WorldWide-WU

The World-Wide-Web-based Campus Information System of the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration

Gunther Maier, Andreas Wildberger

1. Introduction

Higher education has experienced a considerable amount of change in recent decades. A number of developments that reshaped society and economy had major impacts on research and teaching in universities as well: Because of these and other megatrends universities today inhabit a much more complex and competitive environment than a few decades ago. They have to worry about their public image, demonstrate the productivity of their faculty members, departments, and institutes, develop a relationship with industrial partners and funding agencies, compete with other universities for research grants and good students, develop new teaching and research programs in order hing and research programs in order to keep up with new developments and the expectations of the public. At the same time, universities have to develop a more efficient internal organization, streamline administration, and improve the internal flow of information.

An important element in almost all these new tasks is information policy. Therefore, many universities have set up public relations offices, transfer centers, and similar institutions in recent years. With the rapid diffusion of Internet, a global computer network that originated in the academic sphere, electronic systems of information storage and dissemination, so called Campus Wide Information Systems, became more important instruments of university information policy.

In this paper we will discuss various aspects of Internet-based Campus Information Systems and describe WorldWide-WU, the Campus Information System of the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration (WU), in some detail. We will concentrate on organizational aspects of the system rather than technical ones, because in our experience, overcoming the organizational problems is really the key to the successful implementation of a Campus Information System.

The paper is divided into four sections. In section 2 we will give a brief overview of the development of Campus Information Systems. We will show how they have changed in technical structure and content with the diffusion of cture and content with the diffusion of the Internet. Section 3 discusses the specifics of WorldWide-WU. As background information we will also present some organizational aspects of WU and of its information systems that are of relevance in our context. Section 4, finally, will discuss strategic prospects of the system. Particular emphasis will be given to the CEMS-context.

2. The evolution of Campus-Wide Information Systems: From CWIS to CIS

Around four decades ago, the first mainframe computers were introduced to university campuses. At first they were used for scholarly purposes (helping scientists to cope with computing power intensive calculations in the various fields of research), some years later for administrative use (allowing university administration to maintain student as well as faculty data, documentation etc.). Access to these mainframes was usually restricted to the departmental areas of the university, and students were only allowed to use computer resources for their scientific college work (such as programming, and data analysis). With the constant fall in prices for computer equipment, terminals began to spread more easily over the campuses, and special rooms with a larger number of screens were equipped which were then made publicly available for every student.

With the three main actors of a university campus, faculty, student-body, and administrative staff, being "unified" through the new mediuf, being "unified" through the new medium, it was only a small step to think of not only sharing hardware but also informational resources. The idea of a campus-wide information system was born in order

This highly idealized but rarely fully imdealized but rarely fully implemented view of a CWIS aiming rather at local information and local use was enormously expanded by the technical developments of the early 70s, when computers connected through the protocol suite TCP/IP, now better known as the Internet2, triggered a revolution in academic computing and scholarly communication (Maier, Wildberger 1992, 1994). The network pooled many different computers with almost as many different operating systems. Although the base Internet service "telnet", a program which enables any TCP/IP networked computer to "act" as (emulate) a terminal for any other connected host, was developed to allow convenient "remote logins" to far away computers, the access gained through this method remained a highly technical one. This was due to the fact that as soon as one connected to a different computer the user had to face the characteristics (advantages and disadvantages) of unknown and at first sight complicated programs, operating systems, and user interfaces.

With the local university mainframe being part of an international computer network, students, faculty or staff members from any other connected campus (all over the world) had the option of accessing information provided by the local CWIS. And, vice versa, the local user was able to browse through CWISs of other universities, to get to know their organizational structures, to use their librarystructures, to use their library catalogs etc.. This, of course also changed the content of CWISs: (1) Information provided by the system began to address a potentially much larger (international) audience, leading to higher efforts concerning the representation of the university in general, and (2) with some technical limitations one could also point to other campuses with similar research interests in order to broaden the pool of information of the local user3. The campus-wide information system had become more a campus information system which was now available world-wide. This is the reason why we suggest in this paper to replace the traditional term Campus Wide Information System (CWIS) with the more general and more appropriate expression Campus Information System (CIS) which we think is more fitting to the current internationally networked context those systems are embedded in.

