Information Technology is rapidly becoming a key enabler for delivering high quality education and training. The growth in part time and distance learning allied to student demands for modern computer systems and facilities is placing increasing demands on incumbent IT staff. We have worked with Durham University Business School on a broad programme of work to help them deal with these challenges.
The modern business student has a well developed level of technical awareness and computer literacy. They arrive at the educational institute of their choice with high expectations of receiving quality education supported by reliable and enabling IT systems.
The goal at Durham University Business School was to ensure that the IT services provide a key competitive advantage in line with the demands of their discerning students.
Waterstons manage a mixed team of Waterstons and University IT staff. In the time Waterstons have been involved the IT team has completed a range of value adding educational projects including:
Creating an IT Strategy
Waterstons worked closely with the Business School create an IT strategy tightly integrated with the School’s business plan. The primary focus was to achieve the Business School's business objective of becoming amongst the top international business schools.
- Waterstons continue to rationalise and upgrade the Business School’s server farm, incorporating virtual technology, to increase their resilience and disaster recovery capacity.
- Remote management and monitoring of the Business School’s server farm has been introduced to ensure maximum uptime.
- The lecture theatre and seminar IT equipment has been revamped to provide improved and simple to use facilities that match and enhance the facilities across the rest of the University.
Various different technologies have been introduced to enhance the Business School’s teaching and learning provision:
- Citrix thin clients allow the School’s global distance learning students access to a full Business School desktop.
- Online access to seminars and lectures is provided using video streaming technology.
- Interactive On-Line audio video conferencing enables students to attend tutorials or converse with their tutors.
- A school wide intranet based on Microsoft Office SharePoint provides research students with a central document repository to share research.
- Microsoft CRM has been configured to manage all aspects of the Administration and Registration processes for new students.
- The expansion of the existing CRM system enables the capture of student specific information and allows more critical programme management data to be captured.
- The integration of CRM with the University’s student record system ensures that any data held by the University is used as the basis for the student’s records. The Business School can also add additional key data that enables them to manage the student’s programme of study more effectively and efficiently.
- All communications between the Business School and the students are captured within a single central system allowing all details to be viewed about the student and their current progression.
Design of the Support Contract
All Waterstons outsourced contracts are tailored to the precise needs of the customer and Durham University Business School is no exception. The contract provides:
- An Account Director who specialises in Education to provide strategic guidance, oversee the contract and manage the key relationships.
- An onsite qualified IT Manager who coordinates all of the infrastructure and software projects being executed at the customer site. The IT Manager also manages the two service desk technicians who are in the employment of the University.
- The infrastructure and servers are continuously monitored by Waterstons’ service desk using advanced remote management and monitoring software.
- Overflow from the site service desk is routed to Waterstons’ own Durham based service desk to ensure prompt attention to user requests.
- The high level of resilience and dependability of the well supported infrastructure has allowed much of the IT budget to be diverted to value adding business software projects. The contract allows for a fixed number of project days that can utilise any of Waterstons’ extensive range of skilled resources to execute consulting, infrastructure or software development projects.
Benefits of the Support Contract
To date the following demonstrable benefits have been realised. Each has involved a blend of systems supplied by Waterstons and the educational, VLE and student records systems deployed by Durham University:
- A clear and well communicated strategy for using IT to improve the administrative, educational and research performance of the Business School.
- The creation of a secure and resilient infrastructure on which to build the School’s software solutions.
- A continuously improving unified learning experience for distance learning and resident students, utilising a mix of Business School and University systems.
- Improved productivity and student and management service from the administrative groups spanning admission management to programme management.
- Greater knowledge and information sharing to help the educational and research processes.
- Closer communications with corporate and business partners.
- Stronger links to the Alumni community.
At the time of writing the following initiatives are underway that will further strengthen Durham University Business School’s profile as a leading business school.
- The introduction of a research portal based on Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Lync technologies allowing research project collaboration across international boundaries and instant audio and video communication between research team members.
- Seamless integration between University and Business School systems facilitating the transfer of data and information from the University to the Business School. This will aid further productivity improvements and enables the School to develop a comprehensive system of Business Intelligence.
Our relationship with Waterstons has deepened over the period of our involvement as they have demonstrated empathy with our objectives and the ability to offer creative and appropriate solutions to business problems.Kathryn Armstrong Financial Controller