Featured Topics Education Series: Communication Setup in Campus Solutions - Sub Templates

Title: Communications Setup in Campus Solutions - Sub Templates
Author: Marije Bottinga, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Blog Series Overview:
The Featured Topics Education Blog Series is sponsored and hosted by the HEUG Campus Community Advisory Group, with the intention to assist and educate the user community about featured topics of interest to the community.  To view other articles in the series, please go to the Article Index for the Featured Topics Blog Series.

Article Overview:
This article uses case studies from the University of Amsterdam to overview the advantages and intricacies of using sub templates in your Campus Solutions communications setup.

Article:

Why Sub Templates?

The quick answer is, because it’s easy, and it saves you time.  Often, you’ll have pieces of text that you would like to re-use in other emails or letters, and if there are changes in that text, it is likely that those changes will also be required to be reflected in all emails that contain that text.  So, using sub templates allow you to easily edit and globally manage changes to text in one place, as opposed to many.

For example, attributes such as: contact details, instructions on how to submit an objection, signatures, and logos are the sorts of things you would like to re-use in different letter codes, but if you need to adjust this information, it can be onerous to individually modify them in every communication template in which they reside, but using sub templates to store these attributes, provides a method where you can update this data in one place and it will be reflected in all your letter codes, without adjusting each letter code separately.

What happened in Amsterdam

The Campus Solutions product provides a sub template functionality which is very intuitive and user friendly. Let me start by explaining why the University of Amsterdam began using sub templates.  Before we started using sub templates, minor changes to our communications setup was often very time consuming.  One day we got the request to change the complimentary close in our letters from ‘yours sincerely’ to ‘kind regards’. We have about 60 letter codes every academic year, and they are in two languages, requiring us to maintain 2 templates for each letter code (I will explain about multi language in another blog). Fortunately, in this instance, we had to adjust ‘just’ 60 templates, because the change was only in the English template.

Then, a few months later we were informed that we had to make another change to all of our letter code templates – this time change the signatures on all communications. At this time, each of our 60 letter codes were signed by the head of the central student administration and our executive board.  As the head of the central student administration was retiring, it was decided that the name of the director of the administrative center should be on the letters as a temporary measure – this would be the first signature change.  There would be a new head of the central student administration for about a year – requiring a second signature change - and then there was the possibility that someone new could be hired after that on a permanent basis (or at least for a longer time) – requiring a third signature change.  Now, think of the 60 letter codes with a Dutch and English template - that is 120 templates, times 3 changes, totaling 360 changes. Since we had to adjust all the signatures within quite a short time frame, we had to think of a smarter way to make adjusting the signatures less time consuming and onerous, so we started to investigate the use of sub templates.

How Does It Work?

After we got the announcement of the signature changes, we decided to make use of the sub template functionality for all standard texts going forward. As it turned out, the sub template functionality was very straightforward and easier to use than we had thought.

All you need to do is upload an rtf file with a list of the text segments that you would like to re-use, and in this case, we started with signatures.  To avoid confusion, since Campus Solution will name both files as ‘template,’ we decided to clearly state in the template name that the rtf is a sub template. Our aim being to try and avoid confusion from the duplicate ‘templates’ and the twinned rtf file extension.

The sub template rtf is stored in your ‘content library’ in Campus Solutions and your letter code rtf will start with a piece of code that refers to the sub template id that you want to use. Then, within the sub template ID, all your sub template rtfs will be identified, and Campus Solutions will determine which version is relevant.

In your letter code rtf itself, you will not see the text that resides in the sub template, instead, you will see a gray field that will call a certain text segment from your sub template rtf. Campus Solutions then dynamically calls the sub template and prints the information, residing in the sub template, in the location that the sub template is referenced in the main template.

