York’s University’s virtual assistant, SAVY, wins prestigious innovation award

SAVY
With SAVY, students can get 24/7/365 general information via mobile phone and online. It serves as students’ first point of contact, designed to provide relevant, targeted information without the need for searching

York University’s virtual assistant, SAVY, has won the 2020 Canadian University Council of Chief Information Officers (CUCCIO) Innovation Award. The award recognizes innovative information technology (IT) projects or initiatives that have significantly advanced teaching, learning, research, or administration within an institution or in the community. It assesses the innovativeness of the technology and the impact in terms of benefits.

Donald Ipperciel
Donald Ipperciel

“Innovation has become a major theme here at York and in UIT [University Information Technology]. This award is a testament to the creativity, passion and perseverance of individuals in our department and at the University,” said Donald Ipperciel, chief information officer. “SAVY has performed exceptionally well since its implementation, averaging 80 per cent accuracy with its responses. SAVY is still young, and the future is bright. Our undergraduate students have a lot more to look forward to in the coming year from SAVY.”

SAVY is a bilingual software-based agent that leverages artificial intelligence to provide student advising. It acquired its name following a very successful naming contest in September 2020. SAVY, which is built on IBM’s Watson platform, was a collaboration between York’s Division of Students, UIT and York’s Faculties, and it was guided and informed by students. It is populated with content designed to help students perform tasks related to their academic journey at York. SAVY points students toward accurate information relating to the questions asked, recommends relevant resources, offers directions and way-finding, provides reminders about upcoming deadlines, and connects students to other resources, people and places on campus.

SAVY
With SAVY, students can get 24-7-365 general information via mobile phone and online. It serves as students’ first point of contact, designed to provide relevant, targeted information without the need for searching

Since the launch of SAVY, the top three topics have been about Moodle/eClass, arranging meetings with advisers and information about fall/summer courses, with more than 896 instances of students thanking SAVY – confirming that some of the best, most polite students in post-secondary can be found right here at York.

Lucy Fromowitz
Lucy Fromowitz

“Unlike other online sources of information, interactions with SAVY are warm, inclusive and conversation-like, which helps students feel comfortable when they ask questions,” said Vice-Provost, Students, Lucy Fromowitz. “Throughout the pandemic our undergraduate students have had 24-7, uninterrupted support, information and resources through the virtual assistant. In the 16 months since SAVY was introduced, there have been more than 50,000 conversations and 120,000 messages from 20,000 students.”

What’s next for SAVY?

In the coming year, a content management system will be added, providing an opportunity for subject matter experts from across the University to contribute toward expanding information in SAVY. In addition, there will be a notification enhancement that will provide alerts to students on important dates related to their program, courses, finances and other relevant details about their specific circumstances. The individuals behind SAVY are also in the developmental stages of a version that would enable staff to assist students; this is expected to be available by winter 2022.