At this time "pointing" to related information still meant that the user only got some hints about another useful system or archive from his local system. In order to connect to the recommended host, the user had to type in the hostnames or IP-addresses manually. It was not until 1991 when the introduction of the Gopher-service, developed at the University of Minnesota, brought tremendous relief concerning the geographical distribution of logically similarly structured information. The concepstructured information. The concept behind Gopher was to create a logical interface to geographically dispersed information with the help of a hierarchical menu structure. For the first time, the user of a Gopher client4 was able to browse through information that was related by a specific topic, and it was no longer required by him to know exactly where on the Internet this information could be found.

This quantum leap concerning the presentation of information on the Internet lead on one hand to the general restructuring of many CIS user interfaces from proprietary and individualized system functions to the more and more commonly used and widely accepted Gopher interface. On the other hand the introduction of Gopher served as initializing momentum for a literal information system explosion, since it became not only easier to access information but at the same time also easier for users with less technical background to actively provide information.

In 1992 some system experts at CERN in Geneva published an even more innovative model of information representation in a networked environment: the World-Wide-Web (WWW). Based on the theoretical concept of non-linearity it allows one to combine and integrate information of various kinds (e.g. text, graphics, audio and even video files) in hypertext form. This means that the structure of integrated information does not underly the constrarmation does not underly the constraints of a certain hierarchy defined by the information provider which the user then has to follow, but enables the provider to "weave" the information he wants to make publicly available together with other related information on the Internet to a web-like information construct where it is the user himself who - driven by his personal informational needs - ultimately decides which way (that is which hyperlink) he wants to go.

This almost philosophical approach to the representation of information did not break through until in mid 1993 the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at Urbana- Champaign, Illinois, released a WWW-client called NCSA-Mosaic. The program was the first efficient client-software to practically implement the idea of the World Wide Web, and it was actually able to integrate graphics and text which had been formatted in a special way5. The most stunning fact about the integrative capabilities of the World Wide Web is undoubtedly its ability to combine data that reside on different hosts throughout the world to one single hyper document, offering the user a unique coherent logical view of geographically distributed information.

In the meantime, spring 1995, the World Wide Web is the most widely used Internet service. At the end of January 1995, there were about 16.000 servers in the WWW counted (Lottor, 1995), many of whW counted (Lottor, 1995), many of which reside on university campuses. Again it was in the academic field, where the new technical concept was immediately put in service. Especially CISs soon switched to WWW, now that it was clear that it allowed even easier access to information for users than gopher and offered information providers a very convenient way to present their data to an international net-public.

With the ongoing commercialization of the Internet, the number of businesses being connected already slightly exceeds the academic "sites"6. The present Internet as a conglomerate of academic, educational, commercial and public information "representatives" creates a highly innovative and creative potential for the design of Internet based Information Systems. CISs co-exist with information systems of organizations and corporations who strive for totally different entrepreneurial goals. The medium and the interface represent and encourage a competitive environment which stimulates the constant improvement of existing systems and ensures that concepts for new systems are worked out and implemented.

Thus, the development and current (WWW) outlook of CISs may be looked upon as the result of the constant and fast improvement of Internet services on one hand (from telnet to WWW), and the very open information structure of the Internet on the other that allows today's campus information systlows today's campus information systems to be more than campus wide information systems. Therefore CISs actually aim at two different targets: information customers from within the university but more and more and to a much larger extent the growing number of academic or corporate members of the netcommunity who simply want "to find out things" about the institution concerned.

3. WorldWide-WU - The WU-Campus Information System

In late spring 1994, we thought that given the basic conditions mentioned above and watching the explosion of the Internet service World-Wide-Web, it was high time to start with an institutionalized World-Wide-Web based CIS project for WU. The name "WorldWide-WU" was chosen in order to communicate to potential internal information providers from the very beginning that the system would - in addition to local users - also address an international au address an international audience.

Considering the technical knowledge necessary, WorldWide-WU might appear an ideal project to be based in WU's computing department. But, first of all such a project requires university- wide access to information and broad acceptance by all scientific and administrative departments of the university. Therefore, we submitted our project proposal to the Chancellor's board7. This way we wanted to ensure the broadest level of support and cooperation possible in the university.

3.1. Background

In order to be successful, a Campus Information System needs to take into account the main organizational characteristics of the respective university in addition to the latest technological developments. This is of particular importance for a system like WorldWide-WU that is intended to help the university to overcome some of its constraints. Therefore, before we can discuss the main features of WorldWide-WU we need to describe briefly the situation at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration.

