The Banner system, the platform for most administrative operations at the University of Lethbridge, is undergoing some reconstructive surgery. With some nips here and tucks there over the next couple of years, Banner will emerge sleek, smooth and more nimble.
“We are going to a baseline, Banner-delivered, best practices system,” says Susie Kennedy, registrar. “As enterprise solution providers, Banner by Ellucian supports best practices in the post-secondary system. We can appreciate and take advantage of those features once our revitalization project is completed.”
Right now, the Banner system is a hybrid of the baseline Banner product and additional modules developed in-house. The IT Services department provides the infrastructure for the Banner suite of applications that includes student information, finance, human resources and alumni systems.
When Banner was first adopted in the late 1980s, it was largely a place to record and store student information. The system wasn’t set up to perform certain functions the University required, so U of L programmers and analysts were tasked with developing their own solutions to Banner’s shortcomings and embedding them into the system.
“We had to build functionality onto their system,” said Debi Sandul, program manager for Banner Revitalization.
A few years later, the parent company added finance, human resources and alumni applications to the Banner system. Those applications and the in-house modules have created the system in use today.
One of the biggest problems the U of L experienced with the system was that its own customizations of Banner interfered with performing system upgrades.
“We can’t just lay their new services over top of the existing because our U of L modifications are in the way. As a result, we haven’t been able to implement many of the improvements in the Banner system,” says Kennedy.
Banner has evolved over the years and a Canadian solutions centre was added to ensure the system met the needs of Canadian post-secondary customers. The Banner suite is now robust enough to perform all the functions the U of L needs. The Banner Revitalization project was launched earlier this year to begin the process of removing U of L customizations from the Banner system.
The revitalization of Banner is more complex than just hitting the delete button. Because U of L customizations support local processes and are implanted into many facets of Banner, removing them requires planning and organization.
“It’s going to feel different for some users but it’s definitely going to streamline some processes and result in some procedural and administrative efficiencies,” says Kennedy. “Letter generation will be automated, as an example, and there will be improved online self-service.”
Admissions and registration will be simplified, making it easier for prospective students to apply, enroll and manage their academic life from the device of their choice.
“Our whole communication plan with students will change for the better,” says Sandul. “If we can automate some of the more tedious types of tasks then our staff can spend more time on providing student support where it’s required and where it’s requested.”
Improving service to students is something Andy Hakin, vice-president (academic) and provost, wholeheartedly supports.
“Whether someone is considering studying at the U of L, is already a student or an alumnus, they expect an easy and smooth online experience,” says Hakin. “Once the revitalization process is completed, the Banner system will allow us to provide better service and better meet user expectations.”
Initial work is being done behind the scenes and it should take another four or five months to complete. A core technical team of eight to 10 people is working on the project, with additional personnel called in as needed. The majority of the work should be completed in early 2016. Anyone with questions is welcome to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Once we’re done the revitalization, the stage is set for major enhancements to the system. We’ll be able to implement new features and technology as part of regular system upgrades,” says Sandul.