The Requirements of Using Sub Templates

There are only a few requirements that a sub template rtf needs to meet, including:

  • Every text segment should have a unique name
  • All text segments need a beginning and an end

The Benefits of Using Sub Templates

Sub templates offer many benefits including:

  • The sub templates use versioning
  • The sub template rtf does not depend on an administrative function or communication context
  • You can use the same layout options as in your letter code templates (font, size, bold, color, etc)
  • You can insert many attributes, such as: URLs, fields, and images (for instance actual handwritten signatures)
  • You can adjust margins
  • You can add multiple segments
  • You can have multiple languages in one sub template rtf (simply use unique names for this)
  • Every text that does not have a beginning and an end will not show up in your letter code rtfs, so you can add headers to categorize your texts or you can add instructions
  • You can store versions with different effective dates, so you can easily add a version with an effective date in the future (when you need a new name in your signatures starting from a certain date)
  • Your emails will have a more standardized look and feel

As an aside, while it is a one-time investment to design this the first time, the thing that was the most time consuming was gathering all the versions of signatures and determining the ideal format.  To do this, we set up a meeting with our communication department, and that was very useful for us, as we determined that we could trim down the number of signature variations to just a handful. In the end, it saved us a lot of time because we didn’t need to add as many signatures as we first thought and once there was a clear overview of all the signatures and texts, it was very easy and straight forward to get started.

Example for Creating Attributes of Sub Template RTFs

Adding text segments:

Let’s say you are making a sub template rtf containing the signature of your manager and you have a couple of signature formats: plain text for e-mail, text with a picture of the autograph for email, a formal text for email, and one with different margins to put on a letter.

Start by making a list of all the formats of signature you have. If they have unique names it will work, but to help, I always sort these texts in a logical order. For instance: first all the signatures, then all the instructions about objections etc. That way you can easily find the correct text and you do not need to scroll through the entire document. Let’s say all signatures need to be adjusted, I want to be certain I have all the signatures identified at once, and that there aren’t any other signatures on another page in the rtf.

The easiest way to start with this document is to not start with the official text segments, but the name of the text. That way it’s very easy to recognize the correct text in your output, especially when all the text segments are quite similar. So you can just use the text ‘formal signature, with picture’. You can change the texts later on.

Unique names:

Now that you have all the text segments, give them unique names. Since you can make up your own name format, think of something that works for your institution and that is future proof. For instance, we have things like ‘SIGNATURE_CSA_PICT’ (central student administration with picture), ‘SIGNATURE_CSA_ATTACH’ (signature for attachment, attachments have different margins), ‘SIGNATURE_EB_TEXT’ (signature executive board, text without a picture).

Think of names that are easy to recognize in your letter code rtfs, and that allow you to have multiple variations.

Beginnings and ends:

Once you have unique names for all your text segments, you can write the ‘beginnings’ and ‘ends’ for each text segment.

Beginning: <?template:{unique name}?> (for example: <?template: SIGNATURE_CSA_PICT?>)

End: <?end template?> (The ‘end’ does not contain the unique name)

Every ‘enter’ in your text segment is an enter in your output. So, you can start the text directly after the ‘beginning’, and add the ‘end’ directly after the last sentence.

Organizing your Sub Template rtf:

I always start by make the beginnings and ends bold and colored in the text. The format of this code will not show up in your email, so the beginnings and ends in my sub template rtf are bold and blue. But the actual signature has a normal layout. That way you can easily see if you have all the beginnings and ends and unique names, and what your actual text is.

You can also add chapters/title, because any text that does not have a beginning and an end will not show up in the output. So you can make chapters like ‘signatures student administration’ or ‘signatures executive board’. You can even write some instructions (like ‘please don’t change the margins of this document’).

Just organize your file in such a way that it works for you. Your department has to work with this file, so it has to be clear to you.

Versioning:

Name your template the same name as you will call your sub template id and add ‘v1.0’. every time you have an adjustment update your version number. It will save you a lot of time when you need to restore files.

Setup in Campus Solutions

Upload your sub template rtf:

Now that you have your sub template rtf, you can store it in Campus Solutions.

In campus solutions, go to main menu >> reporting tools >> BI Publisher >> Content Library and ‘add a new value’. Use a name that works within the name convention within your institution. For instance: GEN_STD_TEXT (general standard text). Fill in the language, report category ID (alluser) and owner ID (peopletools).

Upload your sub template rtf and put your first effective date on 1-1-1900, because all communication works better if you start at 1-1-1900.

If you have new versions you can upload them here, and you can even choose an effective date in the future. You will also see the file name, so that way you can easily see what version you are using.

