Revisiting U of T’s faster registration, future modernization

abstract arrows moving forward

It’s been over two months since U of T completed a three-year project to upgrade its student information system. After converting millions of lines of code and replacing an aging server, where does U of T stand and how will the system fare in the future?

The project, launched on November 19, 2018, was one of the largest of its kind to be undertaken at U of T. The success of the project relied heavily on a collaborative effort between Enterprise Applications & Solutions Integration (EASI), Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS), and Information Security.

“This project was truly monumental,” says Frank Boshoff, senior manager, technical solutions and architecture with EASI. “In the past, our server would be at full capacity during the first two weeks of January. After the transition to the new system, our servers are at 30 per cent capacity, and after more fine tuning this will translate into faster processing in the future.”

The system metrics indicate that students are accomplishing more work in less time with less aggravation. Server use is significantly lower and the bounce rate has dropped by 82 per cent. As a result, most students are accessing the application successfully and navigating to the information they need.

Boshoff predicts that the system will be ready for peak enrolment in July, and will be able to handle 9,000 concurrent users compared to the previous 700.  The new platform will also open up the potential for live integration with divisional systems, and ensure U of T stays at the forefront of technological innovation.

Before launching the platform, the project team conducted 3,657 test cases with a 98.6 per cent success rate. And after the cutover to the new system, thousands of users put it to the test.

“We were happy to see that there were only three regular users who enquired about how to log into the new system. It showed that our change management processes worked well since it was a smooth transition for most users,” says Cathy Eberts, executive director of EASI. “I want to emphasize how important it was to have participation from the divisions – a change like this couldn’t happen without massive support.”

To prepare staff and students for the change, EASI provided information for general awareness, training and support through a website, email updates, articles and social media. The project team also hosted 37 divisional meetings, four technical forums and conducted extensive user acceptance testing with over 200 participants and 500 test cases.

Testers from all divisions found 45 issues, or bugs, with the system. Each week EASI selected a winner for a gift card draw for those who had found issues.

“The user acceptance testing and training process was very straightforward,” says Mari Motrich, responsible for systems and data analysis at the Office of the Registrar, University of Toronto Scarborough. “We received a list of screens to test, and as a team we collected feedback and identified bugs. We also had two training sessions that were really useful – users reported bugs and also learned how to use the new ROSI. Overall, the testing, training and rollout of the project were smooth.”

As with most large technology projects, there are often issues that arise after going live with a new system.

“From November 19 through December we had daily stand-up meetings where we would assess and prioritize issues arising from the project,” says Rodney Branch, manager of client services and process integration at EASI. “During the first week of January, we had a high volume with course changes, student timetable lookups and class lists and reports, and the system performed remarkably well. We’ll continue to address additional issues as they arise and we appreciate users’ patience.”

The next phase of the project will involve developing the Data Decision Support System, which will be a near real-time copy of the ROSI data. It will allow staff to perform operational and analytical reports more quickly during peak registration periods. ACORN will also perform faster for students as they no longer need to compete with administrative staff for processing power.

“Overall, we’re very happy with how this project was rolled out,” says Eberts. “We’re setting the stage for technological innovation and ensuring that we have a platform in place upon which we can build and integrate new services.”

Thank you to all of our user acceptance testers, divisional users and the main project team who helped make this project a success.