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Rose-Hulman Innovation: Behind the Scenes

April 26, 2012

Davidson SunGard awards   
Kevin Davidson with awards received
at the 2012 Banner Summit in April 2012

Behind the scenes of a buzzing, thriving learning community, the Rose-Hulman infrastructure itself is the site of leading research and innovation, as developers from EIT work to adapt web tools for the Rose-Hulman community.  For example, the team makes customized adaptations to the SunGard (Banner's parent company -- Now Ellucian) Banner system according to the specific ways the different Rose-Hulman departments use Banner.  In many cases, those modifications turn out to be popular among other universities. That was the case with the innovation written by Rose-Hulman technologist Kevin Davidson called "Web for Parents."

 "About 80 schools had asked us for the code," said Davidson, who developed the "Web for Parents" code back in 2003. The modification allowed students to grant parental permission to view grade postings or other contents of their Banner accounts. This modification was so popular among other institutions, that a team of university IT techs grew up around testing and tweaking Web for Parents, preparing the way to have this customization built into the Banner baseline - the Banner product that arrives off the shelf.

"In a perfect world," says Davidson, "you want your code to go baseline."

When an innovation is included in the baseline version of a product, EIT teams no longer have to scramble to update or rewrite their customizations every time Banner comes out with a new version. And something used as widely across campus as Banner could easily incorporate hundreds of modifications.

Though schools usually petition SunGard to consider their fixes for baseline, in the case of Davidson's "Web for Parents" the company actually approached him,  asking him to enlist users and programmers from other schools to help build out his innovation, with the goal of integrating it into Banner's baseline.

The company called this new group the Web for Proxy project - "proxy" because the new tool would let students allow anyone, such as potential employers, to view parts of their profile, not just parents. In the finished product, which was approved in 2011 and will come to Rose-Hulman this summer, granting these proxy permissions will be as simple for students as adding a name and email address to a list.

With the Web for Proxy development project, the Community Source Initiative (CSI) was born. Joining Davidson and the Rose-Hulman team, were developers from the University of Illinois, Kent State and Seton Hall among others.

As the group Davidson coordinated expanded, more projects came online. The result, "This big wave of community source mods has come through in the last 2 years," upwards of 100 new projects according to Davidson. The CSI program now has a sophisticated vetting system, functional review committees, technical review committees, and a battery of "pretty impressive" programmers working at the Ellucian parent company. As the final line of review, these corporate programmers measure the collaborators' code against a universal set of standards.

Reece 150  
Senior Systems Analyst,
Betty Reece

"There's a lot of internationalization that happens," Davidson said of the Banner developers' editing focus.  "We were going 'it works in Indiana,'" Davidson explains, "You have to know how to ask something in a different language, how to handle dates, how to handle currency."

At the 2012 Banner Summit user conference this past week was attended by close to 6000 industry experts and educational developers, Rose-Hulman's Betty Reece, a former programmer who is currently the Senior Systems Analyst in the HR office,  presented a well-attended talk on "Auditing Human Resources Data." Her dual expertise - IT and HR -- makes her a rare find among educational Human Resource professionals. As a result, Reece has just been invited by SunGard to join their Customer Advisory Board, an honorary two-year position focusing on product functionality.

Also at this year's Summit, Kevin Davidson was honored by the SunGard/Banner Community Source Board of Directors with the Community Source Impact Award for his work on the Web for Proxy project. About the award, Davidson said he was just glad he got the chance to work on the project. "I got a lot of support from Rob [Coons] and Louis Turcotte," he added.