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2018 in review

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

What an exciting year we’ve had! As I’m writing this, we’ve just entered another hour or two of load-shedding, and I’m thankful for a reliable laptop on battery power.

In the centennial year of the University, a number of bold decisions were finalised to launch some of the largest renewal projects in the last two decades.

The successor systems for two core administrative applications, Student and Financial Management, were evaluated, selected and approved by the Rectorate by the end of November. Both  applications, to be implemented over the next two years, are modern and innovative in important aspects:

  • The systems will be implemented in the cloud and developed and maintained by leading international vendors. This is a major change for the university, having developed and maintained the legacy applications in-house for more than 25 years.
  • The platforms serving these applications will be located in the cloud, and not on campus like before. This will have a major impact on the nature of our work and will enable us to utilise resources in new ways to improve our services to the university.

As far as we’re aware, no other university in South Africa has migrated these applications to a cloud based platform yet.

The IT Division has been hard at work to improve the quality and sustainability of our services. In August, we submitted the two-year Quality Improvement Report to the institutional Quality Committee, which was accepted with acclaim. The report mentioned important improvement milestones, like the establishment of a new governance body for information and technology management, the Technology and Information Committee, as well as many organisational, infrastructure and service improvements.

Another major achievement for the year is the development and implementation of the ICT Partner Portal, a system to streamline and manage all work streams for ourselves and our partners, colleagues and clients. Since implementation in September, about 80% of the service processes in the IT Division has been defined and configured in the system, and more than 17000 incidents and requests were processed in three months. The system is designed to provide transparency to the workflow and completion of tasks to all process stakeholders – users or clients, service staff and management.

The year will also be remembered for the steep increase in cyber-attacks, especially phishing attempts. A dedicated cybersecurity function was established to deal with the rising threats, and to our dismay, we noticed a significant percentage of manpower being absorbed by this phenomenon.

We are also sad to see a number of colleagues leaving our team, some retiring and others to greener pastures. We wish all of them well, especially Callie van der Merwe and Thys de Wet, who spent their entire career at Stellenbosch University.

Lastly, a word of appreciation to prof Stan du Plessis, our new Chief Operating Officer, for the first full year of his leadership and support. We are inspired and eager to enter 2019 with renewed energy, after a short period of rest.

Best wishes for the festive season!

Attie Juyn

IT Review: 2017

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

At the end of another busy year, it is time to reflect on some of the major IT events, trends and achievements.

It is alarming to report that cybersecurity threats and attacks increased to record levels during the past year. Stellenbosch University, like most institutions around the world, is increasingly being targeted by criminal elements, and these attacks are consuming an increasing amount of our resources, that could have been applied to more constructive projects. Is this a mere reflection of society?

On the positive side, the IT Division has made steady progress with major renewal strategies, like the Systems Renewal Programme, the Campus Infrastructure Upgrade program, and implementation of various other new services. Many of the improvements were made possible by innovative reallocation of resources, and improving our functional capabilities in a variety of ways.

Many of our users have expressed concern about the availability of wifi across our campuses. It remains one of our key investments and will continue at a steady pace, with more academic and administrative buildings, and especially student residences, being connected and equipped with wifi. Unfortunately, this is a tedious process, since wifi infrastructure often depends on the renovation of the building infrastructure itself.

As we move into the digital era, it is important to notice and utilise technological opportunities to increase cost-effective service improvements. Two major examples are cloud computing (including SaaS – Software as a Service application platforms), and the boom in personal computing devices and social media. These trends provide opportunities for the innovative restructuring of IT services, and better utilisation of resources. For example, the successful migration of many of our Microsoft applications (Outlook, Exchange, Office) to O365 on the Microsoft Azure platform, is already realising a range of benefits.

We are delighted to report that Stellenbosch University reported the highest internet speeds of all universities in SA for at least two months during 2017. Internet connectivity is a key enabler for most applications and communication, and speed and reliability remain key performance factors. We are also glad to report increasing bandwidth availability in our national and international connections. The Higher Education sector now has redundant (dual connections) to Europe via the Seacom and WACS cables, between 40 and 100 gigabits per second!

Lastly, I must congratulate the IT staff on all the achievements of the past year. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication.

We wish all our clients and users a happy and relaxing festive holiday period, and we look forward to a new year of opportunities and challenges.

Attie Juyn
Senior Director: Information Technology

 

One-on-one consultation service available for staff

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

The IT Hub, centrally located in the heart of campus, under the bridge connecting Admin A and Admin B, now offers a one-on-one consultation room for staff with a professional technician.