In recent years WU was characterized by shortages in a number of key areas. Because of a dramatic increase in student numbers that cannot be controlled by the university due to of the legal framework, the university had to deal with severe shortages in terms of personnel, office space, and financial resources. In reaction space, and financial resources. In reaction to these problems, in the late 1980s WU engaged in a major planning activity - WU-2000 - where the university tried to find solutions for its most pressing problems and to define a strategy for its future development (Hansen, 1987). The strategy-part of WU-2000 was revised and updated about a year ago. Some of the key elements of this plan were

As far as the internal organization of the university is concerned, WU-2000 suggested intensive use of computerized information technology.

WU-2000 was a major step in an ongoing process inside and outside the university, that is closely related to the developments described in the introduction. At the national level this process led to the passing of a new law defining the organizational structure of the Austrian university system (UOG-93). This regulation allows for greater autonomy of the various universities and will give them more control of their internal structure.

Within WU, the last couple of years were characterized by two important developments: internationalization and the advent of the Internet. WU has signed agreements with more than 50 universities worldwide and become a major player in international programs like CEMS, PIM and ERASMUS. The university has started an international summer program and a highly successful Inal summer program and a highly successful International-MBA program in cooperation with the University of South Carolina. Students and faculty members have accepted the challenge of internationalization and today view the exchange programs as a major source of intellectual stimulation and innovation.

While internationalization is clearly defined as a strategy of the university in WU-2000, the Internet was introduced at WU in the early 1990s mainly as a by-product of the installation of an internal computer network. As a consequence, the university never developed an Internet-based information strategy, but explored the potential of this new technology for internal and external communication and the flow of information in a step-by-step manner over the last couple of years. This still ongoing process began with the creation of a few discussion lists and FTP-archives by faculty members. The first versions of Internet-based information systems were set up by people from the computing department and tended to be biased toward their individual interests.

The diffusion process received a major boost in the fall of 1993, when the computing department decided to give all WU-students free access to e-mail accounts and internet resources. This made the Internet much more visible to the general faculty member and allowed for the integration of Internet-technology in the organization of teaching. Today, practically all WU-personnel (administrractically all WU-personnel (administration and faculty) have access to the Internet and most of them are also aware of this. More and more lecturers communicate with their students via e-mail and specific aspects of this new technology are discussed in an increasing number of student papers and courses also outside computing and information technology.

Despite this level of penetration of the Internet at WU, most of the internal databases and information systems are based on proprietary standards. Many of them have been planned and implemented before the advent of the Internet. These systems are used for the main administrative tasks of the university like accounting, administration of personnel and student data, administration of physical space and courses, etc. While some of the information in these systems is sensitive and must be protected, other parts are geared toward a large group of users (e.g., course listings, room assignments, list of publications, phone numbers and e- mail addresses of university personnel). Few of this information can be accessed in electronic form by the user directly. Usually it is disseminated either in printed form (course listing) or by phone or in written form via an employee who operates the electronic system (e.g., room assignments). In addition to these systems there exist also a number of newsletters at different levels of the university.

An information system of particular interest in on system of particular interest in our context is the WU-videotex system. This system that is based on the European standards and compatible with the system run by the Austrian PTT was first introduced at WU in 1982. The system was seen as a potential solution for many problems of the university. It was envisioned to become a general communication and information tool for WU that will deliver up-to-date information about courses and university departments, answer frequently asked questions, handle routine tasks such as student registration, improve communication with students, etc (Hansen, 1994). Via the system of the Austrian PTT, students were able to access the WU-videotex from all parts of the country at minimal costs.

The WU-videotex system has never lived up to these expectations. Today the system is used almost exclusively for registering students and related tasks. Although there have been major attempts to bring department information into the system, today this part is practically unused and in most parts severely outdated. This is in part a consequence of the general failure of the videotex-system of the Austrian PTT, in part a consequence of the structure of the system at WU. A number of lessons can be drawn from this experience. They are discussed in detail by Hansen (1994). In our context, the following ones are of particular importance:

In a preparatory investigation we have tried to identify the initial conditions in the networking environment at the university. The results show that the university has reached a high technological level as far as computer networks are concerned and a high level of network awareness. In particular, our investigation shows that 95.8 percent of WU-personnel use a computer "often" oU-personnel use a computer "often" or "very often", 90.7 percent have a computer on their desk. The internal network has reached most of these machines. In our investigation, 84,0% of the respondents say that their computer is hooked up to the network. More than one third of the respondents consider this connectivity to be indispensable for their work, another 27% consider it to be important. Only 5% of the respondents think that access to the network is unimportant for their work. As far as the future importance of the Internet for communication in the scientific community is concerned, almost three quarters of the respondents think that it is "very high", another 21% consider it to be high. None of the respondents thinks that it will have importance at all.

