Will the system replace all aspects of the current paper systems in use? These are a mixture of paper files, databases, paper records of phone and postal history. There are also spreadsheets set up for specific reporting and returns needed in the past. Will it have the capacity to grow if the number of students increases significantly?
StudentRelate systems are able to store text and unlimited data relating to any number of students. The only limits to the scope of this storage facility are the hardware resources made available to the system. In its use for disability units in several universities, the resources for that type of requirement have been modest; (e.g. a low range server can hold the whole application, allowing access by teams of 5 to 20 and with a database of several thousand students). Larger user populations with shared access to data would need larger machines.
The system has a shared diary so that users on the same system can work as a team. Importing from current spreadsheet databases is simple.
Can the system allow the same client's file to be opened by more than one user at a time and take into account issues of data protection, disclosing information appropriate to the class and department of the operator?
Any number of users may view the information simultaneously. However, only one can update a file at any moment in time.
The system means that staff can easily set data visibility parameters and create security groups to constrain who can see what. There is no limit to the number of security groups you can create and individual staff members may belong to several groups.
Data Protection Act compliance in a database does need some management understanding and JI Software (the company behind StudentRelate) is happy to advise on these matters during initial database design and when out-of-the ordinary issues arise.
Can the system be easily kept up to date by receiving new student information from our existing central student records database?
Our application is designed to take a regular data feed from the main Administration Registry database of any University. Data transfer is based on a selection of specific fields that are maintained there. This is currently implemented for a number of universities and has been working successfully for over seven years.
The system must be able to create and store communications to a user, or set of users, in various media. Typically print media, email, and fax. Media should be created from stored templates and automatically merge appropriate data from within the system.
The capability to handle text to print is implemented within the standard Maximizer CRM package. Connection to email requires Microsoft Outlook. Connection to fax is also separate and is supplied as an option integrated with the main application by JI Software, based on individual department need.
The system should store and allow the retrieval of documents from a variety of sources, both those created through the system and externally. Especially relevant will be the ability to store printed materials and to reproduce documents in a printed format.
The system has its own document manager. Each type of document is stored within the database and when access or printing is required, the appropriate package is triggered on the workstation requiring the printed output. Printing is managed by the package (e.g. Word, Excel, Adobe etc.) which created the document. It is also possible to store large volumes of documents in a separate document server and link them to records within the system using a pointer.
It must be quick and easy to back up on a daily basis.
The StudentRelate system is quick and easy to back up. The time needed to complete the backing-up process will depend on the data volumes and the speed of the back-up storage equipment installed. For larger back-up volumes, the data back-up facilities are likely to be managed from the main data centre and they would be expected to back up to media safely stored offsite.
It must facilitate the archiving of old files to an accessible file store separate from the live data.
The use of an archive copy of the database to hold database history is a simple matter and can be implemented so that the same immediate response is provided to each workstation as long as network and server capacity is available to support the response time required.
It must have a fast response time when viewing and editing files.
The system's access to data is based on indexed files with tables giving fast access to data. Beyond that the speed of response is purely a matter of the speed and capacity of the hardware provided for the job.
With the above point in mind, is there any problem if users are connected to the academic network through a variety of different connections, such as 10/100Mbs Ethernet / DSL / wireless? Will the system function properly if it has to communicate across these various connections without placing unnecessary additional load on them? A synchronous multi-server approach is likely to provide the best solution.
The capacity of various links in the network between the office of a user and the main database server may be an issue for some departments. (Exclusive use of a 10 Mbs link might be acceptable for a team of 5-10 users, but a shared 10Mbs hub could create an unacceptable bottleneck).
Wireless links also tend to be too slow. Where capacity is an issue, it is sensible to place the server physically in offices of the user team so that 100 Mb LAN access to data is possible. If this data must be made available to staff in other locations, it can be synchronised to a central location. This synchronisation data transfer consists of changes made to the database so traffic on shared links is minimised. There are controls and settings which limit the types of information that are synchronised between sites. It is also possible to allow access to data using a browser from anywhere in the university. Staff could also use this facility to work from home.
How do the JI Software consultants work with the users to ensure their continued success with the new system?
