In the Harry Potter world of magic created by J.K. Rowling, teachers at the Hogwarts school of wizardry perform their mundane administrative tasks with a wave of a magic wand.

In our not-so-magical muggle world, technology is the only option for completing these tasks in a jiffy. And Vancouver-based Simon Fraser University (SFU) has been doing just that, with the help of the Sierra Systems Group Inc., a Calgary-based IT consultancy. We cover the lifecycle of the students from the time they apply to the university until they become a part of alumni directory.Kathy Hori>Text

SFU and Sierra Systems are both celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. On April 19, they came together to provide details of their long and fruitful partnership.

Cranston said SFU has seen its share of changes over the years. In the bad old days, students needed to complete a vast array of forms in writing and submit them in person to be admitted to the university, to enroll in courses, to apply for residency, and so on.

Two decades ago, SFU approached Sierra Systems to set up a phone-based dial-in method to allow students to register for courses. “Over the years, this system became inefficient as the number of admissions to SFU increased,” said Jim Cranston, chief information officer (CIO) at SFU.

Now everything is done online, he said. With some simple clicks of a mouse, students can perform administrative tasks via the Web. “A friend of mine said that his daughter registered for a course from Spain in less than ten minutes,” said Cranston.

Systems wizardry has contributed to today’s Web-based nirvana.

In 2002, SFU implemented PeopleSoft’s enterprise campus solution 8.9. “Working with the Sierra Systems and Oracle-PeopleSoft, we have streamlined the administrative process,” said Cranston.

SFU has been using the system to manage its 25,000 students. Kathy Hori, account manager at Oracle Canada said, “We cover the lifecycle of the students from the time they apply to the university until they become a part of alumni directory.”

The university has also simplified numerous tasks, including evaluation of applications, management of courses, classes and grades as well as distribution of financial aid to students.

For instance, when applying for admission to the university, many students request financial aid. As part of the evaluation process, PeopleSoft financial aid calculates a financial aid package based on the student’s fees and the funds the university can contribute.

When students accept their offer of admission, they get a personalized student centre page that has details of the financial aid award and details of the balance that needs to be paid.

The process of enrolment in courses has also been streamlined. “The students do direct data entry when it comes to enrollment. This has taken the pressure off staff,” said David Smithers, director of knowledge management at Sierra Systems.

PeopleSoft’s campus suite is an open system, so students can choose the operating system and hardware on which they want to access it.

After starting a course, students can go online anytime, and get grade and assignment information. The instructors use the PeopleSoft gradebook to post assignments and grades, enter notes about what is expected of students, and calculate mid-term and final grades. When students are close to graduation, PeopleSoft academic advisement determines whether their graduation requirements have been met.

And lastly, when students graduate, their information is transferred to the alumni directory where personal information can be easily updated. The directory keeps the ex-student informed about donor programs, events and so on.

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