By way of summarizing, our project WorldWide-WU has to deal with the following basic conditions:

The experience the university had with the WU-videotex system has both positive and negative aspects. On the negative side, because of this experience some faculty members and administrators are quite skeptical about "another Campus Information System". However, this group seems to be qSystem". However, this group seems to be quite small. In our investigation, 84% of the respondents say that they are interested in making information about their teaching and research activities available over the Internet. On the positive side, the project WorldWide-WU can build on the lessons learned from WU-videotex and try to work around some of the problems.

3.2. Project Objectives and Target Groups

The overall goals as stated in the project proposal were in the first place the creation of an attractive, World-Wide-Web based CIS for and about WU, and, secondly, to lay solid foundations for future development and updating mechanisms and routines8 for the information in this IS. We stressed mainly four points of motivation:

Originally, WW-WU was intended to target at users outside the university. Deeply impressed by the dramatic growth of World-Wide-Web-based services on the Internet, we wanted WW- WU to become the university's "window to the world". Potential exchange students, potential research partners and guest researchers, and companies interested in research cooperation were the WW-WU-users we had in mind. Pretty soon it became apparent, however, that WW-WU could not just target external users. Various colleagues argued that they would find it difficult to justify contributing to WW-WU as long as they do not benefit from the system in their everyday work.

In order to avoid such acceptance problems we restructured WW-WU in such a way that it targets internal users as well. It should cover the informational needs of the different departments (administrative and academic units), special units (e.g. public relations office, study abroad office, job placement center, chancellor's office, central administration), and students in a bidirectionalbidirectional way: The units should get as much information as possible out of the system, but, at the same time should also be able to add information to the system all via the same interface.

It was one of our system goals to use this medium as front end for our CIS-project as much as possible. Additionally we wanted to keep it easy to maintain and wanted to create mechanisms for automatic (or "automagic") feedback that should be sent to the maintainers of certain information within the system. What we wanted to avoid from the very beginning were parallel structures (e.g. to write a document, print it out and then convert the document to WWW format). We intended to use already existing data wherever possible. They should be crosslinked by use of the hypertextual features of WWW.

A system like WW-WU can neither be built and operated in a completely centralized nor completely decentralized way. It requires balancing the two approaches. We have used the following strategy:

In general, information that is stable over time or updated only in well specified intervals should be provided centrally. However, not all information can be clearly classified in the above structure. There are cases where information about individuals or departments is collected centrally (e.g., phone book, calendar of events). Due to the time it takes to collect this information or to the structure in which it is collected, the information may be outdated or incomplete by the time it is transferred into WW-WU. In these cases we provide mechanisms for the individual users to add to or to adjust the centrally provided information.

With this combination of centralized and decentralized elements it is possible to generate enough manpower to keep the system alive and growing, as well as to ensure important system-wide features.

3.3. Structure of WorldWide-WU

WorldWide-WU has six major parts, the Indivirtual Tour, the WU Infobooth, WU Faculty and Student Workarea, Geographical and Logical WU Surroundings, Various Lists of WU Information and Worlds, Various Lists of WU Information and WorldWide-WU Quick Help (fig.1). For these central parts we tried to create a "corporate page identity", a page style that could easily be recognized by the user as being part of the WorldWide-WU CIS:

Crucial for the whole system are the decentrally maintained departmental pages and the feedback section.

As mentioned above, when adding a department to the respective list in WW-WU we require it to name a person who is responsible for the content and quality of the pages. The "homepage" of each department has three basic sections, the bulletin board, the calendar of events (which is a crosslink to the campus wide calendar of events), and the staff-section (a list of hyperlinks to faculty members' data records as queried by the Infobooth). For the bulletin board we have created a suite of interactive input-forms which help the administrative units of each department to add to or update data in their section of WW-WU. A WWW- browser can be used to fill in forms, the content of which is then immediately saved as hypertext or plain text entry of the bulletin board (fig. 8, 9 and 10). The data can then be automatically accessed from the bulletin board page and - if necessary - edited again. To protect the CIS from misuse, we have integrated a password-protection mechanism. Each department has its own password, of course, which is only known to the person in charge of the content of the department WWW pages.

Every month this persWWW pages.

