Blog Interview with a WebCenter Customer: Texas A&M

Texas A&M is one of the early adopters of Oracle WebCenter. Here is a brief interview with Sreeja Sreekumaran, the technical lead on the project.

Can you say a few words about yourself?
I am Sreeja Sreekumaran, the technical lead of Epik-Maestro, an integrated enterprise application developed by Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) Information Systems for enhancing the research experience of professors and research administrators of Texas A&M University System. I have been using Oracle technology for the past 12 years.

How did Texas A&M University System decide to use WebCenter for building the researcher portal?
Texas A&M system is comprised of 11 Universities, 7 State Agencies and a Health Science Center and so far this year we have $700 million in research activities & awards that we have to track and manage and that number keeps growing. We have several researchers doing research that spans multiple universities and agencies and our researchers are also traveling quite frequently, hence there is an increasing demand for collaboration and faster and efficient communication.

We were also looking for a system that would streamline the research administration process to make sure the researchers have all the information they need at their finger tips. Taking all these factors into consideration, WebCenter seemed like the obvious choice.

texasam-epikmaestro

Can you describe the site that you built?
The site, Epik-Maestro, is built using Oracle Application Development Framework (ADF) and Oracle WebCenter. We are actually working on a couple of projects in multiple phases - one externally facing and one internally facing. Within the externally facing site, external audiences can search for experts within Texas A&M University System based on the Advanced Keyword search, which allows users to find relevant experts quickly and easily when needed. Users can also read the latest research news and opportunities from Grants.gov.

For our internal audiences, we have built a Researcher portal, where researchers can get information on everything related to their accounts and projects - like balances with transactional drill downs fetched from different systems thru web services and Composer components that researchers can use to personalize their home pages based on the components relevant to them. They can also use Enterprise 2.0 services like blogs and wikis within the portal, which helps to improve collaboration and communication. In the Executive portal that is in the works, executives and Board of Regents will be able to see summaries based on Researcher, Organization, Sponsor and so on and that is built using ADF Data Visualization components. In Phase II of our project we plan to include more components of WebCenter like the Presence Server and People Connections.

Can you explain further of your use of Enterprise 2.0 services?
We are using multiple Enterprise 2.0 services within our deployments to improve collaboration and communication, such as wikis, blogs, discussion forums, RSS feeds and activity streams. We use wikis to stage content like meeting minutes and agendas and blogs for publishing and discussing research related information. Discussion forums allow researchers to post questions and collaborate with their fellow colleagues. Using the RSS viewer, it displays the RSS feeds that are provided by Grants.gov, which is where researchers can find and apply for federal grants.

The Document Library service displays images that are stored in Oracle Universal Content Management (UCM) and with Oracle Composer, users can easily personalize their home pages based on their needs and requirements. With the resource catalog, users are able to access information related to what requires their attention and what others are doing such as alerts of documents awaiting approval on their worklist, the new accounts that are added, project deliverables, and projects that are about to expire or have negative balance that need some action or attention.

What kind of assistance did you use to build the site? What was the learning experience?
We were one of the early adopters of WebCenter so staff-augmentation with Oracle partner Keste and Oracle expert Andrejus Baranovskis from Red Samurai Consulting helped us jump-start this project. Also, we were using Oracle Portal extensively, so we had the concept of portlets already. Learning ADF took us 3 months of reading and trying things out. The Developers Guide and Oracle and expert blogs also helped a lot to get us on track. We are still learning new things as we go!

What are the top 3 things you like about WebCenter, and the top 3 things you'd like to see improve?
Top 3 things I like:
1) Runtime customizations. The runtime customizations really saved a lot of development time on users' customizations, because these could be customized instantly.
2) Out-of-the-box integrations. The out-of-the-box integrations provided by WebCenter saved a lot of integration hassles, as we were able to get everything up and running quickly.
3) Standards-based portlets. The ability to integrate standards-based portlets helped for not having to re-do the work already done.

Top 3 things I'd like to see improve:
1) Client installations. When we have to roll out the site to multiple institutions/departments with different security policies, the client installations have proven to be cumbersome.
2) Mobile support. It would be great to have more support for mobile, since that is the latest trend and we have researchers traveling frequently.
3) Performance improvements. There is still room for performance improvements and enhancements.

Anything else you wanted to add?
We are excited about Oracle's endeavor in having one IDE (JDeveloper) where all the development can be done. Occasionally we run into bugs, but we see the effort from Oracle in improving the product on a daily basis. Kudos to everyone who put their brains together in making this happen!

To hear more from Sreeja, listen to a podcast. You can also read more about Texas A&M University Systems implementation in this customer snapshot and press release.

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Oracle WebCenter is the center of engagement for business—powering exceptional experiences for customers, partners, and employees. It connects people, process, and information with the most complete portfolio of portal, Web experience management, content, imaging and collaboration technologies.

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