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networking - Best practice at QUT

Campus Review, 10 July 2002

Case studies in eBusiness in Education provide insights into different aspects of doing business electronically.

JACQUI ELSON-GREEN reports

THE seven case studies in eBusiness in Education provide broad coverage of the education sector from schools through to vocational education and training initiatives plus projects in higher education institutions in the public and private spheres in Australia and overseas.

Queensland University of Technology's case study looks at integrated eBusiness across an organisation, while customer relationship management is explored in the report on the Securities Institute of Australia. The University of California, Los Angeles provides an example of international good practice.

Strategic planning for eBusiness across a state network is the subject of the report on TAFE Victoria MIS eBusiness while eProcurement in a VET institution is the focus of the study on the Douglas Mawson Institute of Technology in South Australia.

The report also looks at enterprise resource planning in Tasmanian schools and eProcurement in the ACT schools sector. The author of eBusiness in Education, John Mitchell stresses the importance of comprehensive planning to avoid pitfalls of creating islands of technologies and applications.

QUT's planning, Mitchell points out, included a strong emphasis on integrating information and communication technologies used for administration with the technologies used to provide student services.

To achieve this QUT avoided purchasing a suite of technologies from the one manufacturer and instead developed a policy of purchasing the "best of breed" that suits particular needs within the organisation. Each new item was integrated with existing technology to fit with a strategic plan for IT within the institution.

Mitchell says that a key to the change processes at QUT was that eBusiness was seen as a business reform issue, not one solely about IT.

"The university is determined to break down any silo mentality, to develop a cohesive, collaborative approach to eBusiness. It has managed to achieve this collaboration with the support of staff and for the benefit of its students," he says.

QUT built its eBusiness development program around a cluster of technology-based and human resource management strategies which included the following:

  • First, the data-warehouse was constructed to work reliably on the university intranet
  • Then, productive relationships were established and continue with the suppliers of the best of breed technology
  • Next, a specific challenge to improve tutorial allocation for the largest faculty was met by making the procedures electronic
  • To guide decision-making, a strategic framework and policies were developed
  • The vice-chancellor then focused staff attention on identifying processes that could be developed or refined, improve services for students
  • Two of the largest divisions in the university - information and academic services and administrative services - work together and continue to collaborate closely on eBusiness
  • In every new project, rigorous governance is provided for eBusiness initiatives through the use of project management techniques

QUT's eCommerce project

QUT has developed a range of new electronic financial services including QUT pay-by-phone for student fees and is now developing a complementary pay-online option. Components of the electronic financial services include:

  • A new payment server and enhancements to QUT
  • Virtual which will provide a new internet gateway enabling secure, online authorisation of credit card transactions over the internet
  • A unique, client-focused electronic shopping facility for books and services through the introduction of an electronic "shopping cart"
  • Multi-layered security for online clients
  • A centralised delivery mechanism for all types of online billing and payment activities including bookshop purchases, student fees and parking fees

Mitchell says the benefits of these developments include real-time authorisation and processing of internet credit card transactions, 24-hours a day seven days a week, transaction security, easy integration to merchant website, low establishment costs and obtaining a return on investment by utilising existing infrastructure.

To ensure technology integration and collegial collaboration, the information technology strategic governance committee was established, chaired by the vice-chancellor Professor Dennis Gibson, as the formal mechanism for handling all IT-related funding submissions and projects.

One challenge faced by the university, staff members' differing expectations and technological capabilities, resulted in the creation of a staff development induction program, a focus of which was engaging with colleagues online. A "buddy" system gave inexperienced staff a mentor. In addition, each faculty was given extra support through a computer support officer.

QUT's pro vice-chancellor, Professor Tom Cochrane believes cultural change was the key to the success of eBusiness.

The innovation raised issues about academic freedom, ownership of information, quality controls, partnerships, policy, accountability and technology, he says.

The end result is that eBusiness at QUT is now "beyond a cottage industry of the IT services unit".

Mitchell says that good practices evident at both QUT and UCLA include the clarity of business drivers, clarity about student needs, a focus on return on investment, high-level executive support and committing adequate levels of funding.

"QUT is exemplary in underpinning its eBusiness developments with a collaborative culture, shared decision-making and responsibilities devolved to teaching staff."