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The Situation

For several years, the University has recognized that there are a number of factors, both external and internal, which place increasing pressure on the University's ability to grow and enhance its academic and research programs while maintaining a sound financial structure within balanced budgets. These factors include:
  • diminishing levels of government support for higher education in general, and severely threatened levels of support from the Commonwealth, in particular;
  • greater public scrutiny and concern over the cost of higher education;
  • demographic changes continuing to increase competitive pressure for quality students, faculty, and researchers;
  • rising costs associated with increased regulatory requirements; and
  • the need to renew an aging capital infrastructure.

These pressures threaten the ability of each school, and the University in general, to fulfill their respective and mutually dependent vision and have caused questions to be raised about the allocation of resources between schools as well as the value of support services provided to schools by central administrative offices.

Penn's Response

These factors, combined with a critical lack of cohesive information to support management decision-making, caused Penn to look introspectively at its administrative structures, processes, and systems. It became apparent during this self examination that there needed to be an emphasis on cost containment in order to ensure that resources were appropriately allocated toward Penn's strategic academic vision and priorities. In addition, it was determined that the University had to improve its information technology infrastructure, both for operational and planning requirements, if it was going to be able to achieve this goal of a more effective mission-directed resource allocation. As a result, a number of initiatives were begun with the intent of improving the delivery of administrative services as well as the availability and quality of planning information.

One of these initiatives, led jointly by the Division of Finance and Information Systems and Computing (ISC), was based on a recognition that long-term success could not be achieved through indiscriminate or across the board reductions in force, but rather would depend on a human/technology partnership called the "information infrastructure". The development of a revitalized information infrastructure for the University utilizing an enterprise engineering approach based on the re-engineering of business processes and a principles-based information technology architecture became the focus of a new project entitled Project Cornerstone.

Cornerstone Begins

With the Provost and the Executive Vice President providing executive sponsorship, the Vice President of Finance and the Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing formed a number of Cornerstone teams consisting of representatives from the central administrative divisions, the schools, and ISC. Outside consultants provided a structured methodology (Information Engineering) and technical support to the project. From July 1992 through July 1993, these teams worked on a set of interrelated tasks structured within this methodology. Team activities included interviews with University senior and executive management as well as presentations, focus groups, and workshops conducted with a large cross section of the University community. Together, these groups developed a vision for a new information infrastructure at Penn.

The Vision: A New Information Infrastructure

It is envisioned that this new information infrastructure will provide the means for the University to build a new kind of knowledge-centered organization, one that is based on dynamic human networking and information sharing. The implementation of this infrastructure will facilitate the University's ability to adapt quickly to a changing environment. It will provide information that will allow the University to measure its performance within the context of its strategic priorities.

Goals. The envisioned information infrastructure is shaped by the following goals:

  • To deliver excellence in administrative services at least cost.
  • Neither work effort nor information should be unnecessarily duplicated.
  • Responsibility should be coupled with authority and accountability and rational controls established only for valid business reasons.
  • Information technology should transport information seamlessly through each required step in a process and make information readily accessible to everyone who has a "need to know".
  • Information systems and technology will be used to facilitate and encourage the re-design of administrative processes rather than merely to automate current methods.
  • To establish a methodology and flexible framework which will enable change.

Strategies. The University sees the following strategies being employed to achieve the vision:

  • Use the architectures (models of Penn's data, processes, and information technology infrastructure):
    • as a source of information to help senior and executive management identify areas of opportunity for improvements, and
    • to provide a framework for using information technology to achieve those improvements.
  • Identify several high leverage activities and establish priorities in the planning and implementation process.
  • Use the business re-engineering methodology to define and shape future administrative services for the University and to provide a constant feed-back allowing the architectures to be maintained in perpetuity.
  • Capitalize on the cost benefits of technology to support business requirements.
  • Transition to, and maintain, a new work environment with a highly skilled, competent, and motivated work force.

Outcomes. The vision is outlined in the following three related areas: Organizations, Information, and Technology.

Organizations. A set of flatter, high performance organizations which are characterized by:

  • A focus on value-added function rather than arbitrary organizational boundaries
  • Autonomous operating structure rather than centralization; shift from a "controlling" environment to one of analysis and responsibility
  • Emphasis on:
    • quality
    • flexibility
    • productivity
    • enhanced, rational, controls
    • contingency planning
    • improved decision making

Information. Optimized information access and sharing across all levels in order to:

  • provide information horizontally, not just vertically;
  • inform a broader base of decision-makers;
  • provide assessment information to measure progress of change as well as identify new opportunities; and
  • enable the integration of operational and strategic planning.

Technology. An information technology infrastructure which supports the University's current and future business requirements and which:

  • is flexible, extensible and responsive;
  • can be quickly adapted or extended to meet changing business requirements;
  • is reliable and secure; and
  • enables empowerment of the knowledge worker by leveraging the power of the desk top and making software applications available which are robust and powerful, yet easy to use.

Information Systems and Computing
University of Pennsylvania
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