Case Study: University of Minnesota’s Provost Office

University of Minnesota

Creating a Framework for Digital Measures Data Integration

The Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, Faculty and Academic Affairs at the University of Minnesota uses a product called Activity Insight from Digital Measures to capture and organize faculty information, including biographical information, activities, publications and accomplishments. Also referred to as “Works,” it acts as both a “departmental LinkedIn” and their internal performance review tool. Faculty members enter their information, from basic biographic data to publications or current projects, directly into the Digital Measures interface. Other departments and colleges in the University of Minnesota system also use Works.

Faculty Affairs was using the data in Digital Measures primarily for reporting, but they wanted to offer a Drupal module to their internal clients that could be used to populate web profiles on departmental websites. Digital Measures offered this feature, but it wasn’t going to work for Faculty Affairs, from both a functionality and cost standpoint. Erin Edwards, Business Systems Analyst and Special Projects Manager for Faculty Affairs, contacted us for help in the summer of 2018 when she realized her in-house IT team wasn’t going to be able to handle it either.

"I was really struggling trying to find someone who understood what we wanted to do and was ready to take it on. Working with TEN7 was a positive experience from the start," said Erin Edwards. "They told me right away, 'We know what it is you need, and we know how to do it.'" 

The Solution Framework

Once we started peeking under the covers of Digital Measures, we discovered that it doesn’t really have a set data schema, and that makes it difficult to work with.

To solve this problem, we needed to build a system that makes a copy of the Digital Measures data, which can then be manipulated and displayed as desired in Drupal. This process also needed to be able to extract the high volume of Digital Measures data, sometimes thousands of profiles, quickly.

The solution we came up with is a framework of eight modules, with each one performing a step in the data migration process. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to run the whole process, depending on how many entries need to be imported.

Since Digital Measures information constantly changes, a background process will rerun the migrations in the proper order, continually creating a local copy of the updated Digital Measures data and displaying it in Drupal. The Digital Measures API will remain the “source of truth” for faculty data, so the data won’t be editable through the Drupal interface.

“The work went so much faster than I anticipated,” Erin told us. “It was available to me in a test environment really early on, so that I knew right from the start when we were moving in the right direction.”

Designed with Reuse in Mind

The results of this project were intended to be reused not only for other departments and campuses in the University system, but also other universities in general. “When we took on this project, we were interested in making our code available to other clients of Digital Measures,” said Ivan Stegic. “Faculty Affairs was a willing partner.”

Normally we make products for end users and stakeholders, mostly non-technical people, but on this project, the primary audience was our own role: Drupal developer. “We got to step back and ask ourselves: what are all the things we wished we’d known when we were using other people’s codes? What do we wish we’d seen, how do we wish things had been organized?” said Project Lead Les Lim. “We also had to be cognizant that the solution that we’ve built might be used by different departments, with different Drupal sites. We had to keep it generic, to consider what kinds of needs another third party dev team would have using our code, without being able to ask them.”

Faculty Affairs launched the new functionality, called Works Web Profiles, in the spring of 2019. Faculty Affairs will be providing the framework we created to other University departments and colleges.

While multiple colleges and departments within the University of Minnesota (and outside of it) are all using Digital Measures, they all have their own customized implementation of it. Because of this, there will always be custom work required to display the Digital Measures data in each department’s web profiles. But the framework gives each department’s IT team a head start on the process. “The tools we created are like socket wrenches to work on a car,” said DevOps Tess Flynn. “Every car is different, but the socket wrenches make the work easier.”

Faculty Affairs plans on having Works Web Profiles on sites from a few centers and institutes within the Academic Health Center live by early fall. Part two of the Works Web Profiles project is implementation of search and expertise functionality, allowing searching through the entire system’s campuses, both internally and externally.

We look forward to partnering with Faculty Affairs for the next phase of this work. “When we talk about search and expertise functionality, and other projects that we may want to do, there’s almost an assumption that we would go back to TEN7,” remarked Erin. “Everyone that has seen the work has been so impressed to the point that TEN7 is first in our minds when we’re looking at future work.”

The Framework is Now Available to Everyone

When we finished the project, we open-sourced the framework of eight modules we created and put it on Drupal.org. The framework (with the exception of one module specific to Digital Measures) is meant to be used in Drupal migration processes in general, not just Digital Measures.

Ivan Stegic

Founder and President
 
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Ivan Stegic

Words that describe Ivan: Relentlessly optimistic. Kind. Equally concerned with client and employee happiness. Bowtie lover. Physicist. Ethical. Lighthearted and cheerful. Finds joy in the technical stuff. Inspiring. Loyal. Hires smart, curious and kind employees who want to create more good in the world. His favorite things right now: the TEN7 podcast and becoming the next Björn Borg.