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
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
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
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
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 implicationsImproving 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.
Measurement Tools are needed to measure captured savings from
information technology investments so these savings can be properly
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
-Office of Information Systems and Computing
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.
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,
Certifying authority: Vice Provost, ISC
Last modified: 15 January 2002