First day of classes on all campuses marks latest step for student info system

CU faculty, staff encouraged to take SkillPort training to get familiar with ISIS
By Staff

A new information system that integrates essential student services on a single electronic platform will undergo a major test Monday, Aug. 23, when thousands of returning and new students begin the fall semester on all four University of Colorado campuses.

The Integrated Student Information System, or ISIS, will track student information over the course of students' education at CU, making it easier for them to enroll each year, register for classes, pay for tuition and housing and access class schedules. ISIS also will enable faculty to access class rosters and teaching schedules, and will make it easier for staff to access pertinent information to counsel students or process paperwork.

Lee Ann Baronett, ISIS training and communications manager, said the idea is to offer a one-stop system for all of a student's needs over the lifecycle of their academic careers at CU. Next week, the system faces a heavy load test the first few days of classes, but ISIS administrators have run more than two dozen tests and results indicate the system can handle the load.

"It is possible we could experience processing slowdowns – or in a worst-case scenario, a system outage – but we're working with campus liaisons to handle any problems as they arise," she said. "Any time a new computer system is deployed – particularly of this size and scale – a few bumps are expected. But most of our students have used the system successfully so far."

To help offset the expected increased load on the system, the university has e-mailed copies of class schedules to students so they need not log on the system at the same time.

Baronett said more than 30,000 CU-Boulder students have registered successfully for the 2010 fall semester through ISIS; more than 17,000 have registered at UC Denver; and more than 8,500 have registered at UCCS. In total, some $89 million in financial aid has been disbursed successfully across all three campuses. Also, between July 15 and Aug. 15, some 13,000 students requested and processed degree audits successfully.

The university has been rolling out the new $44 million student information system over the past year, testing each phase and working out the bugs as necessary. ISIS replaces a 20-year-old, mainframe-based system that had become outdated, and whose technical features were no longer supported by the original vendor.

Kari Branjord, executive director of the ISIS project, said CU's approach to the implementation is unique in higher education.

"The level of effort and collaboration among the campuses and project team has been extraordinary," she said. "Getting the new system into place wouldn't have been possible without collaboration across the campuses. Since the beginning of the project, our project and campus teams have been working collaboratively towards the success of this project. We have seen over and over that we can do great things when we act as one team."

ISIS will automate many administrative processes over the Internet to create greater efficiencies and enable the university to serve its students better with a seamless system that can meet the needs of four unique campuses, said John Cooney, associate vice president for University Information Systems, or UIS, which is overseeing the ISIS implementation.

Cooney said the university knew it would have to replace its outdated student information system eventually, and accounted for the cost accordingly through the allocation of initiative funding based on interest earnings over time, and not through state funding or student fees.

"With a project of this size requiring several years of planning and implementation, hedging against an economic downturn was the sensible thing for the leadership of the university to do," he said. "As it turns out, we could not have sustained implementation through this recession otherwise."

Given the current economic climate, I'd say our decision to set aside funding for this mission-critical project was a sound one," he said.

Baronett said one of the most difficult aspects of implementing a new system is overcoming the learning curve that accompanies the change.

"After using the same system for more than 20 years, we know it can be tough to make the shift to something that's new, but the change to ISIS will bring long-term benefits to the university and its students, faculty and staff," she said.

CU administrators encourage all CU faculty members to become familiar with the new system before the start of the fall semester by visiting the ISIS Faculty Center, which provides a single point of entry to view teaching schedules and class rosters, search for classes, browse course catalogs, and locate other faculty members. Step-by-step tutorials that walk faculty through the system, and information about other ISIS processes, also are available.

Later this fall, faculty will be able to use the Faculty Center to view grade rosters and to enter and post grades.