Otterbein University is a small, private, liberal arts college located in Westerville, Ohio, the northeast part of Columbus. It has an enrollment of approximately 2,800 students, and was founded in 1847.
Our deskless and remote users access all of their tools and resources from a singular application.”
ERP web systems manager/enterprise web applications, Otterbein University
The old intranet portal was difficult to update, didn’t look current, wasn’t mobile-responsive, and wasn’t easy to access – leaving it out of date, and content updates required too much help from the IT department.
Otterbein was able to create a unique mobile app, an easy-to-use layer above Microsoft SharePoint, and a better structure for communications from a single source of truth – all while lessening the burden and technical roadblocks for IT, increasing adoption and use of Microsoft O365, and installing a powerful, state-of-the-art content management system (CMS). The result was a complete digital transformation and a responsive, single-pane-of-glass digital hub and a platform to build on.
Q&A Tim Walsh, web system information manager, Otterbein University Tahsha Harmon, director of technical support and training, Otterbein University
WHAT WERE SOME OF OTTERBEIN’S CHALLENGES?
Otterbein didn’t have a central and manageable site for staff, faculty, and students to communicate, collaborate, get the information they needed, and perform the tasks needed to do their jobs or get the most out of the world-class education offered at the university.
“What we found was it wasn’t modern, our students or faculty were becoming a more mobile client. They wanted a web-responsive type of communication, and this was not fitting the bill at all,” said Tahsha Harmon, director of technical support and training at Otterbein.
After deploying SharePoint Online, which had many of the features, security, and the back end data management Otterbein required, the team found that customizing the site and adding enhancements was complicated, and non-technical editors had a steep learning curve to create and edit content.
Akumina helped simplify things for Otterbein, alleviating the burden of design and deployment and the enterprise-level security provided by Microsoft Office 365 gave the team the data security it needed, said Tim Walsh, web system information manager. The team was then able to focus on creating engaging digital experiences for faculty, staff, and students. “I can take existing Microsoft technology and deploy it, and use it in a way where I’m more effective in everything that I do as someone that maintains the university intranet,” Walsh said. “I’m not bogged down in working with a lot of the finer points that you need to know in SharePoint in order to get it to work the way that you want it to.”
HOW DOES THE SITE WORK FOR DESKLESS AND REMOTE WORKERS OR STUDENTS?
With a variety of instructors who travel and students who participate from remote locations and don’t even come to campus for every class, Otterbein needed a platform that would provide easy access to resources, content, and all the things they need.
“(Before Akumina) they would have to do a difficult connection, maybe FTP or try to deal with browsers or computer environments that weren’t quite conducive to get to our systems here on campus,” Harmon said. “So by using this portal, knowing that they can use it and access it from any remote device or computer or on the go, they were able to get to the same resources that they would have here on campus with a lot of ease and convenience.”
The new platform and its integration with Office 365 pretty much eliminates the need to sit at a desk, be in the office or be chained to a particular device, Walsh said. “With your mobile device, with your tablet, with your PC – wherever you happen to be – you can accomplish the work that you need to get accomplished … You could be on the other side of the world and be just as productive as if you were at your home office working,” Walsh said.
HOW DO YOU PERSONALIZE CONTENT, EXPERIENCES, TOOLS, AND COMMUNICATION?
“Within the Akumina system, we’ve actually set up a series of organizational units within Active Directory where we can distinguish faculty, staff, and students into unique groups so that only faculty have access to their content, and only employees have access to their content, and of course, only students will have access to theirs,” Walsh said.
Managing the day-to-day content for distinct and personalized audiences is easy for content providers across campus, he said. “Within the Akumina platform, managing content is simplified to the point where I can’t think of any other product where it’s easier to assemble content and deploy it,” Walsh said. “There’s a short learning curve to the process, where typically training never goes more than half an hour for most admins.”
HOW HAS COMMUNICATION IMPROVED?
Communication turned out to be the key for all audiences when it came to getting them invested in their site and engaging with the content the university values to the most. Harmon said that by providing current information and sharing it in a format they (students especially) are used to like other digital experiences or customer experiences in the digital age, Otterbein found that a much higher percentage of users were interacting and paying attention.
“When you have a good communications product, what you have is an ability to effectively share information, be current, be on the same page,” Harmon said. Getting information to students on the go was paramount, Walsh said. “Today, what most higher-education campuses realize, from an information technology standpoint, is that students are always on the go, and they expect instant access to information,” he said.
Faculty, staff, and students were quick to adopt the new technology and have fully embraced it and incorporated it into their everyday lives because of the site’s clean design, easy access and integration with the content, communication, and tools they need to conduct their business.
“We were looking for a product that users would use and find as helpful as possible, and Akumina met that need,” Harmon said.
Having a customized and responsive mobile app was a huge key to success, as well, Walsh said.
“The biggest advantage for students and us deploying the Akumina application, is that finally, for the first time in the history of Otterbein University, they can access all of their information from this device right here (a smartphone),” Walsh said. “They don’t need a tablet, they don’t need a desktop, they don’t need a laptop. They can do it all from their phone and have a very good experience,” Walsh said.
Key achievements from the project included:
- A mobile-first experience for students, faculty, and staff.
- Increased adoption of Microsoft Office 365.
- Admins and end users are empowered to do more, freeing up IT resources.
- Streamlined content management, collaboration, and communications.
- A more engaging digital experience for users.