JI Software specialises in tailoring applications to meet the specific needs of clients. There is a high degree of flexibility in the StudentRelate system.
We work in partnership with customers and see this as an ongoing relationship - we fully appreciate of the changing nature of the needs of student services staff. When major changes occur we will be happy to assist with updating the system. However, minor adjustments to the application can be handled by the more qualified members of the team of users.
What time is likely to be required to implement and how quickly will benefits arise?
Based on our experience, for a ten-user team, you could expect the system to be up and running within four to six weeks. It must be stated, though, that times can vary. If we do not encounter delays we could get a small team implementation down to three weeks. For some applications with specific development work to do, the project could be longer but would be unlikely to exceed eight weeks.
The flexibility of the StudentRelate solution will be of key importance, both in the initial deployment and in the future. How would a user with little technical knowledge to be able to add remove or change systems data fields?
One of the strengths of the StudentRelate application is the degree to which users can acquire the skills necessary to add, remove, or change systems data fields. Given that a user had been properly trained in using the system, the commands to change data fields would take no more than an hour or so to learn.
A cautionary note is necessary here because an application of the type for a Disability Unit would need would need any data field additions or changes to be approved by top management of the unit. Consistency of data definitions would be vital for the longer-term integrity of the database and its meaning, so the adding of data fields would probably be best left to the Application Administrator in these cases.
With flexibility in mind we would like to know how receptive the software vendor is to shaping future versions of the core product in relation to user feedback. Past examples of this process would be especially helpful in illustrating this.
The reason our StudentRelate system is so successful at meeting institutions' needs is because it is designed in conjunction with staff who will be using the software. Every year there is a request for added functionality sent out to JI Software and other resellers around the world. We report back features and enhancements that our users would find valuable. We then argue the case for enhancements we believe in and agree a scoring on desirability. The design team then works to their design vision for the next release enhanced with the requirements from real user situations.
JI Software also has the capability to build alternative functionality on a bespoke basis.
What is the typical level of support that your system will require? Will the system require dedicated administration or could it be managed by any 'Super User'.
Your StudentRelate application will need a database administrator with 'super user' skills. A second super user to take on a back-up role is also advisable. The administrator is responsible for the meaning and integrity of the data and the data disciplines of the users. Such a person can act as the focal point for knowledge of how people use the system day to day.
JI Software provides a support service for such super users. For an independent team of ten users on one server based in the team office, there is only occasional need for support from the central IT technical support people. Most issues however, are handled directly with JI Software's technical support service and remedial work can be carried out by a super user with high PC and server understanding.
If you have multiple teams and synchronised offices you'll need to have someone from central IT actively managing the network issues as they arise.
When there is a system problem it is virtually never a software fault; it is a network/environment conflict that requires Microsoft knowledge to resolve. Our technical support engineers need a contact point able to understand and carry out our recommendations for action.
It will be necessary for your system to provide statistical information based on data both from client records and the recorded activity of the system's users. How will it be possible to supply statistics to external bodies about the management of our level of service?
We have a facility which will allow all requests for action to be recorded, scheduled and assigned to a member/members of staff. An action will stay in the system until a service supervisor signs it off as complete.
The system can be used to prepare service level and response statistics in numerous different ways to meet your needs. It can also be used to balance workload between staff. Data can also be exported into Excel for further analysis and Crystal Reports is provided at every workstation as standard.
Compatibility with Microsoft Outlook is a must
The StudentRelate system is compatible with the latest version of Microsoft Outlook. Details of contacts and appointments can be exchanged in both directions and phone numbers can be exported to compatible mobile phones. Incoming emails can be saved with one click to the student with the matching email address, as well as being saved to other contacts in the database as required; like a supervisor or counsellor or study skills advisor.
It would be advantageous if the system required the minimum of training to use. How does the StudentRelate application accommodate staff turnover?
Any PC-literate individual will find the interface easy to use. Staff who are new to database work almost always find the training to be easy to absorb and remember. Because the system is designed in conjunction with the staff who will be using it, users find it to be intuitive. Following our training of your Super User it is possible to have them undertake supervised on the job training. It is also possible to do 'Train the Trainer' seminars if there is very high staff turnover and regular in-house training becomes the norm.
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