All posts by TimA

chariots of fire 3

Giving Something Back

On Sunday 17 September, two teams from Scientia will take part in the Chariots of Fire race – one of Cambridgeshire’s largest charity events.  Established in 1992, it is the brainchild of Bill Matthews, Race Director for many years, who joined the committee of a local charity and was looking for fundraising ideas.  Bill had recently watched the 1981 film of the same name which tells the story of Harold Abrahams, a Cambridge runner, and his bid to win a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics; it includes the iconic scene of the race around Trinity College Great Court.  Bill was inspired to recreate the race for charity.

Since the event started in 1992, Chariots of Fire has raised over £1 million for local and regional charities, with an estimated 6,245 teams having taken part in the race, with approximately 37,470 individual runners pitting themselves against each other.  We’re very proud to be joining that roster this year, with funds raised going to support the vital work done by Alzheimer’s Research UK – the UK’s leading dementia research charity, based in Cambridge.

Egg our 12 brave athletes on: sponsor them here.

As a company, we believe deeply in supporting the numerous charitable initiatives which colleagues undertake.  Over the past few years, we’ve sponsored the kit for a charity bike ride, paid out hundreds of pounds in entrance fees, and match-funded any charitable fundraising done under the auspices of Scientia, from office bake-sales to the charity quiz at our annual User Conference.  We’re currently reviewing our Corporate Social Responsibility policy with a view to providing even better support for the causes we and our staff believe in.  As a technology firm, where should we be looking to invest our help?  We’re always open to ideas.

Sheffield Hallam University logo

Beating space utilisation issues with Clocks

Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) will become the UK’s first Classroom Occupancy System (Clocks) user when it deploys the pioneering space management solution later this year.  SHU has purchased Clocks to inform its 15-year Estates Development Framework, which is currently under development, and is reviewing both current space utilisation and future space requirements.

Donna Cooper, Space Resource Manager at SHU, said, “Space is an expensive resource and we have identified continued issues with staff prospectively booking rooms which they then don’t use; manual room audits and surveys tell us that this is the case.  But with each space audit taking five weeks, they are so time-consuming and expensive that we’ve actually stopped doing them.  Clocks will enable us to see both real-time room use and analyse room use over time – a semester or year.  We’ll be able to compare the data with planned use from Syllabus+ and schedule more appropriately.  It will give us much-needed data on how our spaces are actually being used versus their scheduled use, enabling us to optimise how we use our space.”

Donna and the Facilities & Estates Team will use Clocks data to drive new policy around space use at SHU and find new ways to optimise the use of space. They’ll be working closely with users to find improved ways of booking and managing space: “We’re an inner-city campus with growing demands on our space so we simply have to use what we have as efficiently as possible.”

As a long-term Syllabus+ Enterprise user, Clocks was the obvious choice: “We did look at alternative solutions, but anything else would have required a lot more work to integrate with Syllabus+ and we were impressed with the outcomes from Wageningen UR (the first Clocks users in the Netherlands).  Over time, it will be a lot more cost-effective than manual audits and have a host of other benefits.”

SHU will run a pilot implementation covering five buildings between October and December 2017.  If successful, they will roll it out across the campus in early 2018, with full use in the 2018/19 academic year.  For more information on Clocks, contact us.

Image representing difference and inclusion

Inclusion in Higher Education

Inclusion (noun): the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of race, gender, disability, medical or other need. It is about giving equal access and opportunities and getting rid of discrimination and intolerance – and removal of barriers.

Universities are rightly doing all they can to both welcome and accommodate diversity within their student cohort. Last week, Warwick held a conference to progress its decision to introduce gender-neutral toilets in an effort to be more inclusive for students who identify as trans or non-binary (describes any gender identity which does not fit the male and female binary).

It was interesting to see the Space Management and Timetabling Team mentioned in the piece, acknowledging the wide-ranging impact changes like this have on a institution and its policies. We introduced ‘non-binary’ and ‘prefer not to say’ options in Exam Scheduler (ES) last year. Looking forward, Syllabus+ Anywhere will have options for default and configurable genders.

