A More Flexible Student Management System for Universiti Malaya

Posted by Tribal Group

We’re chatting to Universiti Malaya to learn from their experience with the Tribal SITS platform. In this case study, hear why UM chose Tribal’s student management system — and the wins and challenges they’ve experienced along the way!


The situation

Finding the Right Student Management Solution

Universiti Malaya (UM) is Malaysia’s oldest higher education institution — and its highest ranking, according to multiple global ranking providers. Its latest student numbers total 32,965, which includes 19,122 undergraduate and 13,843 postgraduate students.

UM tasked their ICT team to begin exploring various options to upgrade or replace their existing student information system. At the time, UM was relying on an integrated student information system, built and managed in-house. This system was hosted on-premise and relied on older technology — a client-side system that utilised Oracle Forms & Reports and in house web application.

The legacy student management system had various issues that needed to be addressed, including:

      • Technical issues – Users were reporting data inconsistency between modules that contribute to the issue in calculating student GPAs.

      • Feature limitations – UM was switching to a new academic structure with a more flexible curriculum and the old system couldn’t support these requirements.

      • Workflow – Managing the workflow associated with a client-side system was a very involved process.

      • Security – The system needed significant security improvements.

It was clear that UM needed to either enhance their old system or replace it.


The challenge

Off-The-Shelf SMS Vs In-House

Switching student management systems is a complex process.

Marina Mansor, then Head of Enterprise System Management Division at UM, shared, “To actually change to a new system, the change has to come from the bottom up. The university formed a task force to solve the issues we were having with the previous system — including the option to develop in-house or buy an off-the-shelf solution.”

Universiti Malaya had some specific goals for their new student management software. First and foremost, they were looking for a system that would deliver a better user experience for both students (current and prospective) and staff. And then from a technical perspective, they wanted a system that would be configurable, easy to maintain, stable, and secure.

Marina said, “After some discussion, we agreed that the best approach was to look for an off-the-shelf system instead of building in-house, as we didn’t have a special team to develop it.”


The solution

Choosing Tribal SITS Student Management System

After carefully reviewing their options, Universiti Malaya determined that the Tribal SITS student management system was the best fit for their requirements — primarily due to its modular design and technically configurable system.

Marina shared more about why they chose SITS over the alternatives.

“At the time, we were looking for a system that would cover the end-to-end process. Because SITS offers end-to-end modules, going from admissions through to graduation, we can use the entire system, with various components that support our requirements. We can also easily enhance or extend the system if our requirements change, as long as it has the modules we need. Besides that, it’s configurable and easy to learn and maintain.”


A Collaborative Implementation Process

UM's ICT Team (alongside Tribal Consultants) spent the first 6 months of the project confirming and refining the RFP requirements, while appraising the Tribal Foundation Build. Then they were able to fully move into system configuration.

They found the implementation process more hands-on and collaborative than other solutions they’d implemented in the past. However, this meant that the in-house team had a lot of input into the requirements. They also gained plenty of experience working with the solution before it went live, so they were better prepared to manage the system without relying heavily on Tribal consultants. Overall, the team found the process to be tough in the beginning, but in the end, the implementation was successful.

Marina shared, “We had our own business analysts gather the requirements because they understood the process and had previously handled the legacy system. We were also really familiar with the university’s rules and regulations.”


Launching Tribal SITS As a Minimum Viable Product

After their initial requirement gathering, UM’s ICT team decided to initially proceed with a minimum viable product (MVP), also known as the Tribal Foundation Build (TFB). This essentially includes everything that individual businesses need in order to go live, and would allow them to move away from the old system and get the new system up and running by a set date. Instead of launching a full end-to-end student system (and all 14 modules), they focused on supporting the student journey from admission to graduation.

UM went live with Admissions on January 7, before launching the Academic, Finance, and Enrolment modules in February, 2020. Following this, additional modules were released in stages in line with the academic schedule.

Although the MVP approach did allow them to go live sooner, it was also linked to some challenges and frustrations. In hindsight, it was tricky for end users to understand the principle of an MVP and that most of the functionality was still to come.

Following the launch, the university formed a taskforce of academics, business users, and technical team members to better manage and meet expectations in future. Together, this taskforce decides on future updates with the goal of supporting the full end-to-end process and improving both student and staff experiences.

Marina shared, “It’s no surprise to us that a few users had some initial challenges, but they’re slowly adapting to the new system and I am confident this will continue to improve.”


Upgrading Infrastructure For Peak Demand

Another challenge the team soon discovered was that their local infrastructure was not set up to handle student traffic during peak periods for admissions and course selections.

Marina explained, “At Universiti Malaya, enrolment is a very critical process. Some 6,000 students will wait online at the same time for course selections to open in order to get their preferred spots. We’d underestimated the potential number of concurrent users that would be on the system and our infrastructure couldn’t support it. This led to a lot of frustration for both students and lecturers. We’ve since upgraded our infrastructure and it seems more stable and able to handle the traffic and we’ve recommended that Tribal provides additional advice to help new customers estimate their requirements.”


The results

Building on a Flexible, Configurable System

SITS has already delivered some improvements to the user experience, compared to the previous legacy system. And the team feels optimistic about their ability to continue building on the configuration and improving the user experience.

Key features that have been particularly useful for UM include the system’s configurability, user management, security controls, and release processes.

Marina explained that, “Having these core features built into Tribal SITS from the start was really valuable for us because we don’t have in-house development capabilities. And if we ever have any issues, we can easily discuss it with the Tribal team, whether it’s the sales, account managers, or something else.”

“In particular, the configurable system has been really important because we can adapt or adjust the solution to our needs. For instance, we’ve been able to use the Academic Module in SITS to set up all our academic processes for the university and accommodate our flexible curriculum.”


Future Plans

Configuring the system remains an ongoing process, with plans to add to their implementation and fill in any gaps over the coming year. Some priorities and considerations in the pipeline include:

      • Timetable Module – They’d like to automate their class/exam timetables as these are currently manually created by a faculty member or administrator

      • Cloud Hosting – At the moment, SITS is hosted on-premise but the local infrastructure is end-of-life, so they’re looking to move to Cloud by 2024

      • Backup Solution – UM needs to implement a disaster recovery (DR) environment or separate location for backup data, as this presents a risk of disruption to business processes (moving to Cloud would also solve this issue)

      • Tribal Dynamics – UM are exploring Tribal Dynamics CRM to communicate with alumni and help with their marketing and recruitment processes

Marina shared, “Our legacy system just didn’t have the capability to meet the business requirements, but with this new solution, all the capability and structure is there — we just need some more time to configure it and deliver what our business users need.”

“We’ve seen a lot of improvements (and even transformation) thanks to SITS, as it’s allowed us to move forward with our IT strategy. We have the capabilities now to do what we plan to do. We have a very solid structure, in particular with the way SITS is designed to support the user experience, reporting, and more.”


Tribal is grateful to Marina and UM for sharing about their experience with SITS. We hope that these insights into the implementation process will be useful for other institutions planning to make the switch to a new student management system. We look forward to continuing to support the UM team as they enhance their system through additional configurations, and explore other Tribal solutions to expand its functionalities.

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