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Flexibility and modern solutions

Instructional and Information Technology Services (IITS) continued to make a significant contribution in allowing the university to fulfill its mission in 2021-22. The unit remains an essential pillar of Concordia’s digital transformation, providing both the infrastructure and the applications necessary for its activities to run smoothly, while also guaranteeing the quality and security of its data. IITS is a key player in upholding the institution’s position as a forward-thinking, next-generation university. 

Improving cybersecurity 

Cybersecurity threats are on the rise across many institutional environments, and higher education is no different. IITS has been instrumental in increasing the university’s level of defence and implementing solutions to proactively detect future threats. The unit has also contributed to partnerships at the provincial and national levels to provide real-time assistance and develop solutions accessible to all institutions.

For France Bigras, Concordia’s associate vice-president of information systems and chief information officer, implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) was a huge step toward protecting the campus community. “It’s been a big project because we’ve had to implement MFA for most of our critical services across the board,” Bigras shares.

In addition to implementing MFA for faculty and staff on multiple applications, IITS also offered students the ability to opt in to this same level of protection on services including Microsoft 365 applications and the Student Information System.

Other important cybersecurity measures that IITS undertook include implementing a 24-hour security operations centre–managed service, enabling Safe Links for improved email security, developing a privacy-impact assessment process as well as a data-protection program, and introducing mandatory training for all faculty and staff on common cyberthreats such as phishing.

Hybrid work and learning

The 2021-22 year continued to be deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. IITS supported the needs of students, faculty and staff while they worked remotely and built on lessons from the previous year to optimize work methods and offer greater flexibility.

As the university started to open more fully in spring 2022, an adapted business model permitted IITS to support hybrid work and events. Technology solutions to support new learning and teaching models were also implemented. IITS installed new audiovisual equipment and computers in classrooms, laboratories and meeting rooms and pilot-tested a software solution (LibCal) to facilitate office-space sharing.

Bigras expresses pride for the way her team supported the shifting workplace and learning environments on campus. “It’s now essential being able to provide more flexibility,” she says. She also acknowledges the workload that comes with it.

The virtual service desk responded to 82,388 user interactions in 2021-22, a five per cent increase from the year before. Meanwhile, with a return to in-person learning and work, the three on-campus service centres saw a 36 per cent increase in user interactions. Bigras points out that this increase is, in part, because the virtual tools that students and professors adopted at the outset of the pandemic have now been incorporated into their workflows, whether working remotely or not.

IITS also teamed up with Hospitality Concordia to successfully provide tech support for numerous online and hybrid events, including the Cinemania Film Festival, the IEEE International Conference on Autonomous Systems and the World Congress of the International Council for Central and East European Studies.

Enhancing the employee and student experiences

In a bid to modernize the employee experience and simplify processes, IITS has been working alongside Human Resources (HR) and Financial Services (FS) since 2019 to develop and implement Project UNITY. Together they replaced the outdated systems used by HR and FS with a modern, integrated software solution. Key benefits include less paper, easier access to data, end-to-end automation and more self-serve activities. UNITY went live in December 2021.

“It’s brand new, cloud-based technology and we’ve been responsible for implementing ways to manage these solutions,” Bigras explains. 

Her team deployed six fully integrated applications for Human Resources and Financial Services management, based on modern SAP (Systems, Applications and Products) technology. These were accessed through a single sign-on via Carrefour, Concordia’s new intranet for staff and faculty, for an improved and seamless user experience. They also contributed to creating a dedicated Project UNITY support centre and a modern training tool to support users’ shift to the new system.

On the student front, IITS is building on the success of the Student Hub with several ongoing initiatives to create a holistic student and alumni experience, reduce pain points for students and provide integrated digital services. The unit also continues to foster a user experience that supports a diverse student body.

IITS teamed up with the Registrar’s Office to deploy a solution to create online forms that students can use to obtain services more efficiently and quickly throughout their academic career. The solution improves the student experience by eliminating paper handling, reducing email communication and providing appropriate tracking mechanisms for staff and students. The solution allows for the creation of forms to process academic requests for the student’s record or file, and financial requests for tuition and fees. 

They also developed a business case that was approved for the acquisition of a modern awards and bursaries management solution to streamline processes, improve the student experience, and facilitate graduate student recruitment through faster award confirmation.

A data-driven transformation

Finally, in collaboration with the Office of the Provost and Vice-President, Academic, IITS continues to support Concordia’s transformation to a data-driven institution. A modern cloud-based institutional data platform is being deployed for the delivery of self-service business intelligence and analytics solutions to end users.

Other achievements included initial versions of business intelligence dashboards for analysis of advancement and student data and a proof of concept to evaluate student retention rates using artificial intelligence and advanced analytics concepts.

‘A strong means to ensure continued success’

IITS remains committed to evolving Concordia’s digital environment in collaboration with its various stakeholders. A new collaborative governance that includes all faculties and sectors of the university has been put in place. “This new governance highlights the IT investment priorities of the entire university,” Bigras says. 

In addition, IITS actively contributes to the Government of Quebec’s initiatives in the governance and management of information technology in higher education and works closely with other Canadian universities to share best practices and opportunities.

“In an environment of rapid change and recruitment challenges, teamwork between IITS and all its stakeholders is a strong means to ensure continued success,” Bigras concludes.

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