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Leading Practices in Knowledge Management
 

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Central TAFE's Products and Services Catalogue -
Leading Practices in Knowledge Management

Alexandra Dailakis
Manager - LRC Systems
Learning Resource Centres
Central TAFE
Western Australia
Ph: 08 9427 1654 Fax: 08 9427 1983
E-mail: dailaa@perth.training.wa.gov.au.nospam (please remove '.nospam' from address)
WWW: http://www.central.wa.edu.au/library

Alexandra Dailakis is the Manager - Learning Resource Centre Systems at Central TAFE in Western Australia. Alexandra is responsible for managing the Technical Services Unit, the Library Management System, Audiovisual Services, and Open Access Computer facilities that support the network of 5 campus LRCs of the College. Her current role involves : systems administration and systems maintenance of the Library Database System ; responsibility for overseeing the software and technical aspects of the Student Computer Services ; delivering training for the Library Database system for library studies students ; responsibility for Audiovisual Services co-ordination ; and managing cataloguing, acquisitions and budget administration functions that are provided through the Technical Services Unit. Alexandra was co-opted into the Products and Services Catalogue project team for managing data, quality assurance and the training of users. Alexandra has worked in several positions in the library world including Cataloguer and Academic Liaison Librarian. Her interests include systems enhancements, systems training, database design and metadata.

Alexandra has been an accredited Epixtech trainer, lecturer and TAFE representative for ALIA University, College and Research Libraries WA group. She is currently the state representative for the ALIA National TAFE Group.

Abstract

Central TAFE has implemented a range of online initiatives in 2001 to strengthen its bid to be 21st century competent and a leader in utilising technology to enhance the customers' experience. A key to this success is the implementation of the Products and Services Catalogue (PSC). The Learning Resource Centre has been pivotal in the implementation of these initiatives.

Central's PSC has been developed with the help of College staff and WestOne, a branch of the WA Department of Training. It provides Central TAFE clients with information on the entire suite of College products and services. The centralised source of course, module and client services information for the whole College will also be used for a multitude of purposes, including compilation of the TAFE handbook and other marketing publications, providing customer service and online information to prospective students and the world.

The PSC is also being developed in conjunction with a student portal to provide clients with seamless access to all relevant information. The curriculum information will include access to modules and competencies and will assist students in applying for Skills Recognition. The system has further scope to be extended to include online enrolments, e-store (online bookstore) and licence and copyright information that will form the basis of an intellectual property register.


Introduction

Central TAFE (Central) is a leader in vocational education and training in Australia and the largest TAFE college in Western Australia, with its roots going back one hundred years to the days of Perth Technical College, WA's original TAFE institution. The college operates from four main campuses (Perth, eCentral, Mt Lawley and Leederville). The College has 3 Centres of Excellence - Science, Technology, Arts and Business Development ; Management , Business and Customer Services ; and Health, Community and Academic Development.
With the influence of e-commerce, the College embarked on an increasingly online environment that clearly provided the main impetus for the development of the PSC to meet the objective of becoming 21st century competent and meeting the College vision.

Vision

Central TAFE will be recognised as an innovative, creative and sought after deliverer of vocational education and training solutions locally, nationally and internationally.

The Central TAFE strategic objectives for 2000 - 2004 are:

  • Expand our client base by consistently growing WA government purchased business and aggressively growing our business with other sectors
  • Enhance the College's people advantage ; its culture and workforce skills
  • Strengthen our financial position in order to invest in training, delivery and support services and maintain reserves
  • Become 21st century competent in the application of technology to achieving the College's vision

Central TAFE was committed to the development of a database of all the products and services that the College offers. What began as a brainstormed idea eventually led to the College being among the first to launch a product database that allows anyone in the world to search an institution's products and services at any time. The College saw the potential to establish a computerised system to enhance client services and productivity in best practice in terms of providing product and service information.

The idea was first floated in 1996. In 1999, the new General Manager - Information and Resources formalised the development of the concept. As a comparison, the Management Information System first observed in another College was implemented at Central within 3 months. If only the PSC has been as easy!

