Understanding COMPASS through construction with technical architect Dave Gruber

After more than a decade working in the construction management software industry, and many more years engaging with emerging computer technologies, University of Florida Associate Chief Information Officer and COMPASS Technical Architect Dave Gruber is guiding the technical efforts of the project with an eye and appreciation for efficient and functional design.

“It’s a love of mine: creating and understanding how to design things so they work well,” Dave said. “I’m not a trained architect or interior designer, but that is my mindset… how to bring things together to achieve functional goals.”

If you compare COMPASS to a construction project, Dave and Tammy Aagard serve as technical and functional architects, respectively. Under their leadership, the project is developing a number of distinct components, all designed and built over a single foundation – COMPASS’ overarching principles and goals.

One of those primary project goals, Dave explains, is business enablement – providing better practices and tools for the university’s business needs and the processes behind them.

“My role is really to make sure that all the different pieces are coming together around some key guiding principles to ensure that as we implement technology, it has an ability to deliver on some of our business goals, to make sure that the technology helps with business enablement.”

One of the project’s main components, the Student Information System (SIS) implementation, will modernize and standardize UF’s student services systems, with the aim of producing a secure and sustainable “best-in-class” system.  Its first components will become functional and in everyday use August 7, and the SIS will be fully implemented in August 2018, after a total of seven functionality go-live dates.

However, additional COMPASS construction efforts, to continue the metaphor, are on a five-year timetable, beginning in 2016 and slated through 2020. These include the ONE.UF and myUFL self-service portals, the campus-wide implementation of a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system, and Enterprise Analytics and Reporting.  Master Data Management, and Student Data Management and Governance are also construction components. These projects, falling within the overall umbrella of the greater COMPASS effort, are producing and releasing new and innovative updates on timelines that follow but do not necessarily match the SIS implementation timeline.

Dave’s oversight extends to the various arms of the main project mentioned above, and his attention to another key COMPASS principle flows through each component: free the data and keep it safe.

Freeing the data while maintaining its security and complying with regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Dave says, necessitates a rethinking of strategy.  Currently, much of UF’s data is siloed, with users requiring a number of security roles to access it.  But once obtained, the data can be copied, manipulated or repurposed for a user’s own use without tracking by UF or any updating of the original source.

COMPASS’ aim is to instead create a single highly secure data source and workspace – a Fort Knox of data, as Dave likens it.  By moving data out of individualized silos, users will have more access to that data, along with improved reporting and analytics tools with which to manipulate it, but less ability to remove it from its storage location.

“We want to be extra secure in what data goes out, but we’re letting more people in,” Dave said.  “It’s easier to get in and live in that space, so that’s our approach to freeing the data.”

Data also plays an important role in another project-wide principle, the notion of a fully connected campus.

Here COMPASS is exploring ways to generate and measure touchpoints between UF and its constituents, what we might think of as the Gator Nation.  Many of these, Dave says, exist beyond the traditional faculty member to student or university to prospect communications.

“The Gator Nation really sings true to what we’re looking at as a connected campus. We want to be able to understand more about how that Gator Nation exists and how it works, and then enable it to work more together.  We know those connection points are out there, and most of them go untracked. If somebody is wanting to look for a job or learn new skills, it doesn’t have to be through traditional mechanisms.  There can be other ways that are more easily discovered through the connected campus, and it’s a virtual campus.  It speaks to how the university will have a global reach over time, virtually.”

As UF shifts to a more virtual and online presence, Dave relays, the importance of a third core COMPASS goal increases: improving the user experience.  

In the coming years, UF will expand its virtual footprint and “light contact” users, those who interact with the university in a very limited way, like prospective students or parents, will interact increasingly with the university’s online presence.  How COMPASS delivers the information these users need to be able to easily interact with UF will be crucial to their overall experience and perception of the institution as a whole.

“If it’s complicated or hard to use, they’re not going to be able to do things efficiently and effectively, and that lends itself to a poor user experience. We want to be able to make their world more intuitive in the way that they would naturally expect things to work.  And that especially goes for the incoming students of today because they grew up with this technology.  It is an expectation.  As we start working more globally or in virtual places locally, the way that people see the university will be more and more online and less strolling down the streets of campus.  We want to make sure that that view of the university has that same sense of a grand well put-together institution.”

Whether the objective is to free and secure data, connect UF’s campus virtually or create an effective and efficient user experience, campus’ involvement is key, Dave says, to the success of the project and its principles. 

Dave, Tammy and other COMPASS team members have and will continue to discuss the above project strategies with UF’s colleges, departments and core offices, with the goals of increased campus involvement and engagement and, moreover, campus-wise empowerment through the end of COMPASS in 2020 and beyond.

“You know the saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a kid?’ Well, it takes a whole university to free the data.  It’s not something that can ever just be a burden on central IT.  We are trying to build a village as opposed to just one hut so that the capacity to do things is greater, with more skills spread across campus.”