Wednesday, February 13, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 92


'AskShasta' Web site to open in fall

By Milton Lawson
News Reporter

An intelligent question-answering Internet service similar to AskJeeves will be added to the UH Web site, and a contract is expected to be awarded within two weeks to the vendor who will help develop the system, senior information technology department managers said.

The project is planned for launch at the beginning of Fall 2002, said Betty Ross, associate vice president of Technology Support Services.

The vendor, the name of which will be withheld until the contract is finalized, is "a service provider with many credible government agencies as clients," Ross said.

The system will be similar to customer relationship management systems, but more focused on questions, said James Bradley, manager of Information Services.

Functioning in real time, the system will eventually direct people to the right sources if questions aren't clearly answered online, Bradley said.

"It will provide meaningful changes in how easily users navigate and find information," Ross said.

The unnamed project has been jokingly referred to as "AskShasta," Ross said. "Maybe we'll have a name-that-site contest."

Initial answers to users' questions will be seeded into the system from a sampling of typical users, Bradley said.

The service will initially focus on three units: enrollment management, financial aid and IT support, Ross said.

Bradley said he expects the limited three-unit scope of the service to be temporary. "I'm confident other departments will see the value of the service, and it will grow," he said.

Diane Trippel, UH Web services administrator, said she leads the team that tests Web sites at the campus' central computing facility. In these tests, a group of users are given tasks to perform while monitored by skilled observers and video equipment, Trippel said.

Ross said it is critical to do such tests prior to the "AskShasta" project's launch. "We cannot believe that we're so knowledgeable in IT that every expectation of ours will be in sync with users' expectations," Ross said.

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