Wednesday May 11, 2016

Technology First Leadership Awards

University of Dayton / Mikesells Snack Food Company

Kelly Sheedy
Courtney Cady
Clara Krajci
Paul Zagzebski

Describe the type of IT services that your student or student team provided. ex. programming, database administration.

The four students on UD MIS Senior Project team for Mikesells were tasked with a challenging, broadly scoped project. The Mikesells project centered on establishing a Mikesells intranet for use by all Mikesells employees. In order to complete this project the students had to apply the following MIS/business related skills:

Business Analysis (for requirements gathering)
Technical Aptitude (for researching viable software solutions)
Decision Making (for assessing the options for business functionality / software platforms and selecting the optimal choices)
Programming (applying the proper syntax and logic to the software platform)
Design/User Interface (designing the most appealing user interface “look and feel”)

Describe the project that was undertaken. What was done, for what purpose?

The Mikesells project for the UD MIS senior students was to establish the foundation of a Mikesells Intranet solution for all employees to utilize. The Mikesells employees needed a solution to enhance their productivity through the utilization of a web-based intranet portal to allow them to view their pay statements, view corporate policies online, disseminate companywide information/newsletters, access a corporate employee directory with pictures, etc.

However, this project was unusually large in scope as the students were challenged to address the entire life cycle of a project. This included defining the potential functionality of the intranet, prioritizing that functionality, identifying and assessing viable software platforms for the intranet, installing and configuring a fully functional prototype and then documenting the software components / configuration for Mikesells to support the solution at the completion of the project.

As part of the requirements definition, the students decided to take a two pronged approach. First they assessed many business intranet examples to gather ideas around best-in-class intranet features. Then they interviewed approximately 15 Mikesells employees including the CEO, CFO to gather their feedback on what capabilities that they would like to see in an intranet. Part of the students’ objective was to prioritize the business functionality based upon the impact to the organization. This included employee productivity, employee morale and tangible cost savings.

In parallel, the UD student team analyzed various potential software platforms for building the Mikesells intranet platform upon. They created an extensive spreadsheet comparison of not only the business feature capabilities and technical components, but also of the associated costs of the solutions. They then presented their recommendations for both the prioritized business features and the software platform to the Mikesells CEO, CIO and CFO. They received robust approval and enthusiastic endorsement of moving ahead with the prototype.

At that point the UD student team shifted their focus to establishing a working prototype. They partnered with the Mikesells cloud hosting partner, DataYard, to stand up the intranet base software. They did a great job working with a third-party, just like IT teams have to do in real world situations where collaboration with other organizations is essential to the success of an initiative.

And finally, the UD student team also began engaging another Mikesells partner, Smart Data Systems, for assistance with the actual configuration and integration of the functional software bolt-on products. This was another great example of a real-world situation where the core team did not have the expertise to address some key problem areas and therefore had to utilize external talent.

The bottom line is that this student team took the “bull by the horns” and tackled a large project with fantastic business results and an equally impactful and relevant real-world business experience.

Describe aspects of the undertaking such as challenges overcome or team collaboration.

The UDstudent team had several significant challenges that they successfully addressed as a team.  The first tough area that they had to address was in defining the wide open definition of what functionality to include in the intranet. They conducted extensive research into best practices for company intranets and then utilized that information as the foundation to conduct a series of employee interviews to be able to nail down the scope.

Another open item that the students had to resolve was around finding a solution to the hardware required to install the software. After discussion within our team, we agreed to target the Mikesells hosting partner, DataYard, but the students had to do the direct interaction with DataYard to actually install the software on the proper platform. They successfully partnered with the hosting partner to stand up the intranet software.

The final area that the UD students had to overcome was in resolving software issues with the base intranet software and targeted business functionality bolt-on products. As a result of a partnership with Smart Data Systems, the students were able to opportunely resolve the software configuration issues and implement the desired business functionality.

Describe the result of the project. As a collaborating company, what was the response to the work / project? How will this impact your company's efficiency and/or productivity?

The Mikesells intranet is not yet completed as the UD student team has a plan in place to complete a defined set of core business capabilities by the end of their last semester. However, they already have a working prototype fully operational with sample data loaded in for Mikesells including an employee directory and ability to view the CEO newsletter on the opening page. The Mikesells employees are very excited and pumped up about not only the productivity improvements resulting from this new intranet portal solution, but also about the positive experience that they have had in partnering with the UD students.

However, the most positive results from this project are probably two-fold:

The benefit to the students from such a relevant, real-world representative project that exposed them to so many different aspects of working on an important business initiative.

The positive impact to the Mikesells employees as a result of the enthusiasm, energy and excitement portrayed by the UD student team throughout the life of the project. It has been truly enjoyable for all of us on the Mikesells team that have been fortunate enough to be involved with the project and had the opportunity to get to know these top-notch students.

Emerging Tech Leader from Paul Miller on Vimeo.

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