The IT User Consultation room, room 1021, situated inside The IT Hub is private and allows you the time to ask the technician questions while you are being assisted.

The scheduled time slot is 8:00am – 16:30pm, Mondays to Fridays.

When a technician calls you after you have logged a call, you are then welcome to request a meeting in the consultation room. Every call is important to us, however, calls will be prioritized accordingly.

We hope you find this service beneficial.

ITHUB
STELLENBOSCH CAMPUS 

PHONE: 021 808 9289
EMAIL: ithub@sun.ac.za

Who is ISS?

Friday, June 24th, 2016

At the end of the month your salary is safely in your bank account. We consider this a given and hardly think about it. But who ensures it happens, without fail, every month?

Information is crucial and strategic for a knowledge-intensive and knowledge-producing enterprise, such as a university, to thrive. Institutional software solutions[1] form the basis of all institutional information systems and process most institutional information. Examples at SU include the Human Resources, Financial, Research Administration, and Student Information Systems.

Information Technology’s newly reorganised division, Institutional Software Solutions (ISS), led by Ralph Pina, is responsible for building, providing, maintaining and supporting reliable, innovative and sustainable institutional software solutions that meet the University’s needs timeously and over the long term. It comprises some 36 software developers, business analysts, and managers, all accommodated on an open floor in the new ICT Building.

Without these systems, you won’t be able to receive your salary or request leave. No financial transactions would be possible. Students would not be able to access examination results or register at the beginning of the year. Administration of student records would have to be done by hand. 

These are just a few of the software solutions ISS is responsible for. In order to fulfill its crucial function, the ISS division has to: 

  • manage relationships with solution and system owners (clients), external and internal IT partners, stakeholders, communities and vendors;
  • perform business analysis to understand and help refine institutional processes, and determine requirements;
  • develop software, which includes designing and coding solutions with the long-term in mind, and establishing and maintaining the necessary software development environment, skills, and knowledge;
  • maintain software over the long term;
  • integrate  (connect) software applications and systems in order to orchestrate institutional processes, enable integrated reporting and integrated views of institutional information;
  • source software solutions by helping clients and partners to select solutions, and by brokering solutions i.e. facilitating the procurement of solutions;
  • support software solutions by monitoring operations, configuring systems, managing incidents, and problems, and helping clients and partners to train users;
  • architect data, software solutions and integrations in collaboration with the IT Architecture Function.
  • manage software solution development and implementation projects.

[1] University-owned or managed software applications (or solutions) that have a broad application across the institution, as opposed to specialised value for a single or few organisational entities within the university. The definition includes software such as web content management systems and mobile apps, amongst others. For example, a laboratory information system that has specialised value for only a single academic department or a single faculty would likely not be classed as an institutional software solution.

IT gets active

Friday, June 24th, 2016

And you thought IT staff’s only exercise, is moving fingers on a keyboard, mouse clicking or flexing mental muscles while programming? You should have seen us at the Wellness day.

On Friday 10 June, Facilities Management, IT and the Launchlab decided to get physical with our own Wellness Day. The day’s theme was “don’t be afraid of the “F” word. Make Fitness Fun on Freaky Fitness Friday”. 

Clearly, IT was fearless as staff pitched up in droves to join in the varied activities organised for the day. It might also be the promise of a free lunch, but at least we got some exercise. Eighty IT staff participated in the event in spite of fairly unpleasant, cold and rainy weather. 

At 8:00 staff was welcomed with a much-needed cup of warm coffee, after which they were slowly eased into the day with a demonstration by Digi Cape on how to use the Discovery fitness device/app. Discovery also sponsored a wellness screening where cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and general physical condition were measured. This was the part where your true age was divulged. Some exercised extra hard after this revelation. 

The 2.5 km walk was the perfect opportunity to start working on that physical age. More rigorous exercise was next on the schedule in the form of a Spinathon between Facilities Management, IT and the Launchlab. The wheels were kept spinning for a whole three hours and we can safely say some IT staff proved to be extremely persistent. 

A boot camp provided a further challenge and Shanee, Millicent and Anthea walked away with prizes.

For the more zen staff members, a yoga, a pilates session, and meditation brought the necessary calm they clearly needed. For others, the massage session was the best medicine. 

The prize for entering the most events went to Jerome Swarts. Petro Uys and Ciska Marais won vouchers for the Spinathon and IT walked away as victors of the Fitness Quiz. 

[PHOTOS BY JEROME SWARTS]

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