What is the Products and Services Catalogue?

In practical terms the PSC is an important source of information, assisting many areas in the College, including front counter, marketing and training delivery (the academic areas that delivery training). It provides College product information, career planning information, directions on how to apply, details on recognition of prior learning and, most importantly, acts as a central repository for course and module information. It is integral to the core business of the College and enables students to make informed decisions and staff to value add.

In technical terms, the PSC is a product database developed in collaboration with WestOne to provide the College with an infrastructure and information management capability to support the delivery of product and service information.

The key features of the PSC are:

  • System and information integration with the College web site
  • System and information integration with other College systems
  • Single repository for all College product delivery information
  • Product brochure generation (PDF)
  • Learning materials management and e-store integration
  • Intellectual property register
  • Product and offering information source for online enrolment components
  • Extended product search and enquiry facilities (WestOne 2000)

How was the Need for a Product Database Determined?

The need for a product database was highlighted a couple of years ago when a business computer systems expert concluded that a central repository for product information did not exist in the College. There was a need from a profiling point of view to collect accurate and relevant information for the key stakeholders - Business Profiling, Finance and the Database Administrator who reports on the Delivery and Performance Agreement.

The long-standing need to identify what products a College offers led to the tender evaluation but the market at the time was deemed immature. The only available product or solution did not fit the College's vision for infrastructure and made connection with emerging applications difficult. Technological advancement has now made this project a reality.

Timelines

1996 - Idea was first developed
1999 - Central TAFE created Request for Tender for Purchase of Product Database
1999 - Approached WestOne
2000 - Prototype developed
2000 - Consultants report on ADMIN, PSC and Telecommunications Upgrade
2001 - Data entry, conversion and QA process began

Initial Phase

Central set up a steering group to coordinate the task of organising the functional specifications that would be required. This group worked in tandem with other online strategy groups to enhance the College's 21st century competency. The specifications were created at Central TAFE and the Director of the LRCs played a large part in this process. The Committee established:

  • functional specifications
  • courses, modules, and services
  • what components were required
  • were two views always required - college and students - web enabled

In the planning stages it was seen that the PSC would lead to improvements in the following areas where the database would have a direct impact:

  • incorporation of our curriculum information and document course and module details
  • information required by Marketing / Call Centre
  • information required for production of College Handbook
  • data exchange with Curriculum Management System
  • elimination of duplicated source data and maintenance
  • improved responsiveness to clients
  • improved quality, presentation, accuracy and consistency of data

WestOne Involvement

In developing its online strategy, the WA Department of Training formed WestOne Services, a separate statutory organisation to promote the online delivery and services for all WA TAFE Colleges. WestOne Services is funded by WADT as are all WA TAFE colleges.

'WestOne is an Institution under the Western Australian VET Act and was created to facilitate the development and growth of flexible learning within WA, through the production of innovative technology enabled learning materials and services and collaborative approaches to change management with registered training providers'. (WestOne Strategic Plan 2001-2001)

One of the organisation's strategic intents that relates to the development of the PSC is to: 'conceptualise, design, build/acquire and deploy a range of technology enabled learning related facilities that provide new and/or improved services to the public. To facilitate operational efficiencies in seeking information, registering interest, accessing and utilising technology enabled learning programs; and enable administrative efficiency and customer satisfaction through client self-service empowerment…'. (WestOne 2001)

Central TAFE approached WestOne to assist in developing the concept of a product database in 1999 after the tender process was unsuccessful. WestOne essentially built what was requested in the original tender and used the College's intellectual capital in terms of user specifications. Pulling together product information into one source according to the College's specifications was of prime importance. The original working group from the College that assisted with the specifications had a strong training delivery representation for the simple reason that the core business of the College was Training Delivery.

WestOne found that they needed to change the traditional means of developing systems for the TAFE sector. For instance, asking 10 colleges what they want in a system would result in 10 different responses. Developing a system to suit all proves to be mission impossible!

