Moving from a “Homegrown” Data Integration to Pinwheel DME Boosts Productivity and Eliminates Security Risks at The College of Saint Rose
Tara Steelman and her staff in the Golden Knights Card Office at The College of Saint Rose have a full plate. As the One Card System Administrator, Steelman is responsible for administering the campus One Card system as well as the door access security system. Over the years a “homegrown” data integration solution was developed to ease the burden of manually administering these two mission-critical systems.
The College’s legacy door access system was nearing the end of its road and Steelman seized an opportunity. Not only could she replace and improve the campus security system, but also the homegrown data integration. A solution that over the years became unreliable, causing more manual interaction by the One Card staff.
First step for The College was to find a suitable door access system that met the needs of the campus. Among the many requirements for this new system, it needed to be user friendly, easy to navigate, and above all reliable. The One Card Office also wanted the new access system to provide more avenues for assigning access privileges. Additionally, seamless integration between the new and pre-existing systems was of critical importance.
After an exhaustive search process Saint Rose selected the SMS system from Vanderbilt Industries. Vanderbilt’s partnership with SwiftData and the Certified Plug-In to their Pinwheel Data Management Engine (DME) turned out to be the driving force for choosing the SMS system.
Outgrowing the Homegrown
Maintaining the existing integration solution was becoming a burden for Steelman and her staff. The data needed to accurately assign door access privileges came from multiple data sources, including the Ellucian Banner ERP system, Adirondack housing system and The College’s legacy ID card production system.
Inefficient data integration caused needless headaches and made the card office staff less productive.
A single update to the access system would take a minimum of two hours to process; large updates would take several hours. The time lag between system updates was troublesome for the One Card Office, Security Department, Dining Services and Office of Residence Life. During these time lags not all departments could see the information that needed to be shared, causing numerous back and forth communications.
A Customizable, Outsourced Data Solution
In upgrading from their homegrown integration system, Steelman and her staff knew they wanted a number of improvements, including:
- Ease of accessing information
- Near real-time updates
- The ability to use their Adirondack housing system software to supplement manual updates
- To relieve the mundane workload from those administering the system
The College ultimately chose the Pinwheel DME data management solution from SwiftData because of its ability to meet the above needs. Steelman was also impressed with how SwiftData could customize Pinwheel DME to all their campus administrative systems at an affordable price.
“The customization capabilities of the Pinwheel DME are excellent. The flexibility allows for adaptation between all systems where in the past we were confined to doing it specifically one way, or not at all.” says Steelman. “Additionally, SwiftData offered wide industry knowledge, excellent support, execution, availability and response.”
System Updates in 20 Minutes, Not 46 Hours
As the previous homegrown data integration became increasingly difficult to manage, it also posed a real security risk.
The Thursday before the semester start is when the process to import the large amount of data from The College’s Banner ERP system to the access control system began. That entire process to feed the class and residence hall schedule took over 26 hours. During that 26-hour period no one was able to use the door access software.
“It would totally shut down the access system,” notes Steelman. “At one point it actually almost pushed 46 hours. It was a security risk because the officers were unable to do a lockdown of the campus at that time if needed.”
If the One Card Office had to issue a new badge while an import was processing, the card would not work until the access system completed the download.
According to Steelman: “Say a student needs a new card Thursday morning. In the old system, if the download started at 7am and you come to the office at 9am, the earliest you can use your card is Friday night. With Pinwheel DME, you’re good to go in under 20 minutes.”
Major campus downloads were not the only issue. Processing an update to the door access system for a single cardholder was also a time-consuming process.
“If a student came to our office on a normal day when we weren’t doing any major downloads, there was still a 2-hour delay from the time we handed them the card to the time we’d be able to see them in the card access system,” says Steelman. “They leave our office now with the new card and before they get to their building they are in the access system. It’s awesome.”
In the past, campus departments waited hours for the updated information to appear in their systems, now they only wait minutes. Plus, no more time-wasting emails between departments. Students receiving new ID cards can now access their respective doors almost as soon as their card gets printed. Most importantly, there is no longer a threat on the security of the access system.
Increasing the Value of the Access System Software
Using Pinwheel DME, Steelman was able to configure her new SMS access software to do more than just open doors.
“Previously, if another department requested a specific meal plan report I had to go through multiple different steps and programs to get that information because I didn’t have one place to go to look for it,” says Steelman.
Now Steelman and her staff use SMS as their primary data source. SwiftData configured Pinwheel DME to provide a tremendous amount of demographic and other cardholder data that is now displayed in the SMS software.
“Pinwheel DME takes the full Banner view, the full Adirondack view and saves all the information down the funnel to this one spot. Now when someone calls and asks questions we gravitate toward the SMS system instead of going to the One Card,” says Steelman. “We can get much more information out of SMS than we could get before. Any time we have to run a report you’re talking about cutting at least ten minutes off our work time.”
Automating Access Exceptions Reclaims a 12X Savings In Time
At the start of every semester, the One Card Office undergoes the task of assigning access privileges for a large number of students who fall outside the standard integration rules. Because of the limitations of the former integration solution, this was a time-consuming process for Steelman and her staff.
On a good day, roughly four hours were spent creating the rules to provide access to a specific area on campus. Steelman describes the process:
“In the past, my staff and I had access to 5 different windows in the Banner ERP system where we could create rules and definitions. For every group we wanted to assign card access to we’d have to create that definition in Banner. After creating the definition in the Banner definition file, we’d then have to wait for it to filter through to the rule file. Then we would go into the rule file and assign access based on whatever criteria we’re talking about. If it was for the Music Studio, we’d create a rule that anyone with this CRN number (the course identifier code in Banner) was allowed to have access to this room. There are four doors to the Music Studio and one computer lab door associated with it. So we’d have to create these ‘CRN rules’ for each one of those five doors. The list of courses we’d get from the teachers was about 12 courses in a semester. They were never the same course number from Fall to Spring. And the codes would change from year to year, as well as from semester to semester. For the eight years we’ve been assigning these rules, I have yet to come across a duplicate CRN number. We always had to create a new one and get rid of the old ones. It was a huge pain because we had to go in every time, create the definition, then create the rule and assign to all five doors for all 12 classes. And this was just for access to the Music Studio. It doesn’t include the TV Studio, Communications, and Wind Ensemble students. I can honestly say at the beginning of the semester from the time the faculty sent me the class schedule information I spent a solid day, at least, configuring the different groups. And now, I spend probably an hour, max.”
SwiftData custom-tailored the system so all Steelman and her staff need to do now is enter in one place the CRN numbers for the new semester. Pinwheel DME automates the rest of the process.
A lot of the recurring tasks Steelman and her staff had to do to manage the access system went from taking 4-8 hours to 20-40 minutes.
Automating Into the Future
By increasing the speed of all system updates Pinwheel DME provided The College with an estimated 76% increase in efficiency. Steelman and her staff now enjoy a considerable time savings to their daily tasks—and a more secure campus.
About working with SwiftData, Steelman says, “It was an enlightening and educational experience. There were and still are open lines of communication between The College’s One Card Office, The College IT department and SwiftData; allowing for near immediate resolution to issues as they arise.”
The College’s future plans include adding existing pieces of the current One Card System to the new integration with Pinwheel DME.
“The whole first week, I kid you not, I spend a good 25 hours in manually changing of meal plans,” says Steelman. “I’m looking forward to doing to the One Card what we’ve done with the access system.”