Anna University is embarking on a digital journey as it lays an online foundation to manage the institution’s administrative tasks. The digital push at one of India’s premier technical education institutions is aimed at improving internal processes, and providing comprehensive services to students, research scholars, faculty and staff members.
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The university’s new workflow allows students to select and enrol in courses, complete requirements, take examinations and get grades. It is also equipped with communication and collaboration tools to enable students and faculty members to interact. The overall design has been architected with smartphones in mind. But it is currently launched as a web-based tool.
Apart from digitising academic-related tasks, the portal automates the university’s procurement and accounting processes. This inclusion is aimed at streamlining purchasing, and making approvals faster and more efficient at the university.
“Once these processes are automated, pain points of students can be reduced and there will be greater transparency,” Professor R. Velraj, Vice Chancellor of Anna University told The Hindu. “Transparency will give more details about tendering process on who is purchasing what. And that information will be visible to all. This in turn will speed up approvals and reduce delays.”
The Chennai-based university was formed in 1978 after integrating the College of Engineering, Alagappa College of Technology, Madras Institute of Technology, and the School of Architecture and Planning to offer higher education in engineering, technology, architecture and applied sciences.
Intent meets need
Over the years, the university has introduced several technical upgrades as part of its modernisation plan. That meant administrative processes were getting digitised in siloes. In the last few decades, the student and faculty body grew. The four campuses that come under the Anna University umbrella currently support 10,000 students and 1,200 research scholars. So, many more processes had to be automated and scaled up to meet the growing needs of students.
The batch of 1971 of College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG) came together to both architect and fund the university’s digital workflow. A group of alumni deliberated on giving back to their alma mater. After carefully calibrating a dozen ideas and discussing them with the university leadership, it settled on building an online platform to digitise workflow management for the entire university.
“This online system is open, extendable, and a configurable platform that automates all administrative tasks,” said Mohan Eddy, one of the alumni of the 1971 CEG batch behind the digital push. “It is built based on a minimal coding premise, and brings together student and faculty databases to provide information on courses offered and regulations covering each academic programme.”
“People want to get things done, and they need to know the processes to make that happen,” R.K. Shankar, another CEG 1971 alumnus behind the digital push, explained about how things were working earlier. “Tasks were earlier automated in an ad hoc manner as the system was not digitised. That meant one person would do it in one way and another do it differently. And neither would know there are benefits from what the other person purchased.
Grievance redressal mechanism
The new system integrates these processes and puts “security and traceability” at the core of the platform so that it can be effectively managed by a governing body, he noted.
While digital portals were already used by admissions, examinations, and research departments, they were not integrated. So, information had to be processed manually between these units. The new platform integrates these units, and brings on board four academic portfolios, and three support administrative portfolios.
Students’ grievance redressal is an important area that the university leadership plans to tackle effectively through this workflow.
“Currently, grievance redressal committees convene every month to sort out issues. But keeping track of students’ complaints is a manual process. But, if I can, through a dashboard, see who are all facing issues, then I can immediately appoint a committee to look into those issues,” Dr. Velraj said.
Automation, data and governance
The automated workflow will run 200 processes across seven portfolios. And it was developed by a software vendor after gathering inputs from all the concerned units at Anna University. Apart from portfolio owners and champions, over 25 faculty and staff members were involved in this effort. The funding for this project largely came from the alumni of CEG batch of 1971. A portion of the project was funded by AC Tech 1971 batch.
“What we have built, once it all comes on stream, will integrate islands of automation and give students and faculty members an interface to deal with their day-to-day academic life,” said Mr. Eddy.
Once the platform goes live, it will be handed over for implementation to the university’s Centre for e-Governance. This is a re-designated group that earlier dealt with providing software support for both faculty members and students. It will take over the responsibility of ongoing maintenance of the platform. And during implementation, a Centre of Excellence will be set up to train students and faculty to know more about the platform and help them build projects that can be connected to the platform.