Grey Heller Mobilization Effort for Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell Campuses

Filed in Collaboration, Efficiency, Featured, General by , and on September 20, 2016

desktop view of student center mobile view of student center

It all started back in early 2014 when a task force was formed for the Student Application Services group to discuss the UMass student’s user experience. From a user population hosted by UMass/IdM, the student application has the largest number of users at all times of the day all year long. That being said, those users also use the latest and greatest mobile devices; iPads, Tablets and smart phones have all but replaced the conventional laptop or desktop computers. Students want to interact with their own data on whichever device they prefer to use. They want to enroll in classes, look at their schedule, check their financial aid status, check their grades when they’re posted – all at a moment’s notice. All with a swipe of a finger. Simple enough statement to be made. The solution, however, was not so simple.

So tell me what you want, what you really really want…

The first step was to ask the students what they really wanted in a Student Self Service Center (SSSC). A survey was distributed in May of 2014 to Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell students to gain an understanding of what their thoughts were on the current SSSC and what they would like to see in the future. There were 987 students across the Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell campuses that participated in the survey. Across all three campuses, the reoccurring themes or areas that needed to be addressed were site navigation, poor user interface (UI), billing/confusion around the bill, scheduling and academic planning, and having a mobile view. Delivered PeopleSoft is not mobile friendly.

The second step in the process was to gain buy-in from our campus representatives who are not only in the direct line of fire for support, but they too needed to be able to market whatever was chosen. They had quite an undertaking. They were tasked with not only ensuring that the students would be able use whatever solution was chosen, but also to encourage them to do so. To test all campus specific business rules and logic was in place, all workflows were unchanged and campus specific branding/links were correct and accessible.

The Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell Campuses are PeopleSoft Shops. PeopleSoft is the workhorse of institutional data – an enterprise solution that encapsulates the entire student’s experience, from application through graduation and everything in between. Our challenge was to find a solution that could meet the following requirements:

  • The solution would not require a change in business rules and processes, hardware purchases, or a re-architecture of any kind
  • The solution would allow the students to find what they needed easily and have an responsive design across a multitude of devices, accessed directly from the Campus website.
  • The solution would not require students to download an application from an App store and keep it updated.
  • The solution would be ‘seamless’; would work with the long established and agreed upon business rules.
  • The solution would not disrupt the matriculated students’ experience and be intuitive for incoming students.
  • The solution could be easily maintained, sustained, and grow with us as an institution as we move forward.
  • The solutions’ data would stay within the confines of the PeopleSoft/IdM security and databases.
  • The solution would have the ability to toggle back and forth between Classic and responsive designs for students used to the current PeopleSoft solution.

There were a few solutions that were discussed, but one that allowed us to meet all of the above and move forward quickly without a tremendous cost? Those were few and far between. Grey Heller, however, was a clear choice on paper. The founders not only were early PeopleSoft developers and architects, but they understood how painful implementing a brand new infrastructure would be for both the users as well as the University System team. What was developed was an easy to navigate, customizable, user friendly site that used PeopleSoft as its data-wielding engine. And it was mobile friendly with a responsive design! But would it be able to do all that it said it could?

The Proof is in the pudding…

To meet head on the concerns of our own teams as well as the campuses, we requested a Proof of Concept (POC) Implementation from Grey Heller. A POC is something that would allow us to gain an understanding of how the tool worked as well as to enable us to put it through its paces. It would also give us an idea of what the installation and maintenance would be like as we moved forward. Grey Heller worked with us to select which ‘use cases’ we wanted to implement first. These use cases were broken out into level of efforts (LOE) groupings that ranged from Simple to Complex. For the POC, the following use cases were selected:

Use Case Level of Complexity
Weekly Schedule Complex
Schedule List View Medium
Enrollment Shopping Cart Medium
Enrollment: Add Class Medium
Navigation Moderate
Branding Medium
Tiles Medium
Log In Page Medium
Security Moderate
Infrastructure Moderate

After these cases were agreed upon, we set up time with Grey Heller to install the project as well as the license into our development environment, which was painless. And we were off and running!

