Studying for IT Success

A Saudi University believes its new online portal will be the ideal information gateway for all its users.

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By  Sherief Younis Published  February 1, 2007

|~|Nadeem-Web.jpg|~|Nadeem: The new system is extremely important because it provides the gateway into the university.|~|King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals wanted to provide a reliable service and easy access to all its users in an effort to realise its vision for being a front-runner in Saudi education.

With aspirations to create a unified digital campus, the university selected SunGard Higher Education’s Luminis platform to create an accessible gateway for students, faculty and staff alike.

“We are implementing a large project called RAED and we have several projects inside it. One of them is the Luminis portal, which has been integrated with the Oracle E-Business suite, and we have services like student financial aid, admissions and registration in the pipeline,” states Iftikhar Nadeem, RAED project manager, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.

“We have so many systems in place currently, but our main platforms right now are Linux and Oracle. For our databases and applications we have Oracle E-Business suite and we have a Sungard student system in place,” he continues.

Matthew Boice, general manager, Middle East and Africa SunGard higher education, says: “Just looking after administrative processes is a challenge. Some universities have as many as 60,000 students - that’s like running a city. You’re running housing services, sports services, classes, looking after student welfare and medical needs.

“It’s a great foundation for the digital campus; you get the core student administrative processes right in the middle of that digital campus and use that solid base of processes and start to drive out, connecting other aspects of the campus together,” he states.

With approximately 10,000 students enrolling each year, it was a necessity to streamline student and departmental processes to ensure the university was organised and prepared to satisfy its students’ best interests.

Nadeem explains: “The decision to implement the system was very important because it provides the gateway into our university. We wanted to unify all access to the entire university system because we have different technologies and different systems and we wanted people to give single sign on based on their roles.

“Broadly we have three major roles at the university; either you’re faculty, you’re staff or you’re a student. With the portal login the faculty sees a different page, which has different channels in Luminis language. The staff have their channels, the students have their channels and there are some common channels as well.”

||**||Regional Projects|~|Boice-Web1.jpg|~|Boice: University requirements are a great foundation for creating a successful and unified digital campus.|~|Part of a SunGard initiative across the region to encourage e-learning, the university worked in conjunction with the software solutions provider on the RAED project.

With a focus on modernising the university’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, providing a single point for information and managing the lifecycle of students, from the initial point of contact with the university through to alumni status, the university is one of many in the region working with SunGard.

“There are certainly some huge flagship projects we’re involved in; a project with a UAE University in Al Ain, called IBIS, a project with the University of Qatar in September called Al Sajal and a project with the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran. A lot of projects get announced in the region and not all deliver on their initial promise,” says Boice.

King Fahd University faced no such problems, despite the Luminis implementation being the first of its kind in the region. Minor teething problems were overcome in a matter of days and the implementation process was completed on schedule with the Luminis solution going live, on time, at the beginning of this year.

“This was really the first type of implementation in the region and it took around three to four months. There were some issues with logon but that was taken care of in a few days but now it’s up and running and was delivered on schedule. The Luminis portal went live on January 6th 2007 when the university opened so we were operational from day one,” explains Nadeem.

Relying on SunGard Higher Education’s integration technologies as the main platform, integration costs were minimised while the Luminis Platform provides students with single sign-on access to learning resources, library and administrative services through an online portal for students, faculty and staff to use.

The university migrated the current student system, which increased access to timely and reliable information - boosting the accountability of university services and the integrity of processes – and allowed users and departments to achieve internal obligations through enhancing student administration capabilities.

“It’s important to bring the whole university to a common platform on the front end. Other functions performed by portals these days are very important so with all those information channels, business channels and e-mail notification, there are 70-plus channels.

"It’s up to the user to decide which channels they want to keep in front of them and select any channels they don’t want to be removed,” he says.

On a managerial level, the solution will enable more accurate information to support decision making through improved reporting capabilities and availability of strategic management information. Utilising a single portal and role-based, sign-on for the three different roles at the university has also improved access to information.

Ease of integration with the university’s existing systems was a significant factor. Despite compatibility with the Oracle solution, SunGard catered for the university’s specific needs, providing an attractive out-of-box capability that proved to be the driving force behind the final decision.

“Luminis had some out of box integration with other Sungard solutions, which are our main solutions, like student and financial aid and alumni. We could have gone for Oracle, or a third party portal, but since this portal is bringing in out of box, ready made channels for students and faculty, we thought it was more useful for us,” Nadeem explains.

Nadeem believes that the return on investment (ROI) is directly proportional to system usage and motivating users to use the system. As users become familiar with the functions, confidence in the portal will increase and provide a larger ROI.

“We are seeing a good ROI and we expect to see more because our ROI is dependent on our ability to use the system. We are focusing on that because we believe the value of any database or system is directly proportional to our ability to use it. Confidence and motivation are very important,” he says.

Plans to improve the service are underway with the university looking towards improving the portals functionality as a result of its new business intelligence solution.

“We plan to enhance it further and this will happen when our other system is up and running. Our business intelligence is going live shortly, so there will be more channels and more functionality available to the front end. We’ve had a lot of feedback because this is a system that needs to be used by everybody at the university,” concludes Nadeem.

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