2020 Year in Review

Posted on Monday, March 8th, 2021

What a year 2020 was! There is so much to reflect on, learn from, and celebrate. First and foremost, this year has strengthened the gratitude I feel to be part of the U of G community. The conversations at the senior leadership table have been more difficult compared with years past, but the primary focus never wavered – it remains the mental and physical wellbeing of our students and employees, as well as our collective success.

I am very proud of the University-wide IT community and what we have been able to achieve, both individually in our resolve and resiliency, and collectively in our response to the ever-changing pandemic realities and our continued pursuit of innovation to ensure U of G remains a coveted institution.

For many reasons, the workload felt heavier – both in amount and urgency – but also in our capacity to rise and meet the many challenges. We have each felt burdened in different ways by the pandemic, by world events, by our work/family/financial situations, and so much more. Having to meet work demands amidst all of that was not always possible, at least not in the same ways we have been able to do so in the past. But as I reflect on our achievements, I am struck by the dedication and commitment of our IT workforce, resulting in significant progress and so many great accomplishments in 2020.

This list highlights just some of the work you have all achieved.

Covid Response

  • A remarkable shift from in-person to online learning in an incredibly short period of time, as well as supporting students and faculty through this transition. 
  • Rapid implementation of Zoom by OpenEd as the main tool for online teaching and learning, along with the provision of significant user support. 
  • Significant support effort to enable the adoption of Teams and Webex collaboration tools for business use across the University.
  • Supporting the significant uptake of Jabber softphone so users can receive business calls through their laptop and mobile phones.
  • Deployed a new “Office in a Box” solution that extends campus network connectivity (including U of G secure WiFi) to a remote workspace, allowing those with call centre agent responsibilities to connect their physical work phones remotely to participate in calling queues.
  • Implemented technology and process for remote operation of University switchboard service.
  • Bolstering the capacity of the VPN service to ensure U of G systems can be accessed remotely in a secure manner by many users simultaneously. 
  • OpenEd and Student Accessibility Services (SAS) developed an automated quiz extension tool that automatically applies a CourseLink quiz extension using Special Access for SAS-registered students.
  • CCS partnered with OpenEd to synchronize CourseLink class lists with Microsoft 365, enabling instructors to easily post recorded lectures and videos to Microsoft Stream and make sure learner viewing permissions were automatic and appropriate. This functionality was used for approximately 150 classes in Fall 2020. CCS partnered similarly with the OVC to tightly integrate Microsoft 365 tools for use with their fourth-year rotation program, improving the experience for veterinary students and instructors alike.
  • Partnered with the Campus COVID-19 Response Committee to create an online screening form and reporting process, enabling those students, faculty, and staff who needed to be on campus to do so safely and within the Public Health guidelines.

  • Loaner laptops were provided to students and staff across campus to ensure academic and business continuity.
  • WiFi hubs were provided to students, staff and faculty who had limited connectivity at home.
  • The Engineering Computer Loan program provided workstations to students who did not have access to their own hardware.

  • The Virtual Engineering Design Day event was successfully converted to a completely virtual event using Microsoft Teams.
  • CCS launched Teams Live and Webex Events platforms and created an extensive support model led by co-op students for large-scale online events.

  • The School of Engineering developed a custom web application to provide 2000+ engineering students with remote access to more than 400 workstations.
  • Azure Lab Services, a cloud-based solution, was successfully implemented by CSAHS for some of their teaching labs, allowing computer-based training to be delivered by invitation to students using virtual computers.
  • LabStats Remote Access Dashboard allows users to safely connect to McLaughlin Library computers and their wide range of academic and professional software. This program is also being used to allow remote access to physical computers in the CBS and CPES labs, and CSAHS is using this for their drop-in facility, allowing students remote access to powerful software programs from off campus.
  • Creation of an Engineering Software Catalog to ensure students can easily find, download, and install required software.

  • Important enhancements were made to U of G Alert, the campus emergency notification system, including the addition of an Alertus software panic button deployed to all Student Wellness Services computers, providing direct access to Campus Police. Additionally, 25 Alertus beacons were purchased (22 for Guelph campus and three for Ridgetown campus) to be installed in 2021/22. These beacons serve to alert building occupants in the event of an emergency.
  • The new centralized PDF generation service was launched to allow a more effective solution for generating PDFs for custom applications providing scalability and cost savings.
  • Part of the Next Generation Data Centre (NGDC) initiative, the Oracle Next Gen Project migrated core Human Resources and Finance applications to the NGDC, including a new version of Oracle (EBS) and Oracle databases to improve overall performance, reliability and security.  
  • Significant progress has continued with respect to improving security compliance of our endpoint computing devices. This is an area that is actively tracked via monthly metrics and reported to the Board of Governors Audit and Risk Committee.
  • A new campus firewall policy implementation has significantly improved the University’s security posture. The new policy allows only “known good” internet traffic to enter the University network, blocking everything else. The previous policy allowed all inbound traffic but blocked all traffic known to be malicious or harmful.
  • Alumni Affairs & Development (AA&D) has made many enhancements this year, including:
    • Making tremendous headway toward the launch of a new online giving form to improve donor experience, boost online giving, and demonstrate impact. The form is mobile-friendly, searchable, enables donors to split their gift, and has a tribute option for special occasion giving. 
    • Employing a product called Gravyty, an automated intelligence tool to help fundraisers identify and create communication strategies with large prospect pools. This product uses algorithms to assist in triaging potential donors to U of G.
    • Expanding their use of SharePoint, creating a unique portal for information-sharing with the President’s Office to ensure key donors and gift agreements are readily available and easily accessible to simplify and streamline the review process.
    • Using Power Automate to migrate U of G charitable gift agreements between the various internal stakeholders (Finance, deans, donors, lawyers, etc.). This has streamlined a previous manual process and shortened the turnaround time dramatically.

