Back to School

The education sector traditionally generates a vast amount of documents and the resulting information glut is often hard to manage. In order to address these issues two of Kuwait’s leading educational institutions have turned to enterprise information portal solutions.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  March 18, 2002

I|~||~||~|Two of Kuwait’s educational organisations have invested in enterprise information portal solutions in an attempt to centralise data and automate internal processes. Kuwait University currently has an Oracle framework in place and is adding services to the portal at pace while the Kuwait Establishment for Education Services (KEES) has been live with its Microsoft/Corechange solution for the past four months.

Jassem Al Maraghi, IT services manager at KEES, suggests that the adoption of EIP technology by the education sector is being driven by the need to increase and improve levels of customer service. Kuwait University’s initiative certainly fits the bill as it is looking to not only automate the majority of procedures handled by the university’s back end Student Information System (SIS) but also take faculty staff services and administrative functions onto the portal. In addition, those within the extended enterprise — the students — will be able to access course-related material and look up their academic performance.

“We are taking all the applications and services that we have and putting them on the Internet… This is going to automate a lot of the manual processes of the university, such as student transfers and other administration tasks,” Dr. Anwar Al Yatama, director, centre of information systems & assistant vice president for academic support services, Kuwait University, told ACN earlier this year.

The piecemeal approach of adding a small number of services to the portal a couple at a time was also used by KEES. To begin with, news and e-mail was made available on the portal before the IT department introduced data publishing and document imaging services.

Al Maraghi explains that by slowly adding components to the portal over a period of time users are better able to digest the EIP’s content and appreciate its richness. “If you put a very rich feature portal on straight away users will be too confused to use the information,” he says.

The piecemeal approach is also key due to the vast amounts of information educational institutions collect. KEES, for example, is converting ten-years worth of paper-based information to electronic documents and posting them to its portal with a hardware/software scanning solution from HP.

“We have a one-touch scanner to link legacy paper to the portal. The scanner solution is set up so that secretaries — rather than the IT team — can just select which folder they want to send the scan to. They enter the Meta tag data for the document and, with just one push of the button, publish it straight to the portal,” explains Al Maraghi.

Navigation through this data is possible through the use of the Autonomy search engine that comes with the Corchange portal solution. To make the users life even easier, the KEES team has three windows within the search portlet — Internet search, document search and an advanced search function.
“It is very important to have a good search engine because we have a huge amount of documents including research and reports. The educational segment is big on documents,” says the IT services manager.

Underlying both institutions plans is a desire to integrate their existing applications with their portal implementations to boost information availability and improve decision-making.

||**||II|~||~||~|At Kuwait University, Dr. Al Yatama and his 14-strong technology team are planning to integrate its Oracle-based SIS, Oracle Financials and locally developed payroll and personnel application. Such a move will automatically web-enable the information and create a universal GUI for all three applications, thus making access much easier.
Between 100 and 300 teachers, administrators and head office employees at KEES are already able to access the data held in its ERP system. This is done either through launching the application in the traditional way through the portal or by using the portal’s XML active server pages (ASP) web pages.

“These tap into the business logic and pull the information directly to the portal,” explains Al Maraghi.

The second method also allows users to collaborate on documents as they work. This is done using the collaboration engine within Microsoft’s Exchange 2000.

In addition, the KEES team has deployed a workflow component from Gulf Web that allows users to track documents and increase its importance if necessary.
While working in a single sign on environment brings advantages, such as collaboration and increased automation, it also poses certain security questions as potential hackers have only one target to work on.

Al Maraghi says that although KEES has deployed an encryption layer, which uses all the security features within Microsoft’s Active Directory and has SSL connectivity, security is less of an issue because, currently, the system is only intranet/extranet in nature.
“Because it is an intranet/extranet the IP addresses are safe. No one can access the portal unless they are authorised to do so and our network is not presentable to Internet users,” explains Al Maraghi.

“In addition, Gulf Web has provided firewalls and are managing the security at the carrier level,” adds the IT services manager.

Bandwidth is also a key concern. If users are to get the most from the EIP deployment they have to be able to access it 24x7. To solve this, KEES is running a Gigabit backbone and its schools are linked via A1 connectivity. It has also tried the service on dial-up lines.

“It was not very fast but it presented the data at a reasonable time out,” says Al Maraghi.
The availability of bandwidth is also integral to the future plans of both organisations. Kuwait University is planning to provide students with access to all of their productivity applications, including e-mail, Word and Excel through the portal. There are also plans to open up the portal to those outside of the enterprise, notably parents and its supplier community.

“In such a way the portal can be the gateway for the whole university and all its relationships,” commented Dr. Al Yatama.

Parents are also on the agenda for KEES as it intends to extend access to the student registration system to them. It will also roll out its services to foreign schools soon.
Internally, KEES is committed to making the most of its huge data resources. As such, it intends to add OLAP services to the portal so that it can better present its data to decision makers.

“We want to be able to present this data so that decision makers have a three dimensional view of it. We need to make their life easier and make information available within two or three taps of a button,” says Al Maraghi.
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