Timetables go mobile

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) is New Zealand’s second largest and fastest growing university with three Auckland campuses – in the City, on the North Shore and in South Auckland – and more than 28,000 students. The university is recognised for innovative teaching practice and commitment to research and education that prepares students to meet the challenges of the changing world.

AUT gained university status 15 years ago but its history as a place of learning spans 120 years, and roots as a vocational training institute, contribute to strong ties with industry. These connections create opportunities for AUT’s students to gain valuable experience before they enter the workforce.

The Challenge

AUT was finding it increasingly difficult to manage their student and staff timetables and resource bookings on their existing technology. Students could only view their timetables online, or have it printed in hard copy. Both of these options required a knowledge of AUT’s systems and for students to actively check them. The university had no way of notifying students of important things like timetable or room changes, which meant that students were missing classes.

The university realised they needed to deliver timetable information directly to digital devices for both staff and students, making it possible for them to check live timetabling information and messages before their classes began. But how could this proprietary data be synchronised with such a wide range of devices, in a way that was easy for students to use, and cost-effective for AUT to setup and maintain?

The Datacom Difference

The key was to implement a platform that could deliver the timetables natively to almost any desktop or mobile device. Once we had that established, we just needed to get the data to that platform and let the technology do the rest. We collaborated very closely with the AUT team - they wrote portions of the code using their knowledge of the timetable software database. We also collaborated within Datacom on the project with our infrastructure management and software development teams offering a seamless solution – from Office365 licensing and migration to developing on an Azure platform.

The Datacom team migrated AUT to the Microsoft Office365 platform in September 2014. Students and staff simply had to add their Microsoft account details into their phones and laptops to enable automatic synchronisation of calendars, contacts and email information. This made the solution fast, easy to setup and maintain. Not only could AUT now publish directly to phone calendars, but they could also push emails instantly and directly to phones without having to constantly monitor and update a database of student’s private email address information. The solution was well tested by a group of students.

Feedback on the pilot from student testers:

“Very convenient to get reminders about my classes on my phone.”

“Very cool... I certainly missed it during my first two years at Uni.”

“I no longer find the need to log in to Arion to view my schedule. The Office 365 calendar has all the info I need.”

“Like the idea of going to one place for everything.”

The second phase of this project was to automate the flow of timetable information from the university’s proprietary timetable software into Office365. We developed an Azure Cloud solution that extracted the data, identified any changes, notified users by email and inserted the data into AUT’s Office365 platform. The solution went live for all students and staff in time for their second semester. 

“AUT’s primary business driver for this project was to get our students more actively using the 365 email services and to add value to their student experience. In the past, AUT provided email but this was not seen as a value to students and they didn’t use it much. Using the 365 calendar and updating it with current class timetable information was seen as a way of meeting both objectives.”

Roy Cullum - Director Infrastructure Services, AUT