By removing barriers to access, participation and achievement, the average UK university now has more than 500 students who need extra provision (NEP). Exam Scheduler has had good NEP students support from version 3.0, released in 2011. The Exams Management System (EMS) NEP module moves things forward significantly. It is completely configurable in terms of how it can be set up to represent conditions and the effect on how the student is scheduled. It can also be adapted over time to take into account changing understanding of illnesses, legislation changes or temporary conditions.

A growing number of our clients are introducing lecture capture video systems in classrooms. When linked with our core timetabling solution, these systems detect scheduled teaching sessions in the timetable and automatically record them.  If the recorded event is linked to a course, it will be automatically made available to students registered on that course. There are myriad benefits to recording lectures for students to watch again. Most importantly, it increases accessibility and inclusivity for students who may be unable to take notes or physically attend the class.

The Exams Network Conference (ENC) last year highlighted the growth in alternative provision requests for those with mental health issues, not physical conditions. It will be interesting to see how the sector responds to give all students equality of opportunity. We’re running a free workshop on EMS on Tuesday 5 September, 10-4, for anyone at this year’s ENC in Tasmania.

We’d like to hear examples of inclusive practice at your institution. Email them to info@scientia.com.

Picture of ASPRG 2016 - its 21st birthday

ASPRG: it’s so much more than a hard-to-decipher acronym

The Australasian Syllabus Plus Reference Group (ASPRG) Conference is upon us once more. Staff on both sides of the equator are gearing up to ensure that their contribution is worthy of this excellent user-led event, says Richie Teh, Regional Manager ANZ.

And it is truly user-led: unlike Scientia’s EMEAA User Conference, which is organised by the Company (albeit with the generous support of a user steering committee), ASPRG is independently-organised; we are merely invited guests!

ASPRG started life as a peer-support network for Scientia software users based in Australia. Now in its 22nd year, the Group has grown from just a handful of universities to more than 95% of all universities in ANZ. Hosted by a different institution each year, its annual gathering shows that, even in the modern era of easy remote communication, nothing beats a physical get-together for sharing innovation and best practice with our solutions. It’s also an opportunity for fellow Timetablers to swap stories from the scheduling frontline – “a three-day therapy session,” according to a colleague!

This year, ASPRG is generously hosted by the University of Queensland (UQ) at its St Lucia Campus in Brisbane. A Scientia client for more than 5 years, UQ is one of Australia’s leading research and teaching institutions with over 51,000 students. Over three days, Scientia software users will get to hear insightful user presentations about how our solutions deliver measurable benefit ‘on the ground’ – interwoven with the latest company and product developments from the Scientia team. I’m really looking forward to the user presentations; hearing about the unique ways each institution uses our software drives innovation and progress within the Company.

On a personal level, I’m also excited about my session on Clocks – short for Classroom Occupancy System. Developed by our Dutch partners, Lone Rooftop, Clocks utilises their Position Intelligence Engine (PIE) to calculate the position of people inside a building, primarily using existing WiFi networks. It’s a huge leap forward in space management on campus. We’ve just had our first Clocks order in the UK and I’m sure clients in ANZ will be excited to hear about the myriad benefits of real-time space utilisation and powerful reporting.

With Syllabus+ Anywhere just around the corner, I’m sure much discussion will be focussed on the opportunities our new Cloud-based scheduling solution will bring. Flexible, scalable, performant and secure, Syllabus+ Anywhere is going to move timetabling from a necessary service to a valuable strategic resource in tertiary institutions. I’m thrilled that both Darren Woodward and Duncan Corbett from Scientia’s Product Management team are coming over to present the latest developments with the software. I hope this shows clients in APAC how committed we are to delivering and supporting a new solution which works for everyone. I hope to see you there!

Richie


See the 2017 ASPRG Conference Agenda.

NSE results 2017

Scientia’s clients have a strong showing in the 2017 NSE

Student satisfaction continues to be high on the agenda for the HE sector globally. Our Dutch clients are rising to the challenge.

NSE logoThe results of the annual Dutch student survey – the Nationale Studente Enquête (NSE) – were released in May.  Almost 300,000 students answered 43 questions across 22 areas of their course programme.  This resulted in more than 1 million lines of data, rating everything from the content and organisation of teaching to preparation for a professional career.

