Our Conversation with HIS GmbH

On June 21st, 2013, I took a trip to beautiful and historic,Our Interviewer and Interviewies Hannover, Germany to visit the offices of Higher Education Information System GmbH (HIS), longtime Astah users. I wanted to learn a little more about the operations of HIS and how they have utilized Astah.

HIS provides German institutions with integrated "Campus Management Systems", solutions that seek to improve educational institutions by leveraging: information technology, education research, and development focusing in the areas of organization, construction, and building.
Download this case study as a PDF.

Kenji

Hello Jan and Britta, I've been looking forward to meeting with you. We have been pleased to have an influential institute like HIS GmbH, as an Astah user for such a long time.

Jan

Hello Kenji, nice to meet you too.

Britta

We're very happy to welcome you to Germany.

Kenji

Very happy to be here, let's get started! Could you give us an overview of HIS GmbH? A little on how your company works and who your customers are?

Jan

HIS GmbH was founded as a non-profit organization in 1969 and is jointly owned by the Federal Republic and the 16 German states. The company is divided into three divisions, IT for Higher Education, Research on Higher Education, and Higher Education Development. This figure will give you an idea of who each department works with.

Kenji

As I understand it, you develop Campus Management Systems with these users in mind. HISinOne, is one of those systems, could you describe it?

Britta

HISinOne is the name of the integrated higher education administration system that we've developed. Most of the German universities, universities of applied sciences and colleges of education, theology and art have used the previous generation of HIS-software since the mid-1990s.

The current software generation called HISinOne meets new IT standards and uses a holistic approach: It is technically and functionally integrated, and is a completely web-based solution with a service-oriented architecture, which is independent from platforms and operating systems. HISinOne supports all major processes and structures at universities of any size and of any type of organization.

The Campus Management segment in HISinOne covers the student lifecycle and accompanies every process from application to alumni management. The student lifecycle starts with the prospective student's application for a course of study (product area Application: "APP"). It proceeds with the administration of students and PhD students (product area Student management: "STU"). There is a comprehensive product area addressing the administration of courses of study, academic classes, and examinations ("EXA"). Once the student graduates from the university after his exam, he becomes an alumnus. The product area Alumni management ("ALU") addresses all issues of alumni management.

Kenji

Sounds like there a lot of functionality built into these systems.

When you take a step back from the specifics, what are some of the direct advantages of for institutions using HISinOne?

Britta

The purpose of this concept is to make information available for all stakeholders anywhere at any time. All objects are entered once and stored centrally in one common database. A consistent role and rights concept ensures that all users have access to data and services according to their requirements.

HISinOne digitizes the whole process of application and enrollment, manages examinations, grades and certificates, and interconnects with common e-learning systems. As a result, the system enables smooth communication and data sharing between all stakeholders. Additionally, HISinOne is compliant with the European Bologna Reform requirements; e. g. the examination management is explicitly designed to handle modularized courses of study.

With HISinOne, we design process standards for higher education institutions, with several variants due to software customization for each university.

Kenji

So you customize your software to meet each university's needs. Generally speaking, how do you do this?

Jan

We developed a reference process model, which describes all processes in our software. We have five levels with different views. This diagram gives you a look at them, Level 1 is the global view. As we move to level 5 there are more detailed descriptions.

With this model we are able to carry out a process design, as shown in this illustration, with university processes on the one hand and the HISinOne processes on the other hand.

Kenji

How does it work in practice?

Jan

In the first step we analyze the actual processes and compare them with our reference model. In the next step, all deviations and the specific needs of the higher education institution are described in the target process of the university.

Kenji

Could you show me some examples?

Jan

I can explain it with some screenshots of models in Astah.

This first figure shows a sample reference process. In the next figure we added the deviations and specific needs.

Action 1 is done by another actor. To visualize this we added a new action and changed the color. We always want to see, what our reference is and which process parts are changed.

We can see Action 4 is part of the reference, but not needed by the customer, and Action 5 is completely new and must be described in detail.

Kenji

I can see how this would help, and you use Astah to make these reference models?

Jan

Yes, exactly.

Kenji

There are quite a few packages in this model. How many business models do you have for HISinOne?

Jan

We currently have about 200 business models and about 900 system use cases in our model. And there are continually more!

Kenji

Wow, and you also integrate your testing for the features with Astah models?

Britta

Yes, it also is the basic structure for our quality test system. Through this we can assure each software-function is tested. It also provides the test framework for process chains. Most tests cases can be automated and are also the reference for integration tests. Within the Astah reference model, the test cases are transparent to the customers. So they can replicate our test cases.

Kenji

I see. What are the merits of using Astah in your business? How is it helping you?

Jan

The potential benefits for us and our customers are: transparency of processes on both sides, reducing complexity by thinking in layers, a simplified communication in the projects and across projects, thus an increased comparability of results can be achieved.

Kenji

Great. Now I'm curious as to how you found Astah in the first place? Were there other tools that you compared to Astah? If so what precisely led you to choose Astah?

Britta

We had four main reasons;

First off there was the free community version. Easy access for all participants, in particular the higher education staff, was another big draw. Also Astah has very fair pricing with affordable licensing, and the possibility of a faculty license. Lastly the Reference Model function is really very easy to use.

Kenji

Excellent! Our technical support team has mentioned that they communicate with your team often about the API. Do you write your own Plug-ins?

Britta

Yes, we have a lot of special plug-ins, which support us in our daily work with the reference model. For example, we can easily check the compliance to our modeling guidelines, missing links or inconsistencies in modeling and logic. Also gaps between the reference model and the functional range of HISinOne can be detected. Additionally, the mapping to the test cases can be done automatically. Due to the fast and professional technical support of Astah we are very well supported in the development of our custom plugins.

Kenji

Our team really seems to enjoy working with you. Is there any additional functionality you can suggest for Astah?

Jan

There are still some areas, where we would like a further development of Astah. For example an extension of Astah Share to aid with teamwork would be great.

We often work together with different colleagues and customers, who read, comment or develop our business use cases. Therefore, we have a need for collaboratively working with: companywide reading access and commenting, process design, process documentation, and approval workflows.

Kenji

Thanks for the feedback. Those are some important concepts and ones that we can definitely try to help you with.

One last question, you have a definite drive to set a standard process models in the higher educational institutions, where does your passion come from and how does it define HIS's goals?

Jan

The vision to establish standard software that supports the basic processes of the universities in terms of good practices. This gives the universities more cost effective software compared to an individual solution. In addition, process improvement is enabled. Administrative procedures are simplified and standardized, which improves data quality and data exchange.

Kenji

That's compelling way to put it. Thanks again for meeting with me, and also for being such faithful Astah users.

Jan

Of course, and thank you for coming to Germany and meeting with us.

Britta

Yes, thank you as well.