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Mon 20 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Digital campus

The American University of Kuwait wants to provide its students with 24/7 access to online resources via the new unified digital campus.

The educational, cultural and administrative methods of the American University of Kuwait (AUK) are based on the US model of higher learning. In order to meet the requirements of US academic institutions, the university has invested heavily in the automation of its student support services.

To ensure students have access to comprehensive online resources, AUK turned to SunGard SCT to create a unified digital campus in which systems, individuals and communities can interact seamlessly for learning, teaching and administration purposes. “24/7 accessibility is becoming a standard practice in the US; hence we wanted a solution that integrated our administrative and student services so that we were able to provide information to our students in a real time environment,” says Sean Dollman, dean of admissions and registrations at the American University of Kuwait.

As a new university, AUK began the deployment of its IT infrastructure from the ground up and selected SunGuard by a process of elimination, evaluating several solutions of which SunGuard’s Banner product was deemed the most suitable for the institution in terms of size and usability.

“The purchase of Banner incorporates a degree of redundancy at this point for our university, but we were planning for the future. Banner provides us with the type of communication capability that we need now and that we can continue to build on over the next ten years as we enrol more students – it is a long-term investment,” says Dollman.

The University purchased three different components of SunGuard’s SCT Banner product, comprising the Banner Student, finance and human resources (HR) modules, which were rolled out in a phased manner.

Since the university had to input all its applicants’ data onto the system prior to the first day of classes, the student portion went live in May 2004. Following that, the finance component, which manages external purchases and accounts receivable from student tuition, and the HR portion, used for managing staff and faculty hirings and personnel data and salaries, both went live at the end of last August in preparation for the start of term.

“The University assessed what functionalities were absolutely crucial in order for students to be able to register online, receive their mid-term and final grades and to do academic planning. We rolled out all these key components in the first semester, and we have enhanced those services in the second semester — we are still essentially in the rollout phase and plan to continue to add to and improve the solutions,” says Dollman.

The implementation was a collaboration between the university’s IT department and three SCT SunGuard consultants who were responsible for the Banner suites. The AUK team carried out all the programming, loading of the data and the manipulation and configuration of the software, under the guidance and leadership of a SCT consultant.

The project was carried out contrary to normal implementation procedure. Rather than putting the entire systems into production and then rolling to pre-production to carry out testing, each AUK team performed all the behind the scenes work in pre-production, going live as soon as the systems were rolled up to production. “In pre-production we installed data, including some test data that was delivered by SunGuard SCT that we used to test our configuration to [make sure] that we did not corrupt the original data. We performed a variety of tests to ensure that the arrangement was correctly constructed and that the necessary work flows were in place,” he adds.

From this point, each team went on to deploy its particular solutions slightly differently, depending on the specific requirements of the software components, and to enable the university to alter the various module specifications to fit its unique stipulations. The SCT consultants provided the AUK team with various example scenarios, enabling them to select appropriate operational solutions based on the university’s policies and procedures.

Due to the enormous pressure to get the Banner Student module up and running by the start for the academic year, the project managers found that the loading of student data, a procedure that would ordinarily take 18 months, would have to be managed in nine months. This may seem a daunting challenge, but deadline was met. “We were able to get it all done within the time partly because of the fact that we did not have any historical data, but also because the group worked late hours and weekends,” he says.

The input of all student and staff information necessary for the HR resources application had to be keyed manually, another arduous process for the deployment. The implementation of the financial module, however, proved far less time consuming as it was possible to input the entire capital budget through a process of automated spreadsheet upload, identifying budget columns and exporting them to new fields within the Banner programme.

It was integrating all these separate elements that was the issue that ultimately posed the greatest challenge for AUK, explains Dollman: “Banner made us think institutionally in terms of our decision making as opposed to operating as siloed departments. As it is an integrated system, any change we make in one department impacts records in another. We had to agree to common practices for the maintenance of common data sets — a shared template for inputting addresses and identifying students and a common way of searching for an individual student’s data. Now that all this is established, it has standardised many university practices.”

Since the university’s employees were already familiar with the technology, the only priority was acquainting the students with the new system. During its orientation session, the 530 new students had the opportunity to register for classes with the assistance of an academic advisor who walked them through the process.

The new system, which is running on an Oracle 9i platform, is now generating student and faculty data, which is stored on the main data frame. The university uses the data for determining the number of classrooms, faculty and resources that will be needed in the future. “The data helps the organisation to establish how many course sections it will need in the future so that it continue to provide students with the best possible education as the institution grows,” Dollman enthuses.

Furthermore, the academic institute intends to roll out new services that will enable students to perform their degree audit and graduation planning online. More course information and an online syllabus will also be available. According to Dollman, the aim is to provide added-value services as opposed to teaching the fundamental administration processes, thus allowing everyone to be more productive.

In addition, AUK has signed a further contract with SunGuard to purchase its Luminus portal, which will be rolled out later in the year. The solution will give students single sign-on access directly to all campus services with information tailored to the individual’s requirements. “The platform help provide our constituents with direct integration to all aspects of their university lives. Users can customise their digital campus through a personalised website, which gives them access to a greater variety of AUK services,” says Dr. Shafeeq Ghabra, president of the university.

A wireless campus connection will complete AUK’s digital campus environment. Students anywhere on campus will be able to have access to a wireless connection to the network, allowing them to register, search for courses and connect to the main library.

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