U Vic

The University of Victoria in B.C. is finished Phase I of its “Project Nova” — an administration-app integration plan that should spell improved information sharing among the school’s various departments. But according to one project insider, it’ll be years before the university completes this massive endeavour.

$20 million on tap

The University of Victoria says Project Nova’s high price tag comes in large part from human resources — people to implement the new software and staff training. Software accounts for just 25 per cent of the cost.

Garry Sagert, the University of Victoria’s technical implementation manager, said Project Nova should wrap up by December 2007. “It is long. It’s because there are so many components of the project. We’re replacing five big administrative systems.”

The school’s replacing the software underpinnings of multiple admin functions: the “advancement” system, which governs information about alumni and fundraising activities; the facilities management system for managing buildings and the campus grounds; the financial system (general ledger, accounts payable, etc.); the human resources system, and the student records system.

The idea is to bring all of the apps closer together so, for example, if a student changes his address at the library, the amendment is reflected in student records.

“That’s one of the problems we’ve had,” Sagert said, pointing out that Project Nova aims to break down some of the walls between departments. “Profile information — name, address, contact info — has been maintained pretty much independently in our five information systems.”

Although it won’t be done for a couple of years, Project Nova will offer benefits in the short term, such as single sign-on for users to access administrative functions (rolling out this year), and a new Web portal that affords users a quick conduit into the school’s online services. That part of the effort U Vic expects to have done by early 2006.

Project Nova Phase I saw U Vic send out the request-for-proposals, evaluate technology from a number of bidders, and negotiate contracts. This initial stage ended late last year with SunGard SCT Corp. winning the business. The Malvern, Penn.-based systems integration firm specializing in school solutions brought Famis Software Inc., Infosilem Inc. and other app builders into the equation as partners to provide facilities management software, course-scheduling tools and other admin-support computer programs.

Now the university is into Phase II: implementation. According to Sagert, the school means to stagger the rollout, one system at a time, ending with the student records system — the most complicated one. Sagert said student records can be tricky because every institution handles this aspect of its business somewhat differently. It takes more time to create the system as a result of its unique nature.

Atop Project Nova sits an identity management technology suite by Sun Microsystems Inc. This piece of the IT puzzle ensures that only certain people get to see specific data — a student can’t amend another pupil’s address, for instance, just her own.

Sagert said identity management should help U Vic keep track of important information. Right now, “it’s very difficult for us to answer the question, ‘Who has access to student addresses?’ There are so many systems that store student addresses, we can’t definitely answer that.”

U Vic is installing Sun’s Java System Directory Server for user-profile management, the Java System Access Manager for user authentication, and the Java System Identity Manager for permission management. The school also called on Sun’s Client Solutions group for expert advice and people to help the project run smoothly.

According to Frances Newbigin, software practice manager at Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. in Markham, Ont., integration projects like the one the university is undertaking are becoming par for the course. Consolidation spells the oft-touted single version of truth — one address entry for each user. “It’s more efficient,” she said.

Sagert said one of the toughest challenges for U Vic and its Project Nova has to be “change management” — bringing in the new applications smoothly so users don’t get upset. “Technology is not the biggest hurdle. You can apply resources and brains and make the technology work.”

Newbigin said culture, rather than technology, tends to be the sticking point of endeavours like this one. “Sometimes people are resistant to change, especially when it’s running across all systems. There will be an element of…managing the project so users will be receptive to it.”

Sagert said the University is investing to ensure Project Nova doesn’t go supernova. “It’s a matter of getting people involved. We’ve held focus groups, trying to educate people on the process. The worst thing we’ve found is, when they don’t have enough information, they start making assumptions and rumours start.”


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