Smoother sailing: Custom data analytics apps at CoE

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It’s often called the curse of the information age: we’re drowning in data. But with the right tools, the sea of institutional knowledge at U-M can be navigated successfully.

A group of intrepid IT staff from the College of Engineering (CoE) is creating custom analytical applications to help administrators leverage the vast amounts of information available from U-M enterprise systems to more easily manage workflows and make more informed decisions. Three of the largely used systems they have developed support the graduate student application process, the management of information for existing grad students, and CoE’s online purchasing system. (See the info box below for details.)

It all starts with the data

Jacob Hayward, a web software developer at CoE who did the initial development for these applications, first pulls information from the U-M Data Warehouses, which are the Oracle databases used to run business objects reports. “I have scripts that run every morning that import the data from the data warehouses into our database server,” says Hayward.

Some enterprise data that the CoE applications use include:

  • graduate student funding in the HR database (for student appointments)
  • the Student Financials database (for fellowships and awards)
  • the Financial database (for short code and project grant information related to HR appointments)
  • the Student database (for the courses graduate students teach)

“Other examples would be pulling all the graduate applicants that applied for a given program from the admissions database, or pulling all the current graduate students in a given program from the student database,” says Hayward. “My system pulls this data, combines it, and breaks it down by term, which is what the departmental staff need.”  

Add flexibility and customization

Departmental data is then partitioned, and each department controls who has access to their area of the systems. “Different departments have different needs so the goal when developing a new system or making modifications to existing systems is to find the core areas everyone has in common, and then add all the special cases to departmental settings that each department can turn on or off,” Hayward explains.

Most of the systems Hayward developed started as requests from Department of Mechanical Engineering faculty and staff to solve a specific need. “Usually they came to me with a problem and a rough idea for a solution, and then we’d work together to design the system to solve it,” says Hayward.

Other CoE departments soon began to show interest in these applications. Most of the custom applications are still only used within CoE, although LSA has begun to use the online purchasing system. “We coordinate with LSA developers on enhancements made to that system so both colleges benefit,” Hayward says.

Andrea Bolash, a business process consultant lead with CoE resource planning and management, is one of the beneficiaries of these customized applications. “Jacob’s work has saved our staff in the college tons of time,” says Bolash. “His applications start small and catch on, prompting multiple departments to request using them. They are really good examples of ‘supplemental systems’ that fill gaps and leverage institutional data to make life easier for our academic and administrative departments within the college.”

Other IT staff who help with ongoing development of the custom CoE applications include Michele Goci, Justin Laby, and Rachel Leggett (CoE), and Rick Smoke (LSA). To learn more about OPS contact coe-dept-app-support@umich.edu. For information about other applications, contact Jacob Hayward directly.

CoE custom data apps
  • Graduate Applicant System: Departmental staff use this system to process graduate student applications. It is also used by faculty to evaluate applicants and make admission decisions. Functionality includes: assigning evaluators, making evaluations, sending admission decisions to applicants, running reports, adding notes and uploading attachments.
  • Graduate Student System: Departmental staff and administrative faculty use this system to track information about students. Functionality includes: Adding advising notes, tracking student funding, degree audits, uploading attachments, and tracking milestones.
  • Online Purchasing System (OPS): This system routes purchase requests for approval and tracks the status of orders. The owner of a short code receives a purchase request approval, which is then passed on to the financial administrator for the short code. Once approved, purchasing staff place the order through the appropriate system and mark it as ordered in the OPS. They can include additional data like PO, tracking, and confirmation numbers when available. Upon receiving an order, departments have the ability to upload packing slips and/or mark an order as received.
Author: Rita Girardi, ITS Communications

Rita is a member of the ITS communications team and editor of Michigan IT News. Contact her at girardi@umich.edu.