Centralized database key to Concordia portal project

Concordia University Tuesday said it had launched the first features of a portal that will bring more personalized content to its 30,000 students.

The school said the portal project will involve the consolidation of existing

student accounts on variety of e-mail and student registration systems into a centralized database. Students will be able to register for courses, get grades, contact professors and get information on school departments through a PeopleSoft single sign-on solution.

The portal will not be limited to the students, however. Andrew McAusland, executive director of Concordia’s instructional and IT services in Montreal, said phase two would include its staff and faculty as well. “”The portal will be the only way into our system,”” he said.

Concordia posts most of the information that will be contained in the portal around campus, McAusland said, but the online tool will allow them to push that content to specific groups for the first time. As a university in an urban area with a lot of commuters, remote access to data becomes critical, he said. If it takes a student an hour to get to campus, for example, he or she could now turn to the portal to find out if an exam had been cancelled, or communicate with a professor directly about an important report.

“”The need is apparent,”” he said. “”As a result, the funding wasn’t that difficult. In terms of an organization like this, it’s not a massive, massive expense.””

Companies like Novell also offer single sign-on solutions, but PeopleSoft Canada senior product consultant Pierre Lamarre said PeopleSoft’s tools include back-office, financial or human resources applications which are built on the same platform. This will probably become more important in the second phase of the project, when faculty get access to pay stubs, benefits and expense reports.

“”It’s a simple premise: as computer systems have become prevelant, the 25 different passwords I’ve got to remember just doesn’t work anymore,”” he said.

McAusland said the university drew some of its inspiration from the University of Wisconsin, which has already completed a similar project. “”They had a complete portal, but just for students,”” he said. “”We want every member of the community using the portal. I haven’t seen any university going to that kind of penetration.””

McAusland noted that the majority of today’s students were born in the early 1980s, and as such have a higher expectation of how technology should be applied on campus. Though it will take some time to meet those expectations, he said the benefits should factor in the way the school calculates its return on investment.

“”I would think the return should be very quick, but it depends on how you count the dollars. If you quantify getting the right messsage out to the right student in the right amount of time, that’s worth the money,”” he said. “”Decisions can be taken quicker.””

Lamarre said Internet growth is the single-largest driver for single sign-on portals such as Concordia’s. “”There used to be lots of apps, but few people using them. Now that the Internet makes self-sevice possible, you have thousands of stakeholders,”” he said. “”All these people are now accessing these apps, but with a very focused view in it. You can’t manage that without single sign-on.””

Concordia said the complete rollout of the PeopleSoft project would take about two years.

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