It’s not hard to see why student satisfaction is so important in Higher Education. As fee-paying ‘customers’, students rightly expect an appropriate level of service. Greater retention and improved graduation rates reflect well on education institutions – in some countries, funding is dependent on it – and students who have had a good experience are likely to become advocates for their place of study, thus ensuring the next generation of applicants. Moreover, alumni at American HE institutions donated some $10 Billion in funding to their former colleges in 2015 – almost double the level of corporate support.

This is the seventh year that Scientia has analysed the results to see how our clients performed in the questions relating to timetabling and space management. Our raison d’être is to help academic institutions improve in these business-critical areas, so improvement is what we’re looking for.

With regards to timetabling, we are delighted to report that 38% of our Dutch Research University clients improved on their 2016 scores, with 31% charting the same as last year.  But our University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool) clients have done even better: 69% have improved on their 2016 timetabling scores.

In the questions relating to the availability of suitable work space, 85% of Scientia’s University clients did the same or better than in 2016; 67% of our Hogeschool clients achieved the same.

A special mention must go to our clients that beat the averages for their type of institution in each of the 7 categories relating to timetabling and space management. Tilburg University, University of Twente, Wageningen University & Research, Hanzehogeschool, Hogeschool Zeeland, Hotelschool Den Haag, Marnix College and Wittenborg University – take a bow!

Wittenborg University’s results are notable as they have achieved an outstanding result for timely notification of changes to the timetable – a direct result of implementing our Publish solution last year. This was also Wittenborg’s first year in the NSE; with scores comparable to many top-tier research universities, they’ve set the bar very high.

Many Dutch institutions will understandably use their NSE scores in their marketing, proudly proclaiming themselves to be the best at X, Y and Z. Being the best is great, but the first step on that journey is simply to be better. Our clients understand that and we’re proud to support them in that aim.

Picture of a man listening intently during the Scientia User Conference

Scientia User Conference Day 2: Exams

With exam season upon us, David Hathaway, Product Manager for Scientia’s exams solutions, looks back on the exams-themed sessions at our recent User Conference.

This was the second year that we have run a dedicated Exams Stream at the Scientia User Conference.  A significant number of people attend the Conference primarily for the exams sessions (and some come just for that day), and it was heartening to see that our ~70-seater room was decently full – often almost to capacity – for most of the presentations.

To the untrained eye, planning exams may not seem different to scheduling a course, but it is – significantly.  Although inexorably linked, there are two distinct parts to staging exams: scheduling them and then managing them.

The scheduling part of exams is very much like scheduling lectures, albeit that you may well have different student sets in the same room – a group of history students and a group of maths students, for example – or the same group spread over many rooms. This presents challenges unique to exam timetablers.  The management of exams relates more to the preparation and delivery of the event itself: getting papers securely produced and delivered to the venue; invigilator recruitment, training and rostering; taking into consideration students who need extra provision; and management of the exam sessions.

Our Exams Stream was an opportunity for our customers to share how they manage their own exams – and a chance for us to update them on how our solutions are developing to meet the changing needs of the sector.

Going Anywhere?

Picture of David Hathaway at the Scientia User ConferenceThe day kicked off with a Scientia product development update.  While focussing on Exam Scheduler (ES) and Exams Management System (EMS), the session also touched on integration capabilities – particularly the new ability to make exam timetables available to staff and students via Publish.

The big news was that we will be moving ES to the Cloud (starting next year) as part of Syllabus+ Anywhere.  Like all elements of Syllabus+ Anywhere, exams users will get a new interface, components and functionality – and it will be underpinned by next-level reporting and auditing tools. This makes it much more than just a change of platform.