Implement the sub template in your letter code rtf:

In your letter code rtf, you need to refer to the sub template ID in order to select the text segments. You can refer to the content library in Campus Solutions or to a file on a network or external drive. You use the file on your network / external drive when you are testing your template directly from BI Publisher, and you use the content library if you use commgen to test your template.

At the top of your letter code rtf add a field, and use form field text:

For campus solutions content library: <?import:psxmlp:// GEN_STD_TEXT?>

in this example GEN_STD_TEXT is your sub template ID, so use your own sub template ID here.

 

For a file on an network / external drive: <?import:file:///G:/(series of folder names)/ GEN_STD_TEXT_v1.0.rtf?>

where GEN_STD_TEXT_V1.0.rtf is the name of your sub template rtf and G: is your network / external drive.

 

I have a file with both the fields and I stored them in a document. Each field has a bright color, so I can easily recognize whether I’m referring to the correct location when I’m hoovering my cursor over the rtf files from my task bar.

Now the sub template rtf is called, but you still need to select the correct text segment and put it in the correct location in your letter code rtf.

Testing:

The easiest way is to test from BI Publisher first. Make sure you have the correct file name and folder path in your field. If you see you need to adjust margins, adjust the sub template rtf, save, and test again.

If everything works as planned, upload the correct sub template rtf to your content library. In your letter code rtf, change the field that calls the template to the one that refers to your campus solutions content library and test again using commgen.

Debugging:

Now you might run into something strange while testing, or you might have a bunch of text segments in your sub template rtf that really look alike, and you are not sure which one is selected. Simply copy your sub template rtf and add numbers to each text segment. The text in the first signature starts with ‘1’, the second with ‘2’, and so on. Now upload this version into your content library and test again. You will easily be able to recognize which text segment is selected.

Another issue might be that your margins look correct in your sub template rtf but they look funny in your e-mail preview. Change the margins and write the margin in your text segment, save, and preview again. You can easily see what the correct margin is.

When setting up the sub template configuration, I tested with text segments that would just state the unique name. That way you can determine what the text segment is called. When I was absolutely sure that everything worked as it should, then I changed the text segments to the official signatures.

Don’t forget to make sure you keep your version numbers up to date to easily undo failed templates.

Production:

Now that you’ve tested your sub template rtf and your letter code rtf’s through and through, you can put them into production.

Add the sub template ID and attach the correct sub template rtf on 1-1-1900. Update the templates of your letter codes. Use the online preview option in commgen to check whether everything works correctly in production.

Maintenance:

If your sub template file needs any updates, you can simply adjust the file and save it with a new version number. For instance: if an existing signature needs to be changed, you can just update the text segment and keep the unique name. In all communications that use this text segment, you will see the updated version. If you have a new type of signature, create a new unique name and add the signature to your existing list of signatures. And always test your new sub template rtf.

The reason we use sub templates is because it saves us time. So when our sub template rtf needs updates we need to be able to find everything quickly.

Our top tips to stay organized:

  • Be clear in your version numbers
  • In our overview of letter codes we add the type of signature and we’ve also added the most recent version of the sub template rtf (production and acceptation)
  • Make a ‘cheat sheet’ with the field that refers to the sub template rtf in campus solutions, and the field that refers to the sub template rtf on your network drive. I’ve marked the field that refers to the network drive in a very bright color, so you cannot forget to restore your field before you upload your letter code rtf in campus solutions. You can copy-paste these fields into other letter code rtfs.
  • Also, put one signature field in your ‘cheat-sheet’ file that you can adjust to other signatures. That way you can always copy-paste the correct type of field, you simply need to adjust it to the correct one.
  • We have multiple batches during the day that send out communication. If you view a communication in campus solutions, it will assemble the correct e-mail with the correct text from your sub template rtf. To make sure the correct version is visible in your previews, always use the effective date of tomorrow when you add a new version of your sub template rtf.
  • Never delete sub template rtf versions that have been used in production. Campus solutions will assemble each preview and you will see signatures or text segments that were not in the original e-mail.

References:
Understanding The Communication Generation Process -
https://docs.oracle.com/cd/E56917_01/cs9pbr4/eng/cs/lscc/task_UsingtheCommunicationGenerationProcess-6d7fb5.html#topofpage

 

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