H-Day: 10,000 students ‘switched’ to Health

Aug. 4 was like D-Day for Stan Taman and Al Regina. They call it H-Day and it will be fixed in their memories as the day they completed an automated transfer of almost 10,000 students into York’s new Faculty of Health on the University’s Student Information System (SIS) – months ahead of schedule and without a hitch.

That’s amazing, considering the complexity and sheer volume of electronic transactions – 104,000 – necessary to shift students’ electronic records out of three existing faculties into the newly created one on York’s monster student database. It took eight months for four teams to plan the transition and design the 27 computer programs that would do the deed, and precisely seven hours and 45 minutes to happen. SIS was shut down at 3:30, the programs started at 4 and finished by 11:45pm. Out of 104,000 transactions, 338 records needed to be cleaned up manually, of which 126 had been anticipated.

“That’s about one third of one per cent we couldn’t complete with automation,” said Taman, associate registrar, Planning & Systems, who headed the planning team from the Registrar’s Office. “I’d take those odds any day.”

Stan Taman (left) and Al Regina (right)

Originally set for October, H-Day was rescheduled to quiet August to reduce the pressure on the system when students drop and add courses during their annual September course shopping spree, said Regina, SIS manager.

Taman and Regina didn’t wait for York’s Senate to baptize York’s Faculty of Health in March before they started planning. In mid-January, they met to figure out what it would take to build a new Faculty on SIS and shift student records from 12 degree programs in two departments (Psychology in Arts and Psychology in Atkinson) and three schools (Health Policy & Management, Kinesiology & Health Science, and Nursing) in three existing faculties (Arts, Atkinson, and Science & Engineering) into the Faculty of Health database.

You might wonder: How hard is it to change a Faculty name? Hard. The process was Byzantine. Eight-hundred and fifty courses and 280 academic programs as well as financial records had to be tied to the new Faculty. One of the biggest challenges was integrating students whose courses did not meet the new course access specifications of the new Faculty. Taman and Regina and their teams designed 27 different computer programs that they hoped would capture all the anomalies. And they did.

Then there were the little things. Discussions could go on for hours over a single detail, such as what should be the short form for the Faculty of Health? Should it be HE or HA or HH? In the end, it was HH, consistent with the formula used for other faculties of combining first and last letters.

To pull off the transition required incredible teamwork, says Registrar Joanne Duklas. Taman and Regina’s technical transition team worked with a team from the Office of the Vice-President Academic to fulfill the policy mandate of the new Faculty, and with faculty-advising and student-client services to plot a communications plan so effective, there were virtually no student complaints after the automated transfer. “Communications were just fantastic,” said Taman. When SIS resumed operations and students could get back into their records on Aug. 8, inquiries were “business as usual,” he said.

This was the biggest task Taman and Regina have ever overseen. On average, the Registrar’s Office transfers about 1,800 students from one Faculty to another over the course of a year. This time they transferred five times that number in one day. Though their teams held their collective breath on H-Day, they should have been confident the operation would be a success. From the beginning, they had tested and retested and tested again their custom-designed computing programs on a duplicate SIS system.

“We got the satisfaction of doing one heck of a job,” remembers Taman. “It was one jubilant group that Friday.”