Listening at the Scientia User ConferenceUser Presentations

  • Jackie Lupton, University of Southampton, looked at the challenges of managing the invigilation process – or more accurately, managing invigilators. Following the process through recruitment, training and then timetabling invigilators, Jackie reinforced her key messages with references to how ES has helped Southampton drive changes to the invigilation process and delivered material benefits.
  • Copenhagen Business School runs a dedicated, off-site exam building with some 600+ workstations.  Lene Tobiassen’s presentation described the drivers and business benefits for using this kind of building, the main one being that it minimises disruption to normal scheduled activities and, mainly because of the flexible partitioning, creates a much better environment for running exams. All exams at CBS are taken online and Lene’s presentation looked at the benefits (improved workflow, monitoring and transparency) and challenges (hardware issues, etc.) of running exams this way.
  • Torben Grobaard, from Copenhagen University, stood in for his colleague Dorte Jensen (who was unfortunately ill) and covered their new, all-digital exams processes. He described the new software they commissioned and implemented to plan, deliver and mark all written exams at the university – and how it links to ES to produce optimised timetables for students. Particularly interesting was how he unpicked their process of putting the right people and equipment in the right room at the right time – no mean feat. The second half of his presentation gave an overview of the dedicated exams building run by Copenhagen University – particularly interesting was the revelation they cover a proportion of the building costs by renting it to outside organisations for running exams.

Making exams work for everyone

At the core of our solutions is the idea that using them can make academic life better for everyone.  This ethos is at the forefront of our forthcoming EMS solution, where we have dedicated an entire module to supporting students who need alternative arrangements or additional support in exam situations.  The Conference workshop I chaired on this subject was lively and informative with lots of idea-sharing and discussion – so much so that I had to stop it!

The workshop format suits some subjects more than others.  Based on discussions I heard throughout the day, a similar workshop session around invigilator management would be a good idea.  We will look at running this at the conference next year.

New for 2017: Exams-specific SRUG

The growing popularity of the Conference Exams Stream encouraged us to think about how we could further meet this interest throughout the year.  The news that we will have an exams-specific SRUG (Scientia Regional User Group) for the first time this year was very well received. I can now say that it will be held on 31 October at the East Midlands Conference Centre.  Booking will open in June, full details TBC.

With ES 3.5.4 and a full EMS release just around the corner, this is an exciting time for our exams solution customers.  Find out more about both solutions by listening to the podcasts below.

See more pictures from the Conference here, including the world’s most tense game of Jenga.

Customer Stories: Aberystwyth

Aberystwyth University logo

Organisation and management of courses is a key driver for student satisfaction. Aberystwyth transformed its fortunes in this area with a little help from us.

With just a few days left for UK students to complete the 2017 National Student Survey, we thought we’d look back on one of last year’s biggest success stories.

Abersytwyth University opened in 1872 with a cohort of 26 students and three teaching staff.  Today, it has more than 10,000 students studying across its six academic Institutes.  The main campus of the University is situated on Penglais Hill, overlooking the town of Aberystwyth and Cardigan Bay, and comprises most of the University buildings, Arts Centre, Students’ Union, and many of the student residences.  The University boasts a number of famous alumni, including HRH Charles, Prince of Wales.

The Challenge

Aberystwyth took in an unusually large intake of students in 2011.  This placed considerable pressure on the university’s existing timetabling processes.  As a result, the 2012 National Student Survey (NSS) highlighted shortcomings in Aberystwyth’s organisation and management of courses.  Data collection was inconsistent, leading to availability clashes.  Lectures were scheduled by a central timetabling office into a subset of large classrooms; smaller rooms were ‘owned’ and managed by departments, making them invisible to the central scheduling team.  Furthermore, classes were ‘rolled over’ from the previous year, meaning that a big room which had once housed a big class might be allocated to a far smaller group – and vice-versa. This had led to inefficient use of teaching space.

The Solution

In 2013, Aberystwyth commissioned Scientia to undertake a Business Process Review.  Our recommendations led to a complete restructure of its timetabling and space management processes, including:

  • Making more rooms centrally owned and therefore available to the central Timetabling team;
  • Refining data collection methods to reduce staff and room availability clashes;
  • Implementing the auto-scheduling capability of Syllabus+ Enterprise, meaning classes would be appropriately scheduled according to room capacity; and
  • Creating a personalised timetable for each student.

The Outcome

With teaching space now largely centrally-owned, formerly ‘hidden’ spaces devolved to Faculties are now visible to the central Timetabling Team.  Combined with the auto-scheduling functionality in Syllabus+ Enterprise, Aberystwyth has been able to optimise its use of rooms and resources, significantly improving utilisation rates.

