What applications are actually crucial at a university

January 15, 2008

Like most organizations, the university has what I call administrative management systems, the computers that handle core business record keeping like payroll, accounts payable and receivable, HR, and (this being a university) crucial student information like enrollment and marks. This is serious stuff, run using expensive software on expensive databases on expensive hardware (and behind paranoid firewalls), and, like most places, is considered a pretty crucial thing.

But it turns out that it has quietly become not the most crucial system the university runs. As people have been realizing recently, that honor now goes to our campus wide learning management system, which has slowly been gaining in popularity and usage over the past few years.

If the administrative systems are down, the university administration might have a rocky time but other things would go on, and most people might not even notice. But as the LMS became a success it has become pervasive in teaching, which means that if the LMS is down a lot of courses grind to more or less a dead halt. Assignments can't be turned in, course materials aren't readable, the secure messaging that students and professors have been encouraged to use is unavailable and so on. Everyone would notice, and fast.

This is probably not much different from a company with a crucial website or other system that's central to their business. It's just that it's a new and novel thing for a university, and feels a little peculiar.

Written on 15 January 2008.
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Last modified: Tue Jan 15 23:56:00 2008
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