Datatel Users Group Conference

Report from the Datatel Users Group conference held March 8-12, 2008 in Washington, D.C.

I attended a number of sessions that provided valuable information that we can put to use in the next year.

* Performance tuning – I attended several tuning sessions covering Datatel Colleague Release 18 (R18), Web Advisor, DMI listeners (used in R18) and web load performance testing. I gathered lots of information that should help us understand more about the database administration functions that need to occur on the Datatel and Web Advisor servers to help improve performance.

* Future technology products and directions - This is always a good session to attend so we know what Datatel is planning and what issues we need to focus on during the next year. Datatel is trying to concentrate on using industry standard tools for software development and reporting so that they don’t spend as much time developing those applications for their clients. This allows Datatel to concentrate on their core software and working on business processes for their clients.

* Reporting, Data Warehouses and Data Orchestrator ODS - I attended several sessions about reporting and data warehousing topics. We plan to work on reporting and/or data warehousing projects over the next year. I gathered information that will help us determine the best reporting solutions for Luther. We have also spoken to John van Weeren, Datatel’s reporting product technology manager, to get his recommendations for reporting solutions.

* Moving to SQL Server - We are considering whether we want to move from the UniData database to the SQL Server database for our Datatel applications. Datatel has recently released software updates that would allow us to make this change while we're using R18. Before these software updates were released, clients could only change to SQL Server when they migrated from R17 to R18. A change to the database underlying Datatel Colleague wouldn’t happen for another year or two. However, our existing lewis-2 server will be nearing the end of technical support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 4 (RHEL4) in 2009/2010. Datatel has recently certified RHEL5, but they won’t phase out RHEL4 for another couple of years. A change in the operating system needs to be done on a new server rather than trying to upgrade our existing server. So we’ll be considering operating system and database choices as we prepare for the eventual replacement of the lewis-2 server.

* Payroll deductions in arrears - Datatel released this functionality last summer. This allows institutions to create a receivable for employee-paid deductions when the employee’s paycheck isn’t sufficient to cover all of his/her payroll deductions. This might happen when an employee misses a paycheck or when they have to be on an extended leave but still need to continue paying for their benefits. The arrears receivable is later collected when the employee’s paycheck is large enough to pay the deductions again. When a situation like this arises for a Luther employee, we are manually tracking this information and making adjustments at a later time.

* Web Advisor Access for Parents - This is a challenging topic because of FERPA laws. This was presented by Villa Julie College which is located in Maryland. They created custom web screens that would allow students to give read-only access to their parents to view information on Web Advisor, such as the student's statement of account, grades, and schedule. Villa Julie set this up so that students could grant all-or-nothing security to their parents (or even to their guardians or other interested parties if they chose to do so). Villa Julie does not use LDAP authentication on their Web Advisor site, so this would create some additional issues if Luther implemented Web Advisor access for parents. Some Luther employees have expressed interest in providing parents with the ability to view the student’s statement of account. However, this presents a legal challenge because we cannot violate FERPA laws. I’ll be adding some of this information to our project request and we’ll address it in the future.