WestOne had a head start in developing a prototype in that Central TAFE had already developed the required functional specifications. This led to a fast development path and to the benefit of receiving feedback on a regular basis with comments at the grassroots level. The scoping of the project took about 14 weeks to produce a basic outline of the prototype.

Catalyst - Consultant's Report

Central TAFE commissioned consultancy services to define the scope, objectives and overall approach to 3 major projects - the implementation of ADMIN (the College's online enrolment system), the PSC and a new telecommunications system.

The consultants' project scope included: implementation and maintenance of the catalogue ; Call Centre use of the PSC ; WADT reporting on Resource Agreements ; audit of assessment instruments ; skills recognition process ; intellectual property ; identification of learning resources requirements ; development of curriculum material ; accreditation ; and registration of courses.

The consultants made recommendations on the best way to manage and plan the implementation of the PSC in the College. Given the high-level business process changes and cultural impact, the PSC project team decided on an alternative implementation plan. At the time, the College was considering a College-wide restructure and Functional Review and therefore an alternative plan was preferred.

Central TAFE delayed the project several months to await the results of the consultant's advice on the College's online strategy. The College used the final report as a foundation for the implementation plan but modified it to suit its requirements.

Curriculum Information

The Curriculum Management System (CMS), maintained by the WA Department of Training is used for student enrolment management and lists award courses and those offered on profile. CMS is the current state government repository of curriculum for the VET sector - that is, state funded, accredited courses and qualification information. Two main outcomes of the CMS are the TE77 Course Outline and TE78 Module Outline. To support this function at the local level the PSC includes this information.

The PSC includes many classification fields that are required in the CMS. For instance, Occupation groups (ASCO codes) and Industry areas (ANZIC codes) are attached to courses in the PSC and these codes work in conjunction with the career quiz on the College web site.

Change Management and Knowledge Management

The College embraced the concept of Knowledge Management early and it thrived with its increased exposure. It was important to incorporate Knowledge Management into a business strategy and to ensure that it would not be technology driven. Some of the underlying Knowledge Management principles that the PSC provided and that were identified by the consultants were:

  • access to existing information on products and services through a common repository of shared knowledge
  • ready access to the right knowledge at the right time to the right community, irrespective of geographic location

One of the difficult tasks for large organisations is changing business processes. The Consultancy Agency report highlighted many recommendations for the implementation of the online initiatives. Total quality management is about getting it right the first time. Therefore, the importance of having one source of information is of primary concern and should always be led by the principles of accuracy, relevancy and consistency and always available in a timely manner. Storing information once and using it many times is also a driving factor.

In terms of business process re-engineering, the PSC provided a tremendous opportunity to review College business processes for efficiencies, improved workflow and rapid results. The College undertook a large investment in this area and the new business processes are currently being identified and incorporated.

Scope of the Project

The scope of the project was to design and build a system that will store data relevant to the following components : curriculum ; delivery ; customer ; student services ; learning resources and web enabling.

The full scope of the project was broad and complex. The project model included the following:

  • gather information from stakeholders
  • seek feedback on the system and information design
  • find appropriate technology platform
  • establish organisational impact
  • plan resources for further progress and stages
  • control costs and quality
  • establish operational management
  • identify additional opportunities and issues

Definitions of the main components of the PSC

  • A product is defined as any program, course, module or unit of study delivered by the College, including accredited, non-accredited, short course and commercial delivery.
  • A service is defined as any ancillary student service offered directly or indirectly by the College at one or more locations, for example, the LRC, Psychologist, Disability Services.
  • A learning resource is defined as any material used in the delivery of College products. This may include learning guides, lesson plans, presentations, slide shows, commercial publications, tests, assessments, videos etc. (WestOne 2000)

Online Strategy 2001

The ADMIN system, the PSC and the telecommunications project provided the main thrust for the online strategy. These 3 projects were expected to enhance the customer experience and achieve a return on investment.

The key responsibilities identified in terms of releasing the PSC were:

  • Coordinating data identification and data input activities
  • Training Data Managers
  • Determining application access
  • Managing the process re-engineering exercise
  • Managing the roll out

The key responsibilities for the support of the application were:

  • Provision of guidance on strategic matters
  • Approval of data sourcing
  • Approval of access rights
  • Quality assurance of data and subsequent approval for release

One of the issues raised by the consultant's report was the magnitude of the data load and quality assurance process and the need for these to be well managed. At this point, the LRC was already involved but became further involved in these aspects.

