'AskShasta' Web site to open in fall
By Milton Lawson
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
Functioning in real time, the system will eventually direct people to
the right sources if questions aren't clearly answered online, Bradley
"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.