“Thanks to these changes, we now have the most efficient timetable possible.”
Tim Davies, Director of Information Services at Aberystwyth

“We’ve undergone a complete change in concept and culture.  Before, we scheduled classes with very little information available to us, meaning that we spent a lot of time after the production of the timetable making changes – a very labour-intensive process.  We reduced the number of ways for staff to give us their availability information and made the format consistent.  Having that information at the start of the process means far fewer changes once the timetable’s been produced.  Autoscheduling with Enterprise means we are optimising the available space and providing the best possible timetable for our staff and students each year,” said Tim.

Combined with other efforts to improve the student experience, Aberystwyth has once again put itself back at the top of the tables, achieving 92% in the 2016 NSS – 4th in the UK and 1st in Wales for overall satisfaction.  This 9% year-on-year rise was the second-biggest improvement for a mainstream university in 2016.  Satisfaction with the organisation and management of courses has also made a marked improvement.

“Successful Timetabling has played an important part in improving the student experience.”
Jackie Sayce, Institute Manager at Aberystwyth

Building on recent successes, Aberystwyth has recently launched its ApAber app, enabling students and staff to access their personalised timetables on the web and from mobile devices.  Amongst other things, they can also access their AberLearn virtual learning environment, see what public computers are available, check their attendance record, and find out how much money they have on their AberCard.

Download this customer story here.

Day one of the Scientia User Conference

The Importance of Scheduling for Student Satisfaction

The importance of student satisfaction has grown in line with tuition fees and competition from a global higher education marketplace.  It’s always mattered, but in the era of big student debt and funding predicated on performance, it’s now a key strategic aim for most institutions.  That’s why we chose it as the focus of our 2016 White Paper, and also why it became the theme for our 2017 EMEAA User Conference.  How students feel about their institution is influenced by numerous factors: the quality of teaching; access to learning resources; and examination and assessment, to name but a few.  Users of our software are particularly concerned with the impact good course organisation and management can have on student satisfaction.

Timetabling and Student Satisfaction

Timetabling is a niche part of academic administration, and our software is a niche product designed with and for that sector.  With such specialist knowledge and implementations specific to their institution, Timetablers tend to change job relatively infrequently.  That means we get many of the same people coming to Conference year after year, cementing the enduring relationships we have with our customers which go way beyond the usual provider-client transaction.  It’s a partnership in every sense of the word.  So the Wednesday morning of Conference is all about welcoming old friends – and making new ones – before we get down to business.


Darren Woodward at the Scientia User Conference 2017We kicked off after lunch with a high-level session on Syllabus+ Anywhere – our forthcoming Cloud-based scheduling solution.  This was Darren Woodward‘s fourth EMEAA User Conference, but the first since he ‘moved to the Dark Side’, as his former colleagues from Auckland put it.  Our poacher-turned-gamekeeper delivered a great session which looked at the features, benefits and roadmap for the solution.

It’s an incredibly exciting time for us and that came over in Darren’s presentation.  He focussed on how Syllabus+ Anywhere moves timetabling from a required back office function to an embedded service within an institution, able to help with everything from change management to capacity planning in Estates.  This new core solution will encompass much of the functionality currently covered by a number of our current products, not least data collection – the vital first piece in the scheduling puzzle.

Darren touched on some research which shows the connection between self-service and student satisfaction.  Enabling students and staff to do everything from module selection to ad-hoc room and resource booking is proven to increase productivity, efficiency and satisfaction.  The timetable is no longer something which is done to them, but done by them and for them.  Solutions such as Resource Booker, Publish and Enterprise Activity Adjuster already deliver this.

Getting User Experience (UX) right is absolutely key with Syllabus+ Anywhere.  To these ends, we have partnered with Isle Interactive who focus exclusively on UX and have an impressive and diverse roster of clients, including Cambridge Education Group and Muse.