Some of the issues raised during workshop sessions were: promotion of the PSC as a primary source of products and services ; business re-engineering of processes and changes to workflow ; and establishment of a helpdesk function.

LRC Role

As the Director of the LRC was playing a large role in the online strategy implementation, the LRC was increasingly exposed to all the online initiatives under way. This led to a change in the LRC role in the College. My involvement occurred when it became apparent that there was a clear role for someone to coordinate the data entry and quality assurance process for the initial release. As a Systems Librarian with experience in databases and systems maintenance it was considered that I would fit the role. The LRC could see the benefits that the PSC would deliver (no doubt because of the profession's experience in handling and delivering improved information resources). The project was really an extension of this, enhancing the services that we could provide to our customers.

Data Sourcing

To establish and define all sources of product data was a huge task. The College was required to ascertain and identify key sources of data and fields from different sources that would be incorporated into the PSC. The PSC Working Group established and defined all sources of web site data, Curriculum Management System data and other sources including the marketing brochures.

The Project Team required WestOne to be able to successfully complete the import facility for the data from CMS to the PSC. Without this crucial stage the team would have delayed the implementation. So to assist with the initial data entry exercise, WestOne developed a data conversion program to convert data from the Curriculum Management System and load it to the PSC. This was a download of accredited curriculum data which assisted the Working Group greatly in the population of the PSC. The College Systems Development branch also converted web site data into the PSC.

To establish what course and module information to incorporate into the PSC fields, we created a template for the information and where it came from: for example, the web site, Curriculum Management System and marketing brochures. In terms of guidelines and format, I compiled the glossary detailing what each field represents, its use and its data type - text or numeric, data responsibility etc.

Database Structure

The PSC database uses Active Server Pages (ASP) from Microsoft where the server triggers a transaction and presents the desired information. ASP is typically the presentation layer of the web site and draws information from a SQL 7 server database. ASP provides a scripting environment that allows the creation of dynamic and interactive web server applications. Building a prototype was the first phase, as the database and functional design were later considerations.

Data Entry and Quality Assurance Process

I coordinated the whole data entry and QA process. The template was used to indicate which field of information belonged to the corresponding field in the PSC. For instance, Why you should study at this College? from the web site became Studying at this College and Introduction became About this Course.

The online 2001 project team under the direction of the Director LRC commenced the task of populating the PSC with course and module information from data sources within the College.

Data had been entered from 3 sources:

  • Brochure information maintained by Marketing and Front Counter staff
  • Web site information
  • Curriculum Management System (CMS)

Brochure and web site information was used to populate marketing type data whilst CMS was used to populate Course and Modules structures together with codes and classifiers data. The data entry exercise involved several people on a full-time basis, the majority being casuals employed specifically for this project.

The Training Delivery areas as data owners were provided with clear and explicit instructions on how to check their course and module information from the Intranet access for the initial release of the database onto the external web site. The academic staff were required to check the qualifications (award structure) and the marketing information including every field that was available.

When we began the onerous task of populating the PSC we had to establish our own work instructions and data dictionary. The web site and brochure information had to fit into the field descriptors in the PSC. I guided the data entry casuals and worked alongside them for many weeks to complete the task. Collectively the integrity of the system is bound by the sum of all the little things.

Roll out and Implementation

Following the initial release of the PSC, the College planned to roll out the database to the data owners - being Training Delivery. This has led to the newly established Working Group of which I am Executive Officer. The group has representatives from the whole College and its Terms of Reference are 'to manage the implementation and develop processes for ongoing maintenance of the Products and Services Catalogue (PSC) developed by WestOne and Central TAFE. This will enable our product and service information to be accessed by our clients via the Internet and/or College Intranet in accordance with the College's Online 2001 Strategy'.