In 2017, U of G engaged PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to conduct a comprehensive review of major IT functions and organizational structures across the University. We have been working to meet the resulting recommendations, with significant progress made this year:

  • The University-wide IT Strategy sustained great momentum, completing engagement sessions across all pillars, drafting final pillar reports, and tracking toward a Spring 2021 launch.
  • Launch of an IT program management office (PMO) that supports the CIO and the IT Governance Council (ITGC) by providing greater oversight across all IT projects in progress at the University.
  • Implementation of a product management model within the CCS Enterprise Applications team, with the creation of new positions focused on meeting the business needs of clients. The team also implemented an agile approach to work using Azure DevOps.
  • Good progress has been made toward the PwC recommendation for the centralization of desktop computing support using the Managed Desktops and Managed Desktop Shared Service programs. There are now more than 5,000 endpoint computers under some form of centralized management.

These projects are high-impact, University-wide initiatives that have been approved by the IT Governance Council (ITGC). These projects are led by various U of G units with IT as a contributing partner:

  • The Expense Claim System (ECS) Replacement Project was launched this year with the new solution selected (SAP Concur), the project team assembled, detailed project plan completed, design sessions, and the launch of requirements gathering and change management planning activities.
  • The Faculty eCV Implementation Project was launched in 2020, with great progress including stakeholder engagement, a successful RFP process, and the final selection of UNIWeb by Proximify to replace the current eCV system (Sedona).
  • The Human Resources Management System project was initiated this year and made significant progress, including the onboarding of the integration vendor and project team, meeting key planning deliverables, completing the design of the Core HR Foundations thus setting the stage for design and build sessions in 2021.
  • Significant progress was made on the Institutional Data Strategy, including the hiring of the core team with the key Enterprise Data Architect position now in place. Other accomplishments include activities related to building out the University’s data architecture, formation of data governance steering and advisory committees, drafting of an institutional data governance policy, launch of data governance training for key stakeholders, data lake proof of concepts, and continued data product development with almost 80 dashboards now being delivered using Data Insights, the central institutional data portal.
  • The Student Feedback Questionnaire (SFQ) project replaces the current course evaluation (CEVAL) service and with a new solution that provides greater functionality, flexibility and greater capacity to meet the institution’s commitment to teaching and learning. The University engaged in an RFP process and awarded the contract to Explorance for their enterprise-class product, Blue.
  • The Student Information Systems Refresh saw the completion of many initiatives in 2020, including the automation of several processes to enable academic and business continuity during the pandemic. These included automating the submission of banking information, sending entrance award letters to incoming students, collecting admission deferral applications, sending login credentials to incoming students, online updating of student profile and emergency contact information, an online form allowing students to switch from a numeric to a pass/fail grade, and secure document upload so students can submit their ID verification to receive their student ID cards which are required to write online exams.
  • The Test Scoring Replacement Project identified a business need to provide a test scoring solution that supports the University’s commitment to learner-centredness. The RFP is currently under evaluation.

  • The Campus IT Leaders Group – a collective of IT managers across the University – has continued to strengthen its mandate and vision to help guide and plan IT activities for the University.
  • Continued efforts to build a cohesive organization included monthly IT Town Hall meetings, as well as social gatherings for the entire IT community, such as the summer and holiday online events.
  • A campus-wide IT culture review took place in the summer of 2020, to help enable a more cohesive, aligned, engaged and happy IT workforce going forward.
  • An investigation into the use of oppressive and/or non-inclusive language in IT was launched, with plans to remove these terms from various IT repositories and ensure that going forward all language used reflects our aspirations for a diverse and inclusive culture.
  • Ongoing partnership meetings between CCS managers and many campus departments to provide opportunities for collaboration, information sharing and improvement.
  • A new technology support partnership between CCS and OVC includes shared staffing arrangements and CCS management involvement in OVC technology team meetings.
  • CCS partnered with CSAHS on a secondment that has brought wonderful perspective to the CCS Web Solutions team in their efforts to build the next-generation platform for public-facing U of G websites in partnership with Communications & Public Affairs.

While this list of accomplishments only scratches the surface, this amount and quality of work would be remarkable in any year. That it was accomplished during one of the most challenges years of our lifetime is astonishing.

We now look forward to a new and more hopeful year. I am honoured to work alongside all of you as we continue to pull together for the good of our community, our institution and our world. You all play an important role in meeting our mandate to Improve Life. We have persevered and excelled during an extraordinary year, and for that, I am deeply grateful to you all.

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