Making a big place seem small: developing an ‘academic identity’

Dr Ben Calvert, USW, student satisfactionNext up was a keynote from Dr Ben Calvert, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience at the University of South Wales (USW).  Ben’s insightful talk addressed the disconnect between academic pedagogies and processes, and asked: Are we all looking through the same lens?  Ben suggested that student satisfaction could be improved by joining up the dots between academic planning and university administration – not least by considering the timetable earlier in the course design process; the space in which we learn can have a profound impact upon that learning, and yet it is rarely considered during the course design phase.

USW have used Trendence to turn student data into actionable insights.  They discovered that many of their students struggled to find their place at university.  They did not identify as ‘academic’ and therefore had low expectations of their university outcome and future prospects.  USW implemented some changes to help them develop their ‘academic identity’ and make a big place – the university campus – seem smaller and less daunting.  One major change was to reduce the number of course modules.  Reducing the academic complexity meant they weren’t so overwhelmed by choice; it also gave them a more focussed programme of study, which helped to develop their academic identity.  The relevancy for our delegates was that a reduction in course modules makes it easier to create a good quality, coherent timetable.

Self-service: a driver for stakeholder satisfaction

SUC17_hkhThe excellent session on Enterprise Activity Adjuster (EAA), by Hull University’s Helen Kirby-Hawkins, took staff satisfaction as its starting point.  Hull had an interesting problem: if its tutors were unsatisfied with their scheduled classroom, they would simply book themselves an alternative using our Web Room Booking software – without cancelling the scheduled room!  This led to a chronic waste and shortage of space.  Hull’s solution was to implement EAA, enabling staff to make changes to the timetable themselves.

Initially, 30 tutors were given access and the ability to change any element of the scheduled session: day, time, room, teaching staff.  Uptake was great and feedback from staff was very positive: they felt empowered and valued for having control of their timetable beyond the data collection period – some months before the course delivery.

But what effect did changes to the published timetable have on student satisfaction?  Attendance data and feedback showed that they didn’t mind about room or staff changes, even at relatively short notice.  In fact, students were frequently happy that their tutor had moved the session to a ‘better’ room.  What they did mind were changes to the scheduled day and time – particularly if a lecture was being moved forward to earlier in the day.  With this insight, Helen and her team were able to limit the changes staff could make in EAA.

Questions from the floor centered on notification of frequent timetable changes.  Helen acknowledged that the number of changes had increased from 1,800 to 2,500 a year since EAA was rolled out.  Even a few years ago, promptly notifying students of this many changes would have been impossible.  But these days, she said, students tend to live week to week, constantly checking their academic calendar – updated from Syllabus+ throughout the day – on their mobile device or computer.  So despite the frequency of changes, students judged the timetable to be better overall.

Syllabus+ Anywhere: ambitious, agile, incremental

Mark Dickens, ScientiaThe final plenary of the day was a more technical look at Syllabus+ Anywhere – the stuff ‘under the hood’ – and how Scientia is gearing up to meet the challenges and opportunities it brings.  It’s a big and ambitious project, but thanks to a high-level of customer engagement and an Agile approach to development, we know we’re getting it right as we go.  There won’t be an Apple-style ‘big reveal’, as customers are so involved with the development process.  Despite that, we hope there will be a few pleasant surprises once they start using it later this year.


The day ended with dinner, the forging of new friendships, and the now-famous Dinesh Vaswani Memorial Quiz, named after a former Scientia colleague.  This year, we asked those present to donate their spare change in support of Jimmy’s Cambridge, a local homelessness charity.  Attendees generously gave £285, which Scientia has matched, meaning that Jimmy’s will receive £570 in total.  Heartfelt thanks to everyone for their contribution.

Winning Quiz team photo
Victorious Celts – the winning team at this year’s Conference Quiz

More insights and photos from our 2017 EMEAA User Conference soon!

Introducing Syllabus+ Anywhere

What’s in a name? For us, everything, says Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at Scientia

Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at ScientiaWhat is a technology year worth in human years?  Can we apply the same 1:7 ratio we do to calculate ‘dog years’?  At approaching 30 years old, Syllabus+, our core scheduling software, should be pushing up the daisies by now.  And yet it’s not.  Hundreds of iterations on from its launch, Syllabus+ still gets a lot right, which is why it’s the number one choice for academic scheduling worldwide.  That’s why many of our clients have been with us almost as long as Scientia has existed.  Syllabus+ is also Scientia’s most-recognised brand.  For a company which is known as Cyon across half the world, that’s important.

