Yale relies on outside providers for tech

A number of Yale admissions and employment websites are owned by outside providers. Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said the school used an outside online reviewing process for applications for all its programs for the first time last year.
A number of Yale admissions and employment websites are owned by outside providers. Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said the school used an outside online reviewing process for applications for all its programs for the first time last year. Photo by YDN.

Google Apps for Education, which is slated to go live for students and staff over the course of this academic year, is not the only external electronic platform upon which Yale relies.

Many websites for admissions and employment are owned by outside providers, said Chuck Powell, associate chief information officer for Information Technology Services. Powell said ITS compares the cost of purchasing a new product from an independent vendor to what it would cost Yale to build a similar product. In the last 20 years, Powell said, ITS has increasingly relied on outside vendors to provide better products at reasonable costs — and often, ITS can find an open-source product to meet its needs at no cost to the University.

“In many cases we had local, customized software that we wrote that we’ve, in some sense, replaced by commercially provided products,” Powell said. “We find it far more efficient to work with a vendor.”

Yale’s human resources department uses a product called STARS — a platform that allows job applicants to apply for University jobs online. Staff can also shop for equipment and other work supplies online using a program called SciQuest, which provides discounts to Yale affiliates, Powell added.

Powell said he expects the University to continue to outsource more online applications in the future.

“We will always take a hard look at whether or not we could simply get this service from somewhere else,” he said.

The Graduate School used the online reviewing process for applications for all its programs for the first time last year, said Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard in an email Thursday. Director of Graduate Admissions Robert Colonna said that some programs have relied upon ApplyYourself Recruiting for online admissions since 2003.

“Putting together something as complicated as an admissions system was beyond the capacity of Yale,” he said.

The Graduate School is able to communicate with applicants via the vendor’s site, Colonna added. Faculty in several graduate programs have been able to review applications online for the past three years, he said, and all graduate programs reviewed applications online using the program last year. They will do so again this year.

Pollard and Colonna both said they are comfortable with the security the vendor provides. Colonna added that some business schools using ApplyYourself experienced a breach roughly five years ago, but he said the breach did not involve applicant data.

“Some industrious applicants were able to learn of their admissions decision before the date the decision was to be released,” Colonna said in an email Thursday.

ITS carefully considers information security when it decides to outsource a service, Powell said. Any application — whether ITS builds it or purchases it from another vendor — is put through a rigorous security design review that assesses the ways in which the product could compromise University security. The process helps the University develop contracts that require outside programmers to honor Yale users’ privacy, Powell said.

Michael Fischer, a computer science professor who specializes in information security and cryptography, has been a vocal opponent of Yale’s decision to outsource its email service to Google Apps for Education. Fischer said he is also skeptical of other outsourced services out of concerns for Yale affiliates’ security.

Fisher said he would like to see a more thorough examination of the type of information that the University outsources to other websites and service providers. The value of this information, Fischer said, should not exceed the financial bribe a company insider would ask before releasing said data, plus the salary the insider risks if he or she were to be caught.

“We all know how to break into a confidential database,” Fischer said. “You get an insider to do the job for you, and you pay him for his dishonesty.”

But ITS and Graduate School officials said the benefits of outsourcing services outweigh security concerns — but both the Graduate School and School of Music have yet to outsource email to a third-party service.

For concert emails, the School of Music switched from a Yale system to a vendor called WordFly last spring, said Dana Astmann, manager of concerts and public relations.

WordFly was a more effective option for the school, Astmann said, because the program interfaces with the Tessitura software the school uses to manage its box offices, development and marketing.

Astmann added that the School of Drama, the Yale Repertory Theatre, the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art also use this software, which allows schools to track which emails are opened and how many people click through them. The software also allows the user to modify the HTML code directly, she said.

Most internal emails, she added, are not outsourced. The School of Music creates the content of all emails itself, she said, and the school does not outsource marketing plans.

In 2010, the School of Music became the first music institution in the country to use a new digital portfolio system called Digication, which the Drama School has also used. The system relies upon a centralized Yale directory that directs users to personal student pages on the school’s website. These pages display students’ work and concert recordings, sheet music, videos, photos and Twitter feeds, as well as their research interests and resumes.

Digication was founded at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2002.

Comments

  • River_Tam

    Why does Professor Fischer think that Yale admins are more trustworthy than the admins of the companies Yale would be outsourcing to?