As soon as we were installed, we were able to immediately start testing the Grey Heller interface. The Grey Heller interface was smoother and easier to navigate. Rather than a series of drop down menus, frequently selected options were developed as a tile on the main screen, so you instinctively knew where you needed to go for the actions you needed to perform. Grey Heller’s interface even took some of our most customized pages and displayed them as they should with little to no development. Our team at UITS then shared our findings with the campuses and Governance, and a consensus was gained. Let’s move forward with a full implementation!

Bigger than a bread box…

In our discussions with Grey Heller, they stated that other university systems rolled out their implementations in phases – for example, all of enrollment, or all of Financial Aid – as one phase. Our decision was to roll out ALL of the Student Self Service and Parent Self Service – which meant ALL enrollment, financials, personal info, academics, scheduling, etc. Let’s throw in institution/user preference based branding while we’re at it. For example, if a student is enrolled at UMass Boston and they’re also taking classes online at UMass Lowell, when they change their user preferences to allow them to see the classes at UMass Lowell, they will also see the branding and campus specific links/icons to reflect that change.

When laying out development and test plans, you start to truly understand how many pages and transactions are occurring with each component. And there were hundreds. When you add in device testing, browser testing, performance testing, ADA Compliance testing, your plan increases in magnitude before your eyes.

Let’s pause here for a moment and discuss the ADA compliance testing. The Department of Justice (DOJ) published the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design in September 2010. These standards state that all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities, which includes but is not limited to all computer hardware, software and documentation. For UMass, this means that a user of any of our Self Service sites must be able to use any screen reader to navigate the site. One of the selling points of Grey Heller is that it promoted as being ADA compliant.

We knew we needed to double the testing window to account for everything. We are fortunate at UITS in that we’re the support team for the university, and therefore, could allocate the time and resources needed for this initiative. During the development and testing of this initiative, we were able to pull folks from other groups to help bolster our efforts. We were also very fortunate in having campus folks come out to do some early testing to ensure we were heading down the correct track. They were integral to the project! And then there were the student testers and focus groups. Given that these were the folks that were going to be using the system, they had to be involved. We had to be sure we had their voices, their complaints, and their suggestions at the forefront of the design, else the whole project would be for not. Our campus users and our students had quite a bit to share (hits and misses), which we then shared with Grey Heller. Here are some of the things that were gained from those early test sessions:

  • Some of our more complex customizations needed some tweaking from a Grey Heller perspective.
  • Some PeopleSoft code needed to be adjusted to ensure it displayed correctly.
  • Emulators will never be as good as actual device testing – therefore testing early and often on specific devices is key.
  • During our own ADA testing, while better than PeopleSoft delivered, there were areas that needed to be addressed to ensure our users had the best possible experience.

We are taking these things into account as we move forward with future development changes/requests in PeopleSoft pages and ensuring any changes made also work in the Mobile solution.

Are we there yet…?

In May of 2016, we rolled out the Grey Heller Mobilization to Boston and Dartmouth. Lowell had decided to pause their GoLive until August as their campus focused on separate initiatives. As of August 18, all campuses (BDL) are now live and initial feedback has been positive.

Not long after we went live with Boston and Dartmouth, our team transitioned into prepping for a PeopleTools upgrade to 8.54.23. Currently we are in the “Stabilization” phase of the project. We are still working with Grey Heller to ensure that all of the Student Self Service Center is functioning, as it should. This is usually the phase in any partner relationship that folks ramp off or transition onto the next partner and we would have been pushed to the post go live, or sustaining team. Not the case here. We are with the same developers the same team we have had from the start. They understand our needs and are more than willing to dig into something, as well as share knowledge in the process. Nothing is too close to the vest. Everything is as transparent as it could be. Grey Heller has been a valuable, reliable, and consistently good partner in this process and we look forward to what the future holds.

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