The recognition and trust in the Syllabus+ name is the reason we’ve retained it for our forthcoming solution.  But that’s about the only thing we’ve retained.  Syllabus+ Anywhere is a completely new system, built on leading-edge technology and free from the constraints of a legacy system – but underpinned by the knowledge and experience we’ve gained through its forebear’s faithful service.

Communication: the foundation of healthy relationships

This is the most fundamental change Scientia has made in almost 30 years of business.  We knew that this was not a journey we could take without major input from our customers.  Product development at Scientia has always been collaborative and based on actual need, not perceived need.  But as our client base has grown to some 450 institutions worldwide, we’ve sometimes found it a challenge to maintain the levels of communication which are easier for smaller organisations.  As a former customer, I know how frustrating that can be.

As the saying goes, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  You told us, we listened, and we’ve worked hard to improve communication and feedback opportunities for customers.  In the past year alone, we have:

  • Launched Idea Manager, a platform which enables customers to influence our development focus by voting for candidate features. These candidates are themselves derived from client requests and suggestions.  The first voted-for features will be implemented in the forthcoming 3.14 release of Syllabus+ Enterprise;
  • Surveyed users to discover what functionality they most use in our current solutions, resulting in more than 75 individual use cases which will feed into the development of Syllabus+ Anywhere;
  • Run detailed User Journey Mapping sessions at client institutions, enabling us to drill down into the requirements of different roles at an institution; and
  • Launched a simplified Customer Satisfaction Survey, making it easier for users to tell us when we get it right – or wrong.

This is on top of ongoing customer support activities, which include:

  • A dedicated Account Manager;
  • Our Customer Support Portal with ‘Knowledge Base’ – solutions to more than 400 real-world Service Desk queries;
  • Free monthly Webinars, enabling customers to keep abreast of the latest developments in our software; and
  • International Conferences and User Groups, providing much-needed ‘group hug’ opportunities for the tortured souls in the unique world of academic timetabling.

Joining the dots with Syllabus+ Anywhere

From our earliest days, we have had to ensure effective data transfers within Scientia’s scheduling suite and between third party applications.  As we have shown with Connect, integrating Syllabus+ with applications such as student records systems is both achievable and beneficial.  But our suite of distinct ‘boxed’ products has led to what could be seen as a disjointed offer.  All that ends with Syllabus+ Anywhere.  The micro-services architecture enables us to provide a scalable offer with the flexibility to pick only the elements you need from a holistic solution, with effective interoperability with other enterprise solutions baked in.

One thing clients have been keen to discuss is the process of migration from the current system to the new one.  We will help each customer to create an individualised migration plan.  When all of the functions currently covered by Enterprise are fully supported by Syllabus+ Anywhere so that any customer could choose to migrate, we guarantee that we will continue to support the products being replaced for a further two years.  We will make an announcement to that effect when we reach that point in development.

At the end of that two-year period the legacy software will continue to run indefinitely, and you will still own a perpetual licence to use it.  All that changes is that Scientia will cease to devote development resource to the legacy products.  But looking at what Syllabus+ Anywhere delivers from a customer point of view, institutions are going to see the benefits of migrating to the new system as soon as they can – and we’re going to make it a no-brainer to do that.

Beyond the back office

By providing powerful reporting functions, timetabling moves from a required ‘back office’ service to a valuable strategic resource for any institution.  For example, accurately predicting your institution’s future space needs will be easier than ever with Syllabus+ Anywhere.

More than ever, the university timetable is visible and accessible by students, staff and faculties.  Self-service selection of study modules, booking rooms and resources, integrating lecture or teaching timetables with your personal calendar: all possible from any web browser on any connected device.  Our software has the ability to powerfully represent the student voice in the scheduling mix; maximising this to enhance student experience and engagement is yet another way of activating the strategic value of timetabling services.  This is particularly pertinent in the UK, where university funding is now partly dependent on student satisfaction outcomes.

