Queen's gets up to speed

University upgrades service with $33.5 million administrative system

The QUASR server in Dupuis Hall (above) is part of a multi-million dollar update to the existing 30 year old set of IBM servers (below). Associate Registrar Andrew Ness said the old IBM servers aren’t broken, they just aren’t meeting the needs of the University.
The QUASR server in Dupuis Hall (above) is part of a multi-million dollar update to the existing 30 year old set of IBM servers (below). Associate Registrar Andrew Ness said the old IBM servers aren’t broken, they just aren’t meeting the needs of the University.
A screenshot of the QUASR financial system interface that was implemented last November.
A screenshot of the QUASR financial system interface that was implemented last November.

Checking back every day during September to see if a spot finally opened in that course you’ve been trying to get into is a reality with the current administrative system, QCARD.

Luckily, there's a $33.5 million University investment being launched this year to remedy that problem and others caused by Queen's 30 year old mainframe.

The system is called QUASR and it’s a true web based interface Richard Palmer, QUASR Student Centre project manager said.

“There will be a lot more pointing and clicking and a lot less typing,” he said, adding that the first parts of the Student Centre platform will be launched this fall.

During the upcoming add-drop period, before the system is implemented, dropping a course can lead to somewhat of an online purgatory.

If the preferred option isn't available and the dropped spot is taken when the student turns back, they're left with a course load gap.

Among the several other updates to the outdated QCARD system, QUASR will offer a swap function.

Students choose the preferred course and the course needed to be dropped. When a spot becomes available in the preferred course, the new system will drop the old course and select the new one. This also means that students no longer need to check QCARD religiously in hopes of finding a spot in previously full classes.

Palmer said the modernized Student Centre interface will allow students to interact with QUASR the same way they would a web browser.

Students will select a course code from a drop-down menu.

Unlike QCARD, which only displays the name of a course, course descriptions, similar to the descriptions provided on the course calendar, will now appear when a course is selected.

The current system also forces students to manually assemble the timetable on their respective faculty website. Palmer said personalized exam timetables will now be accessible through the Student Centre platform.

Associate Registrar of Records and Services Andrew Ness said QUASR may have a high price tag but it’s going to be a benefit to the campus.

“[The University] is taking resources from every corner of the campus because we're thinking about how can we better serve students,” he said, adding that the QCARD system was a part of 30-year old group of servers.

“Old doesn't mean bad. Old is still reliable. These are systems that are used in many banks and insurance companies because they're robust.”

He said student frustrations with the QCARD system stem the emergence of e-commerce culture in recent years.

“If you think of e-commerce and the way we're used to enacting transactions -- it happens in real time,” he said. “It’s not something that takes over night.

Ness said QCARD shuts down at eight o'clock because it takes the out-dated system overnight to process the day's transactions.

He said the QUASR student centre will function in a more familiar way to students.

“It's the kind of functionality you'd expect at an Amazon site or a Chapters site.”

He said the class of 2014 was the last to register with Queen's through the QCARD.

The admission and financial aid portions of the Student Centre will launch this fall.

The rest of the Student Centre, which will include course selection and exam timetables will launch in March 2011.

“Students who apply to Queen's starting this year will only know the new system,” Ness said. “QCARD three years from now will only be a memory.”

The multifaceted QUASR undertaking will revamp a total of four major University systems: the Financial and Administrative system, Human Resources, Research and Student Service.

It’s is a PeopleSoft system purchased by the University from Oracle Software.

The Queen's Board of Trustees Finance Committee approved a proposal in December of 2008 which advised the University to purchase the QUASR system instead of updating QCARD.

“The risks of supporting current aged technology and legacy applications are significant,” states the document.

The listed risks of maintaining the current system include the University's inability to meet service expectations and maintain a “competitive position”.

The University has since put together a team to implement the system. The team is a combination of Queen's personnel and consultants with PeopleSoft experience and they’re working out of a building on Princess St. leased by the University.

Sean Reynolds, the University's chief information officer, said the cost to lease the Princess St. office is an estimated $1 million.

Reynolds said 20% of the $33.5 million QUASR investment will go to the QUASR software and three years of technology support from Oracle.

He said that around 50% of the cost for the project is human resources needed to implement it.

Vice Principal of Finance and Administration Caroline Davies said even with the cost, the University needs QUASR.

“You almost have to have one of these things to survive these days,” she said, adding that a majority of the fiscal benefits from the multimillion dollar investment will come from the financial and administrative components.

The financial component of the system was implemented in Nov. 2009.

Davis said difficulties in the first few months with new system led to doubts from the administration.

“To be honest (the) finance (component) hit a few bumps in the road,” she said, adding that the system is now functioning without hitches.

“When you implement a big system there's a lot of people who need to be familiarized with it,” she said, adding that three per cent of the QUASR budget is devoted to training all personnel that will interact with the system.

Davis said the QUASR system is projected to save the University money at an administrative level.

She listed major savings from increased financial organization and resource management.

The QUASR integrated resource planning function will inform the University of potential discount negotiations with suppliers.

“One of the things you can do to save money is negotiate with your suppliers to get bulk discounts,” Davis said. “To do that, you need to know how much you’re going to need.”

Davis said data on expenditures like lab equipment, travel, chemicals and telephone bills are made easily accessible by QUASR – which makes identifying opportunities to ask for discounts just as easy.

“There's several million dollars right there that we'll be able to save.”

QUASR will help save in other ways too.

Davis said Queen's has been charged with audit fees in recent years because of administration lacks efficiency in financial documentation.

She said all publicly accountable organizations, universities included, are required to be audited annually.

Audit fees are on an hourly rate. The longer it takes an auditor to examine the necessary financial documents, the most cost to the organization.

“The more organized you are, the cheaper it is,” Davis said, adding that it’s been taking auditors longer and longer to examine Queen's financial records and the new financial system will allow for a quicker and cheaper audit .

“Over the last couple of years we have [had] increasing difficulty getting our financial statements done and audited.”

QUASR allows for efficient financial documentation and easier access.

Although the new system will make many administrative tasks less labour-intensive, Davis said it won't create an opportunity to cut jobs.

“We're pretty lean on the administrative side already,” she said. “Using this system enables us to keep up with the work that we already have.”

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