A new digital account system known as Friends of Penn State (FPS), has recently been developed to help provide a variety of University services to potential students, alumni and e-commerce customers via the Web. A joint project between several ITS organizations, the FPS account management system has been designed to enable the development of Web-based information resources to serve individuals outside the University in a more efficient, streamlined way. FPS is also part of the University's initiative to create a long-term relationship with the many individuals that use Penn State services, such as library technologies, e-stores, World Campus, the Registrar's Office, Undergraduate Admissions and more.
A number of University organizations are developing Web sites to make their services available to FPS account holders, according to Steven Kellogg, director of Advanced Information Technologies within ITS.
"In the past, offices like Undergraduate Admissions, University Libraries and World Campus had to design their own specific account system in order for non-psu.edu Internet users to access their respective services," Kellogg explained. This has been a complicated and difficult effort, since each organization had to devise an account that would serve the full-spectrum of Internet Providers - AOL, Adelphia, Earthlink and so on ... Penn State wanted to make life easier by managing this function centrally for offices and departments.
Kellogg predicts that eventually a majority of digital access for the outside Penn State community will be managed through Friends of Penn State. But he notes, retirees who have benefits will not be part of FPS, since they already retain their regular Penn State Access Account status when they leave the University and will continue in retirement as full members of the psu.edu community.
For alumni, potential students and others outside the University, however, the FPS account should help foster a long-term digital relationship with Penn State for anyone affiliated with University programs and services, he observes.
"The shared vision is that a high school student will be able to sign-up for one of the summer sports camps as a Friend of Penn State and later use the account to learn whether he/she wants to attend the University. If the same person eventually becomes a Penn State student, the University will automatically convert the FPS account to a Penn State Access Account. Then, upon graduation, the account will revert to FPS again where as an alumni, the individual can take Continuing Education classes and access a variety of other services."
At this time, anyone who does not have a Penn State Access Account, but who wants to electronically visit World Campus, the e-Golf store, Undergraduate Admissions, the Registrar's Office and many more University Web locations has (or will soon have) the option to acquire the Friends of Penn State status.
Planners also believe the concept of Friends of Penn State will make it easier for the University to develop a seamless information management infrastructure that can be tailored to the specific needs of the FPS community.
According to Joe Hughes, head professional at Penn State Golf Courses, http://www.psu.edu/golfcourses, ITS Web developer Cynthia Kane designed a 'Web front' for the Courses e-Golf Store (with FPS users in mind) that makes it extremely simple for customers to find what they need. The new e-Store, which is expected to take advantage of FPS in the near future, has already made many e-business functions less expensive and more effective for his staff to run, he explains. "The interface has been customized to appeal to our mostly alumni-based e-clients and to be user-friendly from a management perspective. We can plug in photos, prices and other information about our award-winning Golf Shop with just a couple of quick key strokes."
Hughes adds that with the development of the Web site and the eventual addition of FPS, revenue from the Golf Course's e-business is projected to show a 48% increase over last year's numbers.
Other departments are creating their own electronic infrastructures to provide group-specific resources to the FPS community. The College of Agriculture is planning to develop a Web-based system that will provide resources for Pennsylvania farmers (based on FPS account identities) which could supply information tailored to specific agricultural interests such as crops, pesticides, irrigation, soil condition and other pertinent topics.
Some organizations have not elected to use the new account yet, but are evaluating how it might best be used for their constituencies. The University Libraries are now considering how it will best fit in with the Libraries' resources, according to Sally Kalin, associate dean for the University Park Libraries.
"Many of our University Libraries resources, such as the CAT, the online catalog; University Park and Campus College Libraries' Web sites; and specialized subject guides, have always been freely accessible to the public through www.libraries.psu.edu. We anticipate the FPS account will offer an easier route of access to these resources as well as our digital Libraries' projects."
Kellogg adds that these kinds of concerns illustrate that the concept of FPS is still evolving. "There are some offices that will, because of their respective missions, need to build in restrictive functions according to which groups within Friends of Penn State they want to targetand others where any category of user (potential student, alumni, e-shopper, farmer, Pennsylvanian or global resident) will be a welcome customer. Because of the FPS authentication function we can set up parameters for each organization based on identity. So our goal is to accommodate the greatest possible spectrum of ideas and needs with this technology."
To learn more about the Friends of Penn State initiative, go to: http://aset.its.psu.edu/fpsproject/.