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Universities join forces again to improve services

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Published: 12 Mar 1998

McGill University and Concordia University unite to purchase revolutionary administrative computer systems.

McGill University and Concordia University have signed a multimillion-dollar agreement with Systems and Computer Technology Corporation (SCT) to revolutionize their administrative systems. Both universities are purchasing software to streamline and coordinate their financial systems, and McGill is also intending to integrate its student information system. The cost of the contract is approximately $4 million between the two universities. Officials from McGill and Concordia are expected to attend an announcement ceremony on Monday, March 23 at Concordia.

Because of its size and the decision to include student records as well, McGill will pay the lion’s share, drawing on money set aside from last year’s sale of computer technology to the private sector for part of the cost involved. According to University officials, the combined buying power of McGill and Concordia helped bring in a better price offer from the vendor.

"We are delighted to be cooperating with Concordia on this exciting effort to help us redesign university work processes," says McGill Principal Bernard Shapiro. "The agreement may well be a precedent not only in Canada but in North America, since universities have traditionally built their own stand-alone systems."

The software purchase is the latest in a series of practical initiatives to cope with the funding crisis in Quebec’s higher education, and to improve quality and efficiency of services. McGill and Concordia have already combined their purchasing operations and are working on other projects like sharing library resources. "The decision to join forces with SCT and pool the energies and resources of our different institutions is considered highly innovative in today’s competitive market," comments Shapiro. He points out that SCT, McGill and Concordia will set up project teams in Montreal which will include staff from all three partners. "We shall have to learn to adapt to one another and to the new technology, so the education process will be quite intense," he says.

The decision to choose SCT was based on close consultation with users in both universities. Vice-Principal (Academic) T.H. Chan, one of three McGill vice-principals expected to attend the announcement, notes that the Senate of McGill, for example, established a committee to study the need for a new student information system in May 1995 . Since then, representatives from many faculties have been invited to describe their needs and to participate in discussions and demonstrations. "As we familiarize ourselves with the new technology, it should improve efficiency, make information more readily available to students, and be more user-friendly. This will help both universities to serve the students better," says Chan.

From the financial point of view, "departments and individuals will have much better control in real time over their funds," stresses Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Phyllis Heaphy. "The actual costs of delivering a course, from maintenance to supplies to laboratories, will be much more transparent. The system will support people’s activities directly, allowing them to monitor the transfer of money between accounts, and integrating operations across the campus. There will be no need for duplicate entry systems or repeated follow-up phone calls, and the infamous monthly "blue sheets" will be a thing of the past."

McGill’s additional agreement to integrate the student information system will also strengthen the University’s operations, adds Vice-Principal (Information Systems and Technology) Bruce Pennycook. "We shall use the Web to make interactivity a powerful tool, so that, for example, advisors will be able to review a student’s progress, administrators will be able to track the popularity of certain courses, and students themselves will be able to get their marks on-line, verify scholarships, and check fee statements, whether they’re here or in Asia. With so many different types of users, our technical strategy has had to strike a balance between the diversity of tasks and organizations on the one hand, and the practicalities of supporting multiple technological approaches on the other. We think we’ve succeeded."

Both McGill and Concordia have options to get additional software for other functions to improve data management. Ideally, down the road, say officials from each university, all administrative activities affecting everything from human resources to student records to enrolment to finances, should be integrated within one system.

SCT is well-known as a leading provider of client/server, enterprise software and information technology services for higher education, government, manufacturing & distribution, and utilities. Based in Pennsylvania, it serves approximately 2,500 clients worldwide. SCT Education Systems, a specialized division of the company, provides software and services to support the business processes of more 1,100 colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, and worldwide.

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