Seneca grads help build personalized Web portal

Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology can safely say it practices what it preaches.

The Ontario academic institution Wednesday said it will deploy a personalized Web portal for its students, staff and faculty this fall,

and it’s largely Seneca graduates that are putting it together.

“”We’re very fortunate, being a college, to do all of this wonderful training. We actually have a program taking students into our help desks and training them in that environment,”” said Seneca CIO Terrence Verity. “”For those that show promise and want to work in that environment, we bring them in as technicians and move them up. We have some of our people at the senior level and they’re doing that (installation and integration) work.””

The college’s chief technology officer, manager of enterprise applications programming, and manager of systems development innovation are all Seneca grads. Verity isn’t a Seneca graduate, but he has worked there for the last 25 years.

The college is now deploying Sun ONE portal technology running on Sun Microsystems servers. Students will have access to Web-based messaging, course timetables, registration and financial information and other services through a portal called MySeneca. Staff will be able to access those and other services like HR functions and student attendance reports.

“”MySeneca is a personalized portal that focuses on the individual,”” explained Verity. “”That individual can get the various applications . . . depending on their role and responsibility. MySeneca always looks different depending on who you are.””

Seneca, a Sun shop for the last six years, began looking for a personalized portal about a year and a half ago. The biggest challenge around that was integrating it with existing e-mail, directory services, administrative applications and databases, said Verity. “”The issue for us is really speed. How do you get your applications to run faster?”” The answer to that question was to build a storage area network and upgrade to an Oracle database.

Education is a growing market for Sun, particularly for its Sun ONE portal technology. Manitoba, for example, recently established a personalized portal for its K-12 schools for e-mail, calendaring and file storage. In the case of the Manitoba project (Manitoba Education Research Learning Information Networks or “”Merlin””), emphasis was on providing appropriate Internet access based on the student’s age group. In the case of Seneca, according to Sun ONE manager at Sun Microsystems Canada Frances Newbigin, it was capacity.

“”For Seneca, things that were important to them were around scalability,”” she said. “”(They have) a large student body and an unexpected surge, so the Sun reputation for delivering scale, particularly around the directory, was very important to them.””

Seneca has to cater to 100,000 full- and part-time students, faculty and staff. That number will grow due to Ontario’s double cohort year when Grade 13 is phased out of high schools.

The college is considering its past as well as its future, said Verity. There are plans to make the MySeneca portal available to alumni as well.


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