Humble Beginnings: From Hackathon to Here and Now
POSTED: Wednesday, August 1, 2018 - 1:49pm

Adaptation.

It’s what allows organizations to thrive in an ever-changing world. Implemented effectively, it guarantees continued success.

But inevitably, with change comes logistical troubleshooting. How can organizations ensure that adaptations can be made--and without disrupting what makes the organization successful to begin with?

Change Approval Board

In the context of Kent State University, organizations are the different departments that help make the University run smoothly.  These include the University Registrar’s Office, Academic Success Center, Human Resources, and so on.

Besides being involved with the University, these departments all share one primary functional characteristic: if they wish to make a change to their technological processes, they must submit an approval request to do so through what is known as CAB, or the change approval board.

For Information Services, CAB means reviewing and approving changes and services for all things tech-related at the University level. This includes changes made through:

  • FlashLine

  • KSUMobile

  • OutSystems

  • Enterprise System Updates

  • Other Code Release

  • Network and Server Updates

  • Security and Infrastructure Updates

Information Services’ change approval motto sufficiently sums up CAB's role: Anything and everything goes before CAB.

An Outdated Process

Though it has historically made changes often, Information Services’s change approval board has not done so particularly efficiently.

Individuals manually voting on each and every potential change in physical meeting rooms has kept things democratic, but also painstakingly slow. Not to mention, there exists considerable redundancy in the process; Word documents, Excel sheets, and emails containing potential change information are all shared in a non-standardized method, making it easy to lose track of information and making analytical reporting very complex.

Another byproduct of this practice is, of course, decreased efficiency and productivity overall.

Thus, it became abundantly clear that a need for change was necessary, but how should (or could) a massive change like this be practically implemented?

Humble Beginnings

An answer was realized at this past spring’s Hackathon event, a two-day workshop where small groups of developers work together to craft proofs of concepts for innovations intended to either help improve existing products, explore new technology, or enhance internal communication and productivity.

Adam Esterle, a Senior Applications Developer, explains, “We came up with the Hackathon idea for an app that people can use to vote during the meetings instead of going around the room and voting one at a time for every decision, since that becomes really convoluted and time-consuming.”

“The basic idea was there, and it helped us to present it to the board for them to see there’s real potential to flesh it out into a full project.”

A prototype-based approach to development allowed for a mockup design for a CAB application. A solid foundation for what would later become a finished product was laid down, including a mockup design (that has since changed) as well as the voting element to make changes--all within a dashboard interface developed by RaviTeja Bandaru, an Associate User Experience Designer.

“The basic idea was there," says Esterle, "and it helped us to present it to the board for them to see there’s real potential to flesh it out into a full project.”

In fact, a panel of Executive Directors had so much faith in Esterle’s team’s proof-of-concept that they awarded it first place out of five teams at Hackathon.

Can This Change Really be Made?

But in the aftermath of Hackathon, Esterle and the rest of his team was left wondering: would anything ever become of this proof-of-concept, and if so, how would it be carried out?

A major concern was whether the team would have the resources (time, allocating people to work on the project) available to make this idea a reality.

But the CAB App development team now credits Sameer Jaleel as a leading reason this project was able to come to fruition.

Senior Applications Support Analyst, Amanda Kelley, says, “He’s been involved in CAB for years, so he knows exactly what we need from it.”

Indeed, in addition to working alongside SD&I’s development teams as the Interim Executive of Director of SD&I, Jaleel also serves as an Executive Director in CAB, making him the ideal candidate to help turn this concept into a full-fledged project.

"Sameer was our biggest advocate,” adds Esterle, “for seeing how well the Hackathon presentation went and then encouraging other people to get on board.”

The CAB App

The development team shares that about 1/3 of CAB app development was completed at the two-day Hackathon workshop, which helped guide the direction of the rest of the project.

But perhaps the most important lasting impact from Hackathon was the incorporation of agile development, which has since been an essential building block for the app’s development.

For instance, the team sought continuous feedback from Jaleel and Kelley every one to two weeks, sharing progress made to the app as it has evolved through its stages.

From there, Bandaru developed the UI look and feel, and Associate Developer, Mike Smith, brought the concepts to life by implementing them. In addition to working on both front end and back end development, Smith has managed all of the intricacies and fine tuning that are required for the app’s upkeep, including adding logging and additional custom fields.

Student Personnel Helped Shape The Project

The team also emphasizes the efforts made by student worker David Carlyn, who put forth several primary contributions to the project as it evolved.

In particular, Carlyn made huge functional changes to the CAB display window, which is the window that the committee sees when they are reviewing requests. Additionally, he developed the proxy system that allows other people to be ‘stand-ins’ and vote on behalf of committee members during their absence when CAB is in session.

Carlyn also worked alongside Smith in ascertaining project requirements as well as ironing out bugs and tweaks.

App Highlights

So with the team working together, the CAB application was able to come together.

The app introduces a new real-time voting system through an electronic form, which also features error checking, notifications, and automatic emails.

"When you start adding things like this,” Smith explains, “you cut out a lot of the red tape, so it expedites the change approval process; the important points of CAB are being amplified while the red tape around the points of CAB are being minimized and automated.”

"The important points of CAB are being amplified while the red tape around the points of CAB are being minimized and automated.”

Now the technology is taking control of the business logic, as opposed to CAB having to manually think, ‘Did they fill out this part or that part of the entry form?’, which is what makes those meetings so long.

"It’s essentially instantaneous now," says Esterle. "Everyone involved can vote simultaneously.”

 

Additionally, the CAB app:

  • Allowed for huge overhaul

  • Implemented software

  • Improved workflow

  • Increased efficiency, reduced headaches

More Time for...Saving More Time?

SD&I launched the CAB app division-wide in early July, and in its short lifespan thus far, it has already delivered on its promises.

"My job has been to review every single change made for CAB,” says Kelley, “so most weeks I spend so many hours through the week.”

But with the new CAB app, she estimates her time spent working on CAB-related issues has been cut by more than 50%--a figure that, as she explains, is nothing short of music to her ears.

So after the success of a massive project like this, what’s next?

Esterle and the team explain that they liked the short sprint development cycle so much that they would be interested in incorporating it not just at Hackathon, but possibly throughout the year.

A process championed by SD&I Leadership, Jaleel explains, “These short bursts allow us to quickly assess viability and abort if the viability is simply not there.”

So perhaps SD&I will incorporate more of these quick sprint workshops for future projects, and as a result, perhaps different areas of the University will be pleasantly surprised with what comes next...

But for now, no spoilers.