3]

  • Creation and ongoing management of a project office that would promote best practices in project and service delivery

  • Quality assurance and release management (QA/RM) function that would ensure the effective and efficient release into production of IT solutions in line with customer requirements

  • KM practice to capture, organize, and distribute explicit IS knowledge for the leverage and reuse of the IS division team.

As a package, EO services supported those on the IS division's front lines in their efforts to operate according to the best practices of higher education IT. In this capacity, EO was well positioned to provide KM services. The EO staff was directly involved in all major projects, providing both project management and business analysis support. In these capacities, EO team members facilitated or directly authored most of the key documentation associated with IS division planning and decision-making, with IT projects, and with the process-reengineering work between IS and its customers and within IS itself. Similarly, through the QA/RM functions, EO personnel created test scripts, product release schedules, and the monitoring and documenting of system bug fixes and source code management. Thus EO emerged as the primary source and keeper of IS best practices information. Given the pace and extensiveness of IS activities, however, it was not always possible for EO to share information or documents readily across IS. Furthermore, there was still no easy means for translating the expertise of individual IS experts into more generalized knowledge to be shared with colleagues.

To close this gap, Richard M. Kesner (then the director of EO) proposed, in late April 2001, the establishment of a formal knowledge store that would house all critical IS documentation and provide easy search and retrieval capabilities. [4] The envisioned service would facilitate many-to-many communication through a Web-enabled platform, allowing business process and technical subject experts to share their explicit (documented) and, to a more limited extent, their tacit (internalized) knowledge with their co-workers. Based on his prior experiences with KM, [5] the director of EO saw that this intranet solution, constructed as a knowledge portal, was the most cost-effective means of creating a proper environment for knowledge sharing.

To that end, he created a simple prototype, employing Microsoft PowerPoint. This model conveyed the basic functionality of a KM portal experience. He also created a Web asset inventory that offered further details concerning the functionality housed on particular portal Web pages and within site workflows. These illustrations convinced the IS vice president and executive director of the merits of the undertaking. They saw its value to the IS organization itself and as a prototype for similar KM efforts within other university business units. They therefore agreed to sponsor a development effort.

However, they also imposed certain limitations on the project. Because the knowledge portal project was not a key and immediate customer-driven IS deliverable, EO could not call upon the division's own, already stretched Web development resources for help in the project's creation. Through the limited funds provided, EO was charged instead with developing a solution in conjunction with some external technology partner provider. The scope of delivery would be bound by the limited funds available, but the timing of delivery was elastic, as was the definition of the initial functionality for the site. Thus, by the summer of 2001, the launch pad for the establishment of an IS knowledge portal project was in place.

The EO team, comprising the director and two business analysts — Beth Anne Dancause and Pam Marascia — (the division's core KM team), began to map a strategy for the project. From the outset, the team recognized the central role that a substantial knowledge store must play in the creation of a successful service offering. For this reason, and even before approval and funding were secured from executive management, EO personnel established a rudimentary document repository, employing a Lotus Notes TeamRoom. This so-called IS TeamRoom was organized into a series of simple categories based on the various functional activities of the IS division, such as planning, benchmarking, service delivery management, operations reporting, and so forth.

To this the EO team added categories for major IS projects and a set of rules for the summary description of documents deposited in the repository. As IS team members created documents, an EO project manager or business analyst would deposit these under the appropriate TeamRoom subject heading (category). As needed, the EO KM team added new headings to maintain the team room's overall intellectual integrity. EO also ensured that documentation remained current and as comprehensive as possible. By late spring of 2001, all of IS had access to the team room, affording easy access to the knowledge store and other team room services, such as threaded discussions and publish-and-subscribe functionality.

The process of creating this interim knowledge store yielded a number of advantages to the greater knowledge portal project. First, it heightened the IS division's awareness of the broader interests and concerns of co-workers in the particulars of a given IS project or service delivery platform. Second, it instilled among those who actually created these knowledge assets a routine process for archiving and sharing documents. Third, it helped the EO KM project team to better discern patterns of usage among information resources and the associated cataloging requirements for document storage and retrieval. Lastly, the effort gave the KM team an excellent start in compiling the envisioned Web-based knowledge store. It was by now also clear, however, that as the team room grew in size and complexity, retrieval became more cumbersome. Indeed, within nine months, by the spring of 2002, IS staff began to complain that difficulties in finding specific IS TeamRoom documents discouraged use. Fortunately, by then the new KM portal was completed and ready to replace the IS TeamRoom. The balance of this chapter describes just how the portal team achieved this objective.

[3]For the details concerning this effort, see Richard M. Kesner, "Running Information Services as a Business: Managing IS Commitments within a Larger Organization," Information Strategies Journal 18, 4 (2002): 15–35.

[4]A knowledge store is a content repository in which an organization's documented processes and process outcomes are archived for easy retrieval. A cornerstone of any KM service, the store serves as a reference library, allowing the organization to leverage content for reuse and redeployment.

[5]As initially developed by KPMG and then modified by the author to complement his project delivery and knowledge management approaches, this model illustrates the various levels of service and the connections between a knowledge site and a PMO. See The Hands-On Project Office,, chpt7~1~pm meets km~model.

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The Hands-On Project Office(c) Guaranteeing ROI and On-Time Delivery
E-Commerce Security: Advice from Experts (IT Solutions series)
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 132 © 2008-2017.
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