Right now, I’m looking forward to sharing the progress we’ve made with customers coming to the Scientia User Conference this week.  Hope to see you there!

Darren

Across the pond and over the desk: Introducing Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at Scientia Ltd

Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at Scientia
Two weeks in – still smiling!

Academic timetabling’s one of those curious professions: almost no one outside of it knows exactly what it is or what it entails – and that goes for other university staff, too. The flip side of this coin is that those in the profession get to know each other very well – particularly those in the Scientia family, facilitated by the Company’s range of excellent user events and virtual networking opportunities.

As the title of this post suggests, I’ve recently made the leap from Scientia client to employee, joining as Head of Product Management. With our Product and Development teams based in the UK, I’ve also relocated here from New Zealand. Having spent the past 16 years in a range of strategic roles at the University of Auckland, a long-term Scientia client, it’s fair to say I was a pretty well-known face on the Asia Pacific (APAC) scheduling scene. So whilst I’ve been to a few of Scientia’s European User Conferences and met some ‘local’ Timetablers, my name isn’t exactly synonymous with Scientia beyond APAC. That’s something I hope to quickly change, and I’ll be drawing heavily on my experiences as a client to shape how we do things – and not just from a product perspective.

As with most big career changes, the decision to jump wasn’t a single issue thing. Suffice it to say that I was ready for a new challenge just as Scientia was tooling up for the biggest change in its near-30-year history: the development of a brand new, Cloud-based scheduling solution. Let’s be honest: Cloud services are hardly innovative these days. Nonetheless, the benefits for our clients of moving to a Cloud-based, service delivery model are compelling:

  • Flexibility: the ability to scale up (or down) with ease, without further investment in hardware or space
  • Automatic software updates: the latest releases installed remotely by the expert service provider
  • A lower total cost of ownership: users save on hardware costs/upgrades and on-premise consultancy time
  • Reclaimed space: in some cases, entire rooms which were once full of server racks can be repurposed
  • Access from anywhere: with flexible working practices becoming more common, the ability to access business-critical data from anywhere is vital

What piqued my interest were the opportunities for the next generation of Syllabus Plus – whatever it’s ultimately called. Being part of this development and seeing how much work has already occurred is, frankly, thrilling. The new architecture and design approach will see the delivery of a range of innovative new solutions, with a huge capacity for rapid responsiveness to an ever-changing tertiary market.

But that is really the mechanics under the hood. What I am most looking forward to is being part of a team which will deliver a whole new level of functionality, visibility, interoperability and usability to its existing and future customers. This is where my experience lines up with Scientia’s vision: moving the traditionally ‘back office’ functions of timetabling to a core strategic service within the university. Everything from planning capital building programmes to academic delivery modelling can benefit from timetable data. Combined with powerful integration and reporting tools, our vision is for a complete planning and scheduling solution which goes way beyond putting students and staff in a room together. Now that’s exciting to me and is something I wanted to be a part of.

Moving from Scientia client to employee gives me the ability to see things from a customer perspective, and that’s how I intend to operate: as our customers’ champion and conduit; a channel to make their voice heard in the ongoing development of our current and future solutions. It’s an exciting time to be part of the Scientia family, and I’ll be sharing further thoughts as I get my feet well and truly under the desk.

About Darren

After graduating with an Art History and Politics Degree, Darren spent the following 10 years working in the corporate sector, primarily as an Account Manager with Apple Education, before entering the tertiary education sector.  Originally entering the Auckland College of Education prior to its amalgamation with the University of Auckland, he was involved in special projects, data analysis and strategic reporting before being seconded onto the Automated Timetabling Project in 2009 as Modelling Analysis to support the implementation of Scientia’s Syllabus Plus Enterprise solution.

Having been appointed the Manager of Timetabling Services in 2010, that service merged with the Examinations Office to form the Examinations and Timetabling Office, supporting both academic and exam scheduling.   A focus that Darren brought to the role was to move the ‘back office’ functions of timetabling to a core strategic service within the University, consulted with on future major capital works building programmes and academic delivery options.  During this time he continued studying, completing a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration on Information Systems.  He is currently studying for a Master’s Degree.

Darren joined Scientia as Head of Product Management in January 2017.