Monday, May 27

URSA needs technology revamp

Outdated student records website is ready for a new design, or at least a little tuning


Nhat Bui

URSA, the student records website, is scheduled to be open only a few hours more than the John Wooden Center per week. It’s a little odd that such an important website is ever closed at all, but even more odd that it’s closed nearly as often as our gym.

URSA, University Records System Access, allows students to enroll in classes, manage fees and store personal information. But the Wooden Center does all of those things, too.

So why does URSA, a website, have hours similar to our exercise facility?
URSA is unavailable every night starting at 1 a.m. because its technology is older than some of the students it serves. The system should be upgraded or at least tweaked for student convenience.

It is not too much to assume that we as students want to pay tuition or access our degree progress reports at 1 a.m. In fact, it’s far-fetched to assume that we are asleep at that time.

Many changes that users make on the system are actually not processed until later that night when the system records all of the information. Some transactions are done in real-time, but there are still many that are not because URSA uses an archaic system called the “mainframe,” a function of when URSA was built in 1988.

Originally, URSA was accessed by voice-response telephone technology. In 1996, URSA OnLine was added and phone access to URSA began to decline until it was finally ended in 2002. It was once a state-of-the-art system. It is now a relic of a time gone by.

Jens Palsberg, chairman of the computer science department, said in an e-mail that he was shocked that URSA is still using a mainframe system and that he has not had anything to do with mainframe systems since the 1980s.

In fact, a famous tech columnist predicted that the last mainframe would be unplugged by 1996. He was obviously wrong, but he pointed to the decline of the system 14 years ago.

There are plans to review the system in the coming months, and the university will decide what changes will be made to URSA then, said Andrew Wissmiller, assistant vice chancellor of administrative information systems.

There is no doubt this system needs updating but the question now becomes, is an update worth it? According to Palsberg, the best bet for upgrading may be a whole new design.

Upgrading this sort of information technology, or designing a new one, is not cheap. The administration may decide to push such a cost until the school is financially healthier. But if UCLA does decide to redesign the system, the administration should reach out to computer science students.

Ideally, redesigning URSA could be a collaborative student project because it wouldn’t cost much, if anything at all. But if that is too much to ask of students who have full course loads, then these students should at least be used in the planning and design phases of a possible new system.

Computer science students are one of the only group of people on campus who definitely understand current technological limits and the current needs of students. They would be a great resource for the administration.

But until this redesign happens, there’s a temporary quick-fix available that would give students access to records at 1 a.m.

According to Wissmiller, URSA’s nightly updates begin at 1 a.m. and are often finished by 3 a.m., allowing students to have full access to the website at that time.

Since this is the case, administrative information systems should push the start time of this nightly maintenance. The system should be set to begin updates at 3 a.m. so that it is finished by 5 a.m. While a website should be expected to be open 24 hours per day, students are less likely to need access to their records at 3 a.m. compared to 1 a.m.

An upgrade to our systems technology will not come cheap but this is money well spent. UCLA is the birthplace of the Internet; the lack of a 24-hour website for student records is embarrassing.

Think we should go back to URSA Telephone? E-mail Ramzanali at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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