SPH IT forecast: More clouds, no rain

By | March 21, 2017

illustration of multiple blue and white cloulds

One of the goals of the NextGen Michigan initiative was to free unit IT from supporting common infrastructure so that it could focus more on unit-specific tasks and innovation. The School of Public Health (SPH) took this very much to heart, on the one hand taking advantage of “commodity” services that ITS can provide more efficiently and at lower cost (MiStorage, MiServer, MiDatabase), and on the other, reaching out into the cloud for innovative solutions that we now have time and resources to implement.

Wrestling the website

We started by tackling the 300-pound sumo wrestler of re-architecting our website and putting it behind a suitable CMS. Searching far and wide we finally settled on a cloud-based, commercial CMS called OU Campus, by OmniUpdate. While not the least expensive option, we liked its “out-of-the-box” readiness for deployment, rich set of features, and user-friendliness—important considerations given our school’s very decentralized way of updating content. We have now been operating on the OU Campus platform for several years. Our website may soon be ready for another face-lift, but we’re likely to keep the underlying CMS in place, as it continues to serve us extremely well.

New lecture capture system

The ability to pick and choose cloud-based solutions that are best aligned with our needs and resources gives us the power to innovate.

Encouraged by that experience, we sought a new, more robust lecture capture system to replace the hardware-based, very expensive Mediasite, and the light-weight, but a bit clunky, Camtasia Relay. Panopto became our provider of choice because of its software-based, extremely versatile system and very attractive price. It has served our faculty and students for almost two years now, and we still have not found a worthy contender to its basket of goodies, including real-time webcasting, hosting of external content, and integration with Canvas. In addition, it has a very easy-to-use recording client.

And more…

That only whetted our appetite, and now we’re in the process of implementing two more cloud-based solutions:

  • Activity Insight from Digital Measures will replace our homegrown system of “faculty merit reviews.” This product allows us to pull data from various sources (replacing manual data entry) and to produce a plethora of reports as well as bio-sketches for faculty. We’re on an aggressive timeline: Our implementation process started in January and we are planning an early April release, even after extensive customizations.
  • SPH will be the first school at U-M to use Canvas Catalog, a new product overlay to Canvas that will allow us to continue maintaining a catalog of non-credit courses that has its own registration system and payment gateway. This will replace our homegrown LMS platform, which is now quite long in the tooth. There is interest in this product among other schools, so we hope that others will join us soon.

All this activity has created an atmosphere of excitement and “sky-is-the-limit” (pun unintended) thinking at SPH. The ability to pick and choose cloud-based solutions that are best aligned with our needs and resources gives us the power to innovate—something we almost felt we had lost in the rush to “rationalize” and “centralize.” For us, the promise of NextGen is starting to become a reality.

Author: Vlad Wielbut, SPH IT

Vlad is the academic and administrative director of IT for the School of Public Health. You can reach him at wlodek@umich.edu.

One thought on “SPH IT forecast: More clouds, no rain

  1. Jessica Rohr

    I love hearing what SPH has been up to in terms of specific projects and initiatives at the school! It really shows how balance may be achieved between shared infrastructure and unique solutions — esp those found “in the cloud.” Thanks for sharing, Vlad.

Comments are closed.