Column: When technology works, nobody notices

Over the past several years the GW community has seen a rapid growth in the use of technology to make the daily lives of our students easier. There has been an exponential growth of online services over the past few years, including web-based registration, retrieving grades, receiving textbook list and buying books, completing the financial aid award process, viewing tuition accounts status and many others. GW has received national recognition for the success of its efforts to provide premier online services to its constituents.

In the April 28 staff editorial “When technology goes bad,” (p. 4) you referred to these rapid and encompassing technology changes. “We have Information Systems and Services to thank for making GW one of the 100 most wired universities in America.” Information Systems & Services have made a tremendous effort to provide new technical services to our community, often far in advance of other institutions. We are proud of our accomplishments but understand that we must continually strive to improve our performance.

The editorial pointed this out as well. “In the most recent of a string of housing selection problems caused by malfunctioning software, rising sophomores were double booked into New Hall rooms Saturday, causing systems administrators to bring down housing selection for three hours.” In all complex projects, issues arise that have not been predicted. A small number of these new services will have issues or “teething” problems when they are first put into production, or other changes or improvements are made.

ISS responded quickly in coordination with the rest of the University’s administrative staff to correct the housing selection problem and mitigate its impact on the students. The process continued over the weekend and corrections and fixes were made to compensate for the errors. We sincerely regret the impact that these problems have had on our students.

Rolling out services is a complex process with many steps leading up to every service that you see. Our systems go through extensive testing for both functional and load performance but sometimes issues only arise during actual use. We are now in the process of an after-incident review to identify and correct issues that led to the inadvertent double listing of some rooms over the weekend. ISS and other administrative units are working constantly to provide incremental improvements to our services and ensure that errors are identified and fixed in a timely manner.

Although the housing selection problem was very noticeable, there are many different projects that are successfully completed every weekend with no notice that they have occurred. This is the norm for service at GW. However, no process is perfect and on occasion things go wrong. Our goal at ISS is to ensure that we respond rapidly to problems and build solutions for the future.

The other issue that you mentioned in your article is the existing problems with the University’s Webmail system. These problems are known and have been the focus of multiple incremental fixes to respond to issues as they arise. To provide a more permanent solution it was decided last year to move and entirely new software package to provide e-mail service. We developed the requirements for this software with input for the students who will be using it. The new software is scheduled for implementation and conversion this summer when the impact on the community will be less. However, testing and review of the process to convert users to the new system has been going on for over a year. We ask only that our users understand that no system is perfect and that we have a very complex system here at GW.

ISS is committed to minimizing the impact of issues that arise as we deploy new services to support our community. We have a great team of hardworking and committed individuals within ISS, I am very proud of them. We intend to continue our rapid deployment of new services to GW students based on the feedback we receive. We feel that we can best support our students by continually improving our service and taking advantage of new technologies when they become available.
-The writer is chief information officer for GW Information System and Services.

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