This document originally appeared in the December 13, 1994 issue of the Almanac, page 8, as an introduction to an accompanying piece: Of Record - Principles for Information Technology in Administration. Minor changes have been made for the Web form.

Making Connections: Principles for Administrative Information Technology at Penn

For the first twenty years of the computer revolution, the architecture of information systems was defined by the limits of the technology. The resulting systems-many of Penn's current systems-are hard and brittle. We call them "software," but they aren't flexible. When we try to bend them or tie them together, they break. We have been forced to ask people to accommodate their work habits to these inflexible systems.

Computing technology has recently begun to evolve according to a new, more flexible model. We at Penn have the opportunity over the next few years to rebuild our aging administrative systems to take advantage of this evolution, streamlining administrative activities and providing people with better information for daily work and for planning.

Toward that end, Project Cornerstone was begun in FY1993. It is sponsored by the Provost and Executive Vice President and led by the Vice President for Finance, Steve Golding, and the Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing, Peter Patton. Cornerstone's objective is to streamline Penn's administrative processes and put in place information systems that help make those processes more effective. The first step was to find out in a comprehensive way how information is handled, how it should be handled, and how information technology and support can bridge the gap between the two.

Starting with a vision drawn from interviews with faculty, deans and others, the team took draft principles to discussions with hundreds of people from Penn's schools and administrative centers. Under the oversight of Cornerstone's advisory group, composed of associate deans for administration and senior Penn budget and planning officials, the team distilled a set of principles. Those labeled General apply across all the other categories. The Data principles concern the information assets of the University, and the Applications principles the software and systems that process data. Infrastructure principles are concerned with the underlying technologies that support data and applications, while Organization refers to people and administrative structures.

Each principle addresses an area that experience had shown to be important. As each principle was suggested and reviewed, people articulated its rationale and thought ahead to imagine some of its implications, then stated the principles in a form that could guide useful action and indicate ways to measure the results. To cite just one example:

General Principle 3, Cost-effectiveness, states that " Information technology must contribute to the cost-effectiveness of the functions it supports and must be cost-effective from the perspective of the University as a whole."
Its rationale
Penn seeks to minimize administrative costs so that savings can be applied to research and instruction.
Some implications
Improving an administrative process before making an information technology investment to support that process will yield greater return on investment.
Actions to be taken
Establish cost/benefit guidelines and methods for establishing objective measures, quantifying and weighing selection criteria, etc. Consider all life-cycle costs of acquisition, development, maintenance, use, training, support, and retirement.
Tools are needed to measure captured savings from information technology investments so these savings can be properly redirected.

Taking these principles seriously will in some cases mean changing the way Penn does things. It will mean new standards, policies, and procedures, and new ways of measuring progress. Penn's new administrative desktop hardware standards are based on the principles, for example. The principles have also guided Penn's acquisition of the first two Cornerstone systems-purchasing and general ledger accounting- and the development of a "data warehouse" for easy access to management information.

-Office of Information Systems and Computing

Special Note

Leaders of Penn's academic computing community are developing a complementary set of principles about the use of computing for research and instruction. When these have had full discussion and revision, they will take their place beside the administrative principles outlined here.

More Information

ISC's direction statement, Making Connections: Building Penn's Electronic Future, is available from the Office of Information Systems and Computing. For fuller commentary on the principles below: Cornerstone Program Manager Robin Beck, (215/898-7581).