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Engineering group unlocks the creativity of University Technology Office minds with automation


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December 13, 2021

In today’s workplace, technological developments and a greater awareness of responsible innovation and inclusivity are taking on a radical new shape. To lead the way in this paradigm, the University Technology Office at Arizona State University has recently entered a new era of embracing the modern workforce, unleashed under the name of “UTO 2.1.” 

As part of this agile structure and way of working, UTO has reorganized and reprioritized its teams, their members and their work under four “cores” — these include Engineering, Products and Projects, Data and Analysis, and Service Delivery. The Engineering Core’s renewed approach to human-centered design is supported by its accompanying technical innovations.

Bringing digital transformation across ASU

The Engineering Core prioritizes the people practicing digital transformation as much as the people who benefit from it. Utilizing a “how we work” model, which is still nascent in higher education but has proven an exciting and effective development in private industry, advocates for diverse collaboration. Based in this model, Engineering has crafted maturity for “DevSecOps,” which is the constant development of IT operation at UTO and ASU. 

The DevSecOps framework facilitates the new ideas that the Engineering Core supports: “We are capturing an architecture for culture, orchestration and next-generation platforms that enable digital trust, digital equity and more, and these are the tangible outcomes of the transformation taking place within DevSecOps,” said Nathan Wilken, executive director of UTO Engineering.

Orchestrating digital infrastructure

A key outcome of the Engineering Core’s DevSecOps model involves freeing up the capabilities of UTO minds by furthering automation goals. So a solution to automate everyday manual tasks that take up time needed to be created to offer more creative opportunities for staff. Thus, the Engineering Core built an “orchestration platform” that supports the DevSecOps concept, which streamlines much of the development process for various products and services.

An orchestration platform automates the configuration, management and coordination of computer systems, applications and services, according to Red Hat. In other words, an orchestration platform streamlines, by removing time-consuming manual tasks, many of the processes involved with offering tools and software to the ASU community.

Before its integration, code was developed, passed off to various teams in a linear manner and finally deployed after a time-consuming process that often didn’t allow for agile pivots or inclusion of new features on the fly. However, this orchestration platform automatically accomplishes many tasks previously delegated to multiple teams, such as quality assurance and testing.

“Human error around design and deployment is eliminated so an individual does not carry the burden,” Wilken said. This doesn’t remove jobs, but improves them. “It lowers their (people’s) cognitive load and allows them more time to engage with stakeholders and customers, unlocking human potential instead of relegating them to undifferentiated heavy lifting.”

This new approach allows for teams to be built from different disciplines. Developers, DevOps engineers, systems administrators and more work together from the start of the process, rather than handing off to each other without much prior communication.

Applying creativity to the My ASU portal

An outcome of this process lies in My ASU, the portal through which everyone at ASU conducts their learning, teaching and working.

“My ASU is kind of special because there are so many (ASU colleges and units) who need changes made to support their processes throughout the year,” said Cat Harper, portfolio owner of student success and My ASU product owner.

“Now, we can meet the student life cycle.”

With the orchestration platform in play, three or four of Harper’s developer colleagues can work on separate pieces, which can be deployed when ready, rather than bundled into one release that requires much more time and coordination. 

For example, the Experience Center was receiving a number of calls related to financial aid. Working with the Financial Aid Office, Harper’s team was able to quickly design, develop and deploy a “pop-up” box of helpful articles to address questions about how to pay bills. And call traffic was reduced to the Experience Center, satisfactorily answering questions more quickly.

“I’m really proud of the team because they ask, ‘What is the value to students?’ and turn things around really quickly,” Harper said.

Looking to the future

My ASU developer Jason Harper provided an example of how this more agile process also allows for other, forward-thinking solutions.

“It’s a journey, and we’re still on it, to automate,” he said.

There are other products and processes that can be brought into the orchestration platform, not just My ASU.

“(The orchestration platform) has allowed us to set out on this journey while still supporting the university,” he said.

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