Many sub groups have been identified to deal with the roll out including:

  • Communications
  • Guidelines and Format
  • Data Load and QA
  • Business Process Re-engineering
  • Training Requirements
  • Integration with College web site
  • Business Technology Integration / Development

Issues

  • Metadata is yet to be incorporated in PSC
  • Keyword searching requires improvement
  • Terminology is not consistent across VET sector
  • Some sections of College are not wholly aware of the information in their area
  • Changing some business processes meets resistance
  • The College was not provided with training, glossary and instruction manuals
  • Dealing with competing priorities with finite resources

Other Components

  • Registration of Interest
    Allow prospective students to request further information electronically. These details are then captured by the Call Centre database.

  • Brochure printing
    The brochure function caused complications and some delay in rolling out the PSC which led to a solution using PDF format. This enables all users to extract an electronic booklet that can be sent via e-mail or printed. The booklet is extracted via PDF format from a translated XML structure.

  • Customer Enrolment Service (CES)
    CES provides an online mechanism that allows customers to enrol in and pay for a course or module for study at the College. The mechanism uses very stringent and secure methods and conforms to access standards and business rules. It uses a WA Government Department Fast Pay method.

Future Developments

  • Integration with LRC System (locate resources which relate to training package competencies)
  • Integration with Student Portal - mytafe concept
  • E-store
  • Intellectual Property Register
  • Export product data to the TAFE handbook system
  • WA Sector wide version of PSC

What is the PSC made up of?

Homepage
Basic and advanced search, What's new, Services at a Location, Locations providing a Service.

Basic Search Screen
Search by course and module number or keyword

Advanced Search Screen
Search by Industry, Occupation, Delivery Mode, Location, Program Area.

The Course
Course
Course number, course title, hours and status

Descriptions
Aims and outcomes, your career in, about this course, course outline, duration, career opportunities, studying at this college, selection criteria, entrance requirements summary, how to apply, fees and charges, skills recognition equivalence, further study, general notes

Accreditation
Accreditation date, expiry, accreditor

Types and Classifiers
Qualification, developer cost centre, approval date, WADT group, occupation grouping, industry, ITC, international delivery, program area

More Information
Total minimum and maximum hours, evening, weekend, national course ID, CSSN
Links to Campus, Course Type, Delivery Mode and Minimum Entry.

Course Study Plan
Study Plan, Award Structure, Groups and Modules

Module
Drills down to national module number, aims, skills recognition, delivery strategy, assessment summary, summary of content, grading option and learning outcomes.

Reference Data
AQF level - qualification, Course Type, Delivery Mode, Grading Option, Location, People, Program Area, Service Contact and Type and WADT Group and Level.


Conclusion

The LRC seized the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the development of the College's PSC. Our experience in developing knowledge bases and our capability in value adding enabled us together with technical experts and other College representatives to build a useful and collaborative model.

The success of the College in becoming 21st century competent and fulfilling its online strategy has been achieved through the dedication and hard work of the College staff at many levels. The Learning Resource Centre has been pivotal in contributing to a vital information exploration that has culminated in the implementation of the PSC. The LRC has proved its commitment to the College's online initiatives.

References and Bibliography

Hannan, C. 1999, Product Database Project Management Plan, Central TAFE, unpublished document.

Paine, S & Hannan, C, 2000, Requirements specification (Prototype phase only) College Products and Services Catalogue, WestOne Services, unpublished document.

Product database - curriculum component functional requirements specification, 1999, Central TAFE, unpublished document.

Products and Services Catalogue : functional specifications, 1999, Central TAFE, unpublished document.

Strategic plan 2001 - 2004. 2001, WestOne Services, unpublished document.

Acknowledgments

Central TAFE

Mervyn Joseph
Director - Learning Resource Centres and Information Services

Gary Fitzgerald
General Manager - Information & Resources

Christine Hannan
Manager, Systems Development

Ron Sofield
Program Manager - School of Business & Management

Margaret Fowler
Learning Resource Centres

Yvonne Waddington
Manager - Intellectual Property & records

WestOne Services

Simon Paine
Senior Business Analyst


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