Mississippi State Creates New IT Model With Enterprise Identity Management System
Today's learners span a wide range of ages and backgrounds, and their objectives for attending a university are equally varied. In order to support these learners effectively, an institution's infrastructure must be as flexible and fluid as its students.
To address this issue and others, Mississippi State University (MSU) is creating a digital campus with an enterprise identity management system that will meet the changing and varying needs of our constituents. This new IT model will accomplish several important objectives, including:
- Giving constituents better access to our university services and opportunities;
- Providing centralized identity management to address the changing and varied needs of our users; and
- Supporting real-time data integration among all applications.
To create this new model, we are implementing the SCT Luminis platform as the core technology infrastructure. Using it, the university is building a centralized identity management system, integrating our applications to it, then providing personalized and customized content and access to university Web services via a channel-based portal environment.
A Progressive Portal
With the SCT Luminis platform, MSU is adding collaborative tools and personalization capabilities to the institution's Web applications, providing a unified user interface and improving the content of our portals. Adding collaborative tools and personalization capabilities to MSU Web applications is critical to the continued progress and expansion of university services. The new tools we will be offering include personalized channels, calendars, targeted announcements and group tools. In addition, we will be providing a unified user interface to simplify the user experience, ensuring that MSU learners can easily locate and employ university applications.
Another important initiative is guaranteeing that content is centered on the needs and interests of MSU constituents to maintain their interest and usage of the portal. Implementing the SCT Luminis content management system enables us to distribute the entry and management of portal content. This will provide university departments with better tools for managing and controlling content; thus, helping to ensure the quality, timeliness and accuracy of portal information.
Dynamic User Roles
Another core requirement necessary to support the unified digital campus is centralized identity management. This is because MSU constituents are increasingly moving beyond the traditional roles of faculty and students, which are defined by our SCT Banner administrative system. Currently, the SCT Luminis platform provides technologies for enabling a single sign-on to many applications. It also offers data integration for several systems, including WebCT and SCT Banner. While this baseline integration provides significant benefits to the campus, additional functionality is required for the diverse environment and constituency that the digital campus must service.
Nontraditional roles that the Web platform needs to service include prospective students, industry collaborative research partners, MSU Extension Service clients, 4-H'ers and local veterinarians. By providing access to Web services through the portal to constituencies of other universities, research organizations and industries, MSU supports collaboration for research and extension missions. Our current traditional administrative system has no way to categorize these individuals or give them the access they need to interact with the school.
In addition, our learners move in and out of the roles defined by the system. For instance, a current student might be considering additional courses in a different field, so he or she is concurrently a "student" and a "prospect." Faculty also have needs for services that transcend the boundaries of those defined by our administrative system. For example, a new faculty member may require access to materials and resources prior to his or her official start date. Also, professional development courses are offered to MSU staff through our WebCT course management system. While the MSU staff roles are defined through our administrative systems, these noncredit, nontraditional courses are not defined.
The institution's new centralized identity management system will allow us to meet the changing and diverse needs of all these users. It will serve as the central point of user identification and authentication for everyone accessing campus systems. Recognizing the roles and access rights for everyone using MSU's Web services is essential to providing a truly customized online experience.
To accomplish this, the identity management system will establish enterprisewide roles for users who transcend any specific application. The system then defines the overall Web services that the university offers through its Web platform, and establishes the business rules and processes for providing those services to the appropriate roles. The system can track the user role by student, faculty, major, alumni or friend, and allows for changes, promotion and crossover in these roles. The SCT Luminis integration architecture provides the enabling framework for implementing this enterprise identity repository.
Finally, the SCT Luminis platform integration technologies add real-time bidirectional data integration technologies to the MSU digital campus project. The Luminis technologies are designed to integrate an institution's disparate systems into a unified whole, including visual and data integration. With these technologies, even multiple systems running on different platforms will appear seamless to users. Equally important, data will flow automatically among applications. For instance, when students update their addresses in the SCT Banner system, it automatically updates it in the library applications and other systems as well.
In the past, we have written a lot of code to facilitate either batch or real-time data transfers as we acquired systems from different vendors. On one occasion, we had to write a specific piece of code that understood SCT Banner Accounts Receivable data, as well as the ticket and decal charges of our parking system. When one of these vendors changed or upgraded their software, we had to review and, often, rewrite our code. This process is repeated with each integrated application.
In addition, the need to create these connections has increased exponentially as more and more services are demanded via the Web. This has created a considerable maintenance issue for our IT staff. To address this issue, the enterprise integration model enables us to build and implement adapters that communicate through a middle messaging layer provided by the SCT Luminis technologies. As a result, we will be able to connect disparate systems and send messages between them, even among non-SCT systems.
As students, faculty and other campus constituents are becoming more tech-savvy, they expect better technology services from their school. When completed, MSU's enterprise identity management and digital campus will give users easier access to our services and opportunities; ultimately, simplifying the lives of our users. The digital campus will provide the technology infrastructure to enable MSU to achieve our goal of establishing life-long learning relationships between the university and its diverse constituents.
This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.