Every month this person automatically gets a statistical report consisting of a list of the files belonging to the department and the exact numbers of requests for this specific document. This report is generated by a program that analyses the logfiles of WorldWide-WU. With the help of this feedback mechanism, information providers can decide whether to lay more emphasis or modify or take out completely a certain page (fig. 11). An additional form of system feedback implemented in WW-WU is the server statistics (fig. 12)9. These are weekly calculated general statistics about accesses. Every week the geographical distribution of users as well as the top scoring users (who accessed the system) and documents (which were accessed) are analyzed and made publicly available for reasons of transparency (for information providers as well as for users of the CIS, fig. 13). A short electronic questionnaire concludes the palette of feedback mechanisms of WorldWide-WU (fig. 14). It can be filled in directly through the WWW client program as non-machine generated feedback.

4. Strategic Prospects

The most fascinating feature of World-Wide-Web is its ability to link together documents that are stity to link together documents that are stored on different computers on the Internet. By linking together various documents the designer of a WWW-based information system can integrate information provided and maintained by others and thus create a closely integrated virtual space that spans various countries or even continents.

The usefulness of a WWW-based information system depends not only on the amount of information it contains locally, but also on its links, i.e., where it can get the user. It is important to note, however, that these links do not follow any hierarchy, but tie together the WWW-pages and WWW-based information systems in a web-like fashion.

There are strong network economies (externalities, in the economic sense) at work. Information systems that may remain largely unrecognized on the World-Wide-Web by themselves, may receive much more attention when they are linked to an attractive cluster of similar systems. On the other hand, the cluster itself will become more attractive because of the new member. With the large and fast growing number of WWW-based information systems today, information systems will find it difficult to receive more than local attention when they are not part of an attractive cluster.

In the context of an internationally active university like WU, this characteristic of the World- Wide-Web immediately leads to the idea of integrating WorldWide-WU with WWW-based information systems-WU with WWW-based information systems of our partner universities. This makes particular sense in the case of a structured multilateral cooperation as it exists between the CEMS-schools. WorldWide-WU contains valuable information for students from other CEMS-universities who intend to study in Vienna, just as the systems of our partner universities do for our students. Giving students immediate access to this information is simply a matter of integrating the appropriate links. In the case of CEMS, some general information about the structure of the CEMS-program, its rules and regulations, the CEMS-degree, etc. would be valuable. Preferably, this information should be provided by the CEMS-secretariat rather than by each school individually.

Besides necessary internal steps, like getting more departments into the system, and fully automating some information flows, the future prospect of WW-WU will depend on how well it can be integrated into one or more clusters of information systems. Establishing these links will be one of our organizational tasks in the coming months. Cooperation through CEMS is just one of the available options; although an attractive one. More than half the CEMS- schools run their own WWW-based CIS. However, as a quick look showed, none of them seems to refer to its membership in CEMS or links to its CEMS-partners. So, making this relationship visible by integrating these information systems might be even more iation systems might be even more in the interest of CEMS than that of the individual schools, if it wants to keep its competitive position with respect to other academic programs.

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Footnotes

1 As benefits of such CWISs, Hallman (1992, p.4) states availability around the clock, access by a higher number of people, educational benefits (e.g. online information about publications), online as (e.g. online information about publications), online archives, potential for saving paper, potential reduction of phone calls and saving of personnel time.

2 Today the Internet connects more than 4.8 mio. computers worldwide (January 1995) and is characterized by a highly exponential growth rate (8 percent/month). At the moment, the Internet is going through a transition phase moving from its origins as an exclusively academic and publicly funded network to a more and more commercially used information and communication resource.

3 We think that this change that came along with the internetworking of computational campus resources has sometimes been underestimated and we will argue that the role of a CWIS can be crucial as means to operationalize strategic planning in higher education which today faces the contextual changes as pointed out in the introduction.

4 All Internet services underly the same basic computer communication architecture, called the "client-server" concept: A client program running on one computer connects to a server program on another asking for specific information which the server then - if it is available - returns. For examples see Maier, Wildberger 1994.

5 The "language" used for this encoding is called Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) a Data Type Dcalled Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) a Data Type Definition of SGML, a ascii-based way of formatting text by "tagging" it (Maier, Wildberger, 1994: 154ff).

6 The word "site" in the context of the Internet denotes logical "place", or a host within a certain domain ("ac" in the domain name of European Institutions of Higher Education).

7 The Chancellor's board at WU is a small advisory committee consisting of a small group of professors each of whom has a dedicated organizational task for a certain period of time.

8 Motivated by the experience of the WU-videotex system.

9 For that we simply integrated a public domain software package written by Thomas Boutell.

 homas Boutell.