NGSIS web services: Real-time data, real-time results

Is a student registered, enrolled in a particular course and succeeding academically? In the past, academic advisors would have to consult multiple computer systems as well as ROSI, U of T’s official student information database, for any recent changes.

Now a new solution, called web services, provides staff with real-time data to help create a seamless student experience.

The solution, introduced by Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI), provides an instant, secure link to ROSI for specific student information. Currently, U of T divisions rely on large data downloads called batch downloads.

“These batch downloads lead to out-of-date information, a huge duplication of data, and security vulnerabilities – as soon as the download is completed, the data starts becoming stale,” says Frank Boshoff, U of T’s Enterprise Architect. “When divisional applications use web services, they help provide accurate information to students and decrease the number of calls, emails and face-to-face meetings.”

The new approach is based on RESTful services – Representational State Transfer – which is used to build lightweight, maintainable and scalable web services. It allows other authorized systems to access pertinent ROSI data, and authorized systems can update ROSI, potentially saving significant administrator effort.

Batch jobs have to download all records – sometimes thousands – to determine which records have changed. web services works on a record-by-record model and only retrieves necessary records.

While this technology won’t replace batch downloads entirely, it will help when real-time transactions are a priority.

EASI recently introduced web services to the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, and plans to roll them out to other divisions in the near future.

“We wanted to more tightly integrate our local systems with the data from ROSI and other local and institutional systems of record to improve the user experience,” says Dan Pettigrew, Director of Administrative Systems and Associate Registrar at the Faculty. “In the past, staff sometimes had to consult ROSI and other systems manually because the downloaded ROSI data they were seeing was potentially out of date. We really needed a holistic, real-time view of the student experience.”

On the front lines, web services are already making an impact.

“This has been a dream of mine – it makes our jobs easier and the student experience so much better,” says Leslie Grife, Assistant Director, First Year Academic Services with the Faculty. “Now the Faculty’s Academic Advising system connects directly to the ROSI database. And soon several of our other online services will as well. We can advise students with accurate data, helping them to make better informed decisions.”

In the future, the team will work with U of T’s Information Security and Enterprise Architecture to add an extra layer of security, called OAuth 2.0.

“It comes down to getting the right data to the right person at the right time with minimal effort from the user,” says Boshoff. “Web services enable real-time access to data, which improves the user experience, reducing annoyances and irritation for students, staff and faculty. Things work better when they are designed to work together.”