Published on 17-Nov-2010
Validated on 05 Feb 2014
"The combination of a highly flexible IBM software architecture with the technical expertise of Maven Associates has created a platform that is not only significantly enhancing the registration experience for staff and students at City University London, but also holds great potential for future business process improvements across the organisation." - John Gallagher, Applications Architect, City University London
City University London
Enabling Business Flexibility, Information Integration, Optimizing IT, Service Oriented Architecture, Web Services
IBM Business Partner:
City University London is an international University with a reputation for academic excellence and a central London location. The University leads London in education, research and enterprise for business and the professions, and is renowned for the employability of its graduates.
Every year, City University London needs to register more than 8,500 new students – a complex process that involves collecting student information, receiving payments, creating user accounts in various IT systems, exchanging data with other organisations, checking IDs and visas, and printing student cards. The resulting paperwork was time-consuming for University staff and students alike.
Maven Associates, an IBM Business Partner, helped City University London create a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that uses IBM WebSphere Process Server to automate the entire process – enabling students to register online before they arrive. The new architecture also provides a highly flexible foundation for future business process re-engineering projects.
Reduces time taken to register new students by over 95 percent. Improves the University experience for new students, giving them rapid access to University facilities and IT resources. Eliminates paperwork, enabling staff to focus on more important activities such as checking student IDs and visas. Provides insight into student demographics, helping to meet regulatory targets and gain appropriate government funding. Saves approximately £20,000 per year on printing, postage and data entry costs.
City University London is an international University with a reputation for academic excellence and a central London location. Over 30 percent of its students are international, and the majority of these come from outside the EU.1 For the first time, the University has ranked in the top five percent of global universities, according to an annual league table.2 The University leads London in education, research and enterprise for business and the professions, and is renowned for the employability of its graduates.
City was founded in 1894 and in 2016 will celebrate its first half-century since gaining its University title. It is a broadly based institution, with world-leading strengths in the arts, including journalism and music; informatics; social sciences; engineering and mathematical sciences; business; law; community and health sciences.
The University attracts over 22,000 students from around 150 countries, and employs academic staff from around 50 countries. Each year, between 8,500 and 9,000 new students enrol on its courses – setting in motion a complex registration process.
A vital process
“Student registration is a vital process for the University – not only because we need to assign each student to the right courses, but also for financial and regulatory reasons,” explains John Gallagher, Applications Architect at City University London. “In financial terms, our HEFCE [Higher Education Funding Council for England] funding is dependent on registering the right number of students each year, and of course we also need to ensure that each student pays the appropriate course fees. Regulatory pressures are also increasing, particularly in terms of security, so performing checks on student information, visas and identity cards have become important for compliance purposes.”
The registration process itself requires students to confirm personal and course details, accept University regulations and pay course fees, while the University creates user accounts in various IT systems, exchanges data with other organisations (such as UCAS, HEFCE and Transport for London), checks IDs and visas, and prints student cards.
Problems with paperwork
For many years, the initial stages of this process were handled before the start of term by means of postal correspondence between City and the new students. This created a considerable amount of paperwork, and was not the most effective means of communication. The later stages took place after the students had arrived on site, requiring them to queue for several hours to complete the required documentation, and occupying staff with low-level clerical work for several days.
“Since most of the registration process was manual, the cost per student was relatively high, especially because it distracted staff from more important work,” comments Gallagher. “More importantly, we recognised that starting university can be a stressful time for new students, and the last thing they need is to have to spend their first day worrying about admin: we wanted to create a more welcoming environment for them. We had recently adopted a strategy of re-engineering and streamlining our business processes wherever possible, and we realised that student registration would be a good place to start.”
Addressing the technical challenges
From a technical point of view, the main challenges in automating student registration were the number and variety of IT systems involved, and the need to obtain input from students, staff and other stakeholders at the appropriate points in the process. The City University London project team turned to Maven Associates, an IBM Business Partner that specialises in consultancy around business process management, to help them come up with a solution.
“Maven has been a partner of ours for several years, and its consultants have a lot of experience in the education sector,” explains Gallagher. “We originally engaged with them when we wanted to integrate our Student Records System with our Virtual Learning Environment, and they really sold us on the concepts of service orientation and business process modelling. We worked with them to create an enterprise service bus based on IBM WebSphere MQ and WebSphere Message Broker, and when the registration project came up, they introduced us to WebSphere Process Server.”
Building a service-oriented architecture
The enterprise service bus is a messaging hub that enables City University London to treat its individual systems (the Student Records System, the Virtual Learning Environment, the SAP ERP system, the library system, the card-based security system, etc.) as services that can be accessed easily. WebSphere Process Server provides a rules engine that choreographs these services to support and automate the student registration process. Together, they form a sophisticated service-oriented architecture (SOA).
“The beauty of this SOA approach is its flexibility,” comments Gallagher. “At the back-end, the enterprise service bus allows us to swap components in and out of the architecture easily, so for example, if we moved to a different Virtual Learning Environment, it wouldn’t disrupt our processes or require changes in the other systems.
“Meanwhile, from a business process perspective, the combination of WebSphere Process Server with other tools like WebSphere Business Modeler and WebSphere Integration Developer enables us to model and re-model the processes themselves at a high level, using simple visual tools instead of writing reams of code from scratch. With this new architecture in place, it will be much easier for us to build, automate, and enhance all kinds of processes in future.”
The technical advantages of the new architecture are significant – but from City University London’s point of view, the real-world benefits are even more significant. Instead of relying on postal correspondence, the new process allows students to log into a web portal and register online. The data they enter is routed seamlessly to the appropriate systems via the enterprise service bus: user accounts are automatically created in various applications, and fee payments are processed by SAP ERP. As a result, when the students arrive on campus, all they have to do is submit proof of identity and collect their student card.
Enhancing the student experience
“We ran a version of the online registration service last year, and we’ve enhanced it for this year’s intake,” comments Gallagher. “The results have been impressive: nearly 90 percent of students are now completing the majority of the registration process online before they arrive, and we expect this number to rise steadily over the next few years.
“Instead of spending hours waiting in line on their first day, we can get new students up and running within about ten minutes – they can log in to all the University IT systems on day one, and focus on exploring the campus and meeting new people instead of admin. This also significantly reduces the workload for University staff and helps them focus on the more important aspects, such as compliance with security regulations on ID and visa checking.”
Eliminating paper-based processes has also cut printing, postage, packing and data-entry costs by approximately £20,000 per year, and should improve data quality significantly by avoiding data-loss and clerical errors.
Looking to the future
Gallagher concludes: “The combination of a highly flexible IBM software architecture with the technical expertise of Maven Associates has created a platform that is not only significantly enhancing the registration experience for staff and students at City University London, but also holds great potential for future business process improvements across the organisation.”
Products and services used
IBM products and services that were used in this case study.
WebSphere Process Server
Footnotes and legal information
1. See www.city.ac.uk/aboutcity/introduction.html
2. Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2010/11
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