OWLnet times out

When students register for classes this March, they’ll notice some changes, as the 11-year-old OWLnet is phased out. For several years, the technology used by Temple’s administrative systems has hindered students attempting to pay tuition

When students register for classes this March, they’ll notice some changes, as the 11-year-old OWLnet is phased out.

For several years, the technology used by Temple’s administrative systems has hindered students attempting to pay tuition fees or race to register for scarce classes. With a massive system upgrade, students may never have to wait for OWLnet to “retrieve their records” again.

A $38 million, five-year implementation will replace the Financial Management System, the Human Resources System and the Student Information System, as well as additional systems Temple has self-developed over the last 25 years.

“We’re in the fourth of a five-year project,” Barbara Dolhansky, an associate vice president of Computer Services, said. “Basically the technology that used to run all of our old systems is very old; we’ve really reached the limit of the capacity to do anything with it.”

The official name, Project Enterprise, is a university-wide initiative aimed at integrating and upgrading all of the major administrative systems into a state-of-the-art infrastructure.

According to its website, the objective is to replace the current aging systems with a vendor-supported system named Banner, also known as an Enterprise Resource Planning system. The switch is aimed to improve efficiency and support a wider range of services to a growing university community.

Dolhansky added that the old system would never be able to use mobile applications and was not vendor-supported.

“In other words, Temple developed and customized it all on its own, and there are a lot of inherent risks with that,” she said. “It was four separate, completely standalone systems; none of the data was integrated.”

After a long evaluation, it was decided Temple’s systems would switch over to the SunGard Banner system, Dolhansky said. SunGard is a software company dedicated only to the higher-education market, which she also said will support a long-term vision.

According to SunGard’s website, the new platform will be based on the “modern database management software,” Oracle, which is vendor-supported and will conform to industry standards.  Being vendor-supported ensures periodic upgrades and updated technology, laws and regulations.

A common student complaint occurs during the registration period when OWLnet seems to be paralyzed.

Dolhansky said the old system could only handle 1000 students at a time.

“The intention is to make [registration week] easier. We will be able to deliver the service that we deliver today and also improve having more students register and get through the registration process in an efficient way,” Dolhansky said.

Currently, the computer services team responsible for overseeing the switch is in the process of “low-testing” for class registrations, which Stephanie Gillin, the academics areas coordinator for Project Enterprise, said would continue for several more weeks.

“We’re seeing some new results. One of the major factors was to improve that whole process and eliminate the wait time and allow more through-put of students,” Dolhansky said.

Gillin said one of the changes students will notice concerning the upcoming summer and fall registration in March is the new registration time.

“For Go-Live, our first semester, when students will be registering through this system in March, we’re going to be having registration at 7 a.m. so that we’ll have people on campus, so that if there is an issue that comes up people will be there to assist students,” Gillin said.

“We’ll provide the outreach we couldn’t do at midnight,” she added.

When searching for courses, the ability to search by professor and by time in addition to day of the week will be implemented. Additionally grades for courses that end prior to finals week will be submitted on a rolling basis.

“These are things that are going to benefit the student that might not be transparent to them, but in the big picture it’s going to make for a better student experience,” Gillin said.

Isis, the technology currently behind OWLnet, is 25 years old. OWLnet itself is 11 years old, Dolhansky said.

“What kind of application or software hangs around that long? We always say it’s 11-year-old technology laid over 25-year-old technology,” she said. “It’s eventually just going to break down.”

Several components have already seen the switch to Banner.  As early as 2008, international student information, FSA Atlas, switched over to Banner. Since then, Finance, Kronos, Student Recruiting/Enrollment Management and Admissions have also made the transfer.

“This is part of a transition that’s in phases,” said Peter Jones, senior vice provost for undergraduate studies. “There are certain parts that have already been done.”

“The impact is not one big noticeable change to students,” Jones added.  “I don’t see any downside. As with any major transition you have to get an entire university used to doing things a different way.”

Jones said an advantage is that when registering for classes that have prerequisites, it will be available for students to see if they meet the requirements beforehand.  He also said that with academic history being accessible during registration, students can identify whether a class will go toward their degree.

Another significant change under the new system will be in financial services. Dolhansky said the process will be in-house and happen in real time.

The overall goal for student sites is to improve usability and make a more friendly way to access Temple resources, Dolhasky said.

“We’re always trying to find a way for students to know when to do things,” Bill Black, senior vice provost for enrollment management, said, adding that the advanced services in the new systems will make that easier.

Jones said the new systems will allow for better communication among students, faculty and resource sites.

“It was multiple data sets that don’t speak to each other. And that was the frustrating thing.  And you can imagine how many situations there are where you want to know information from multiple sources,” Jones said. “If you’re a student, you’d like to know about housing as well as financing as well as academic, but [under the old system] you could never bring the three together. You had to deal with them all separately.”

Gillin said their team is working with Temple Student Government in preparation for launching Banner.

Dolhansky added that the goal is to shut down the old systems, which they call the legacy systems, completely by December 2011.

Valerie Rubinsky can be reached at valerie.rubinsky@temple.edu.

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