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Secure from wherever you connect

Instructional and Information Technology Services (IITS) is always seeking to protect the personal, research and institutional data of Concordia’s units and faculty, staff and students. However, during the May 2019 to May 2020 period, efforts ramped up and stayed in high gear.

“We elaborated a complete cybersecurity program for the period, beyond the information campaigns we normally run,” says France Bigras, associate vice-president of IITS and chief information officer.

In summer 2019, the IITS team worked to identify new tools to help test the knowledge of community members and better evaluate where they could make improvements. In the winter of 2020, they rolled them out to all staff and faculty as refresher courses on cybersecurity and reminders about the risks that can lurk in their in-boxes.

“Through our involvement in Canadian and provincial university cybersecurity committees, we also worked to address the increasing risks in higher education,” she says.

IITS also made significant progress on data management, business intelligence and analytics.

“In collaboration with the Data Governance Steering Committee, we came up with classification standards to better protect Concordia’s data. We also deployed analytics solutions to support the requirements of units like Enrolment Services,” Bigras adds.

Increasing research support was another key project. A new team was established to provide consultation services and technical solutions to bridge any gaps between the needs of research units and institutional IT offerings. They collaborated to provide Concordia’s research community with better data storage, server hosting and virtualization infrastructure.

IITS also worked to improve the user experience of certain platforms – notably those used by students.

“In collaboration with the Student Information System (SIS) team, we modernised the SIS Campus solution interfaces for a better student and employee experience. We also implemented the first phase of the Customer Relations Management solution and have worked on the Concordia Hub project for improved communication with students. Finally, we implemented a Single Sign-on solution for seamless navigation from one system to another,” says Bigras.

The move to Microsoft 365

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced staff and faculty off campus, IITS and other members of the Digital Strategy team were working on plans to improve and expand use of Office 365 tools for daily tasks and collaborative projects — fortuitous timing given the Microsoft suite’s utility in remote work situations.

“In addition to providing more storage space, the initial email migration component provided the community with new tools and additional security. It also brought employees in line with the student population and over 25 other Canadian universities,” notes Bigras.

“Furthermore, elements like Microsoft Teams are making file sharing easier than ever and are allowing people to meet and discuss effectively at a time when physical get-togethers have become the exception.”

Collaboration was also vital for members of Project UNITY, of which IITS was a major player throughout 2019-20.

“In conjunction with Human Resources and Financial Services, our goal is to improve the overall employee experience by simplifying and standardizing the administrative processes at the university. We’re looking forward to the result of all the work when we launch the new system in 2021,” Bigras says.

Feeling connected

In March 2020, when government officials ordered Quebecers to stay home, Concordia employees did not necessarily have the tools required to work off campus. Many found themselves cut off from office phones, computers and the software and files needed to get work done — not to mention from colleagues. The exception was the IITS staff, who went into overdrive.

“Our Service Desk staff took hundreds of calls, trouble-shot all sorts of particular scenarios and even made house calls until an equipment loan system could be established. They really went beyond to help people get reconnected to their departments and colleagues,” Bigras says.

IITS also collaborated with Concordia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning to assist instructors forced to pivot course materials into remote delivery formats quickly enough for students to complete their winter 2020 term.

“We managed to procure hundreds of cameras and mics and helped them set up on platforms like Zoom,” she adds. “At the same time, we laid groundwork for the months ahead, upgrading tools for the start of the fall 2020 term.”

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