York’s student virtual assistant, SAVY, wins international award


York’s student virtual assistant, SAVY, won the 2021 Gartner Eye on Innovation Award for Higher Education, a prestigious, international award recognizing higher education institutions worldwide for their innovative use of technology to drive best-in-class initiatives. SAVY was the winner in the Student Experience category.

First nominated as a finalist in November 2021, industry peers and the public voted for SAVY as their top pick in December after viewing SAVY’s submission video.

The Gartner Eye on Innovation Award for Higher Education is SAVY’s second accolade. Previously, SAVY won the 2021 CUCCIO (Canadian University Council of Chief Information Officers) Innovation Award, recognizing innovative information technology projects or initiatives that have significantly advanced teaching, learning, research, or administration within an institution or in the community.

“SAVY is an important innovation here at York and has become an important tool for students who are seeking answers to their questions,” says Aladin Alaily, interim chief information officer at York. “SAVY has been extremely successful since its implementation, and York University staff are constantly working to improve SAVY and provide students with a great user experience.”

What is SAVY?

SAVY is a bilingual software-based agent that leverages artificial intelligence to provide student advising. Built on IBM’s Watson platform, SAVY is a collaboration between York’s Division of Students, University Information Technology (UIT) and York’s Faculties, and is guided and informed by students. It has content covering more than 500 topics designed to help students with their academic journey at York. SAVY points students toward requested information, recommends relevant resources, offers directions and wayfinding, provides reminders about upcoming deadlines and connects students to other resources, people and places on campus.

“SAVY is unique in that it acts as a supportive peer and makes students feel comfortable,” says Lucy Fromowitz, vice-provost, students. “SAVY learns from student engagement, and we look forward to seeing SAVY continue to grow and improve the more students use it.”

Looking ahead

The future is bright for SAVY. In the coming year, subject matter experts from across the University will contribute toward expanding SAVY’s information through the addition of a content management system.

Students will also receive alerts about important dates for their respective programs, courses, finances and other relevant information through a new notification enhancement. In addition, SAVY will soon be able to hand off to a person through a live chat integration. SAVY’s content will also be expanded to address future students and other new audiences.

SAVY fun facts

  • Students named SAVY in a naming contest that received 1,544 entries from 733 students.
  • Since its launch, SAVY has answered more than 60,000 questions from 16,000-plus unique students.
  • Almost 1,900 students have thanked SAVY since January 2020 while interacting with the software, and several students wished SAVY a happy birthday in September, adding their appreciation for the help SAVY has provided.
  • Top questions to SAVY by students: 1) Moodle/eClass, 2) course information and 3) arranging meetings with advisers.