DCE-Web Applications
Make the Grade at Penn State

By David Fowler
VP, Sales and Marketing
Gradient Technologies

It's late on a Sunday evening when a Penn State junior wraps up a phone conversation with his parents. The conversation centered around his life after graduation. It got him thinking about his major and course selections for next semester. If only he could reach an academic advisor right away.

He can. Penn State University is easing concerns about career paths and curriculum choices with a progressive academic advising system. The University's 72,000 students will soon have a new way to "meet" advisors and monitor academic progress using the Web.

While Penn State has always had a basic campus network to help students choose courses and track requirements, a new campus Intranet is extending access to student records using a PC and a Web browser for access at any time, from any place. Students can now add and drop classes, track degree requirements, and explore different majors via the Intranet. In the not-so-distant-future, faculty will be able to coordinate and approve research grants across multiple universities simultaneously via the Internet, and electronic commerce will become a reality.

The need for secure
Web-based applications

Universities are constantly challenged by students, parents and the government to be more responsive and efficient, offering higher quality services at lower prices. Web-based computing addresses these challenges. "Mainframe technologies reinforce existing business processes, but Web-based applications help us do business in an entirely new way," said Ken Blythe, Director, Office of Administrative Systems at Penn State University. Last year, Penn State administrators agreed to integrate the Web into all technology initiatives, but data security was a concern. Without improved Web-based data security, users could not tap into their individual confidential records via the Internet. "Penn State needs to run mission-critical applications and be assured they are secure. WebCrusader offers the missing security piece to help us to improve student services via the Web," Blythe said.

Web-based decision making

Penn State is using DCE-Web-based WebCrusader to build Intranets, or World Wide Web sites for inter-university use, to expand the scope and reach of student services. Using Gradient Technologies' WebCrusader software for desktop-to-data security, Penn State officials will ensure Intranet transactions are secure and reliable. Besides adding/dropping courses and tracking curriculum requirements, the University Intranet helps students make other critical decisions. For example, if a student changes degree tracks, he simply points, clicks and navigates through a series of Web pages to determine which completed courses count towards his new major, and what new requirements he must fulfill. "Web-based advising won't take the place of face-to-face meetings with faculty advisors, but it offers students a more comprehensive means for monitoring progress, planning their futures and making well-informed decisions," Blythe said.

Web applications in-the-works

The University's WebCrusader advising applications debuted this fall. Other plans for Web computing include research administration over the Internet, which will allow faculty members to prepare research proposals for private industry and government agencies using the Web. The Internet will allow professors at other universities to review the proposal simultaneously, speeding up the sometimes lengthy proposal process.

Penn State also plans to develop electronic commerce applications using WebCrusader. For example, a Web-based purchasing application will allow a professor to read a Fisher Scientific or Office Depot on-line catalog and order products right from a desktop PC. The purchasing department will receive the invoice, and the faculty member will receive their order promptly. "The Web will help the University reduce costs and operate efficiently. By streamlining the way the University works, we can remain viable in adverse economic times," Blythe said.

What is WebCrusader

A new computing paradigm is being created as network computing moves to the Internet. The World Wide Web, accessed with standard, inexpensive, and intuitive Web browsers, offers an attractive and cost-effective alternative to proprietary software and the powerful hardware required to run it. Based on Web-DCE technology, and developed in conjunction with Gradient Technologies and The Open Group's Research Institute, the WebCrusader product family builds a foundation that extends existing client/server applications to the Web with a level of security unmatched by any other technology in the industry. They make the Web a truly viable medium for communicating information securely and cost-effectively within and between enterprises.