Failing online systems misrepresent Carnegie Mellon

The recent crash of SIS (Student Information System) raises serious questions of functionality, specifically regarding the central role of SIS applications in registration and academic planning.

Considering that it’s in constant use, it would be nice if SIS and like applications could be heavily insured against crashes, but for financial reasons, the school relies on strong maintenance contracts to fix problems after they arise, instead of duplicating its systems. Since the specialists who work on the problem are salaried, the only cost the school incurs in these types of meltdowns is the cost of lost productivity.

The truth of the matter is that the applications are dated, the oldest parts having been introduced in the early 1990s. While we are hard-pressed to argue that SIS should adopt more comprehensive preventative measures against failures without the appropriate funds to do so, it’s still the case that even when SIS is fully operational, its user interface is the bane of students’ registration experience.

True, if by chance you know exactly what courses you want and their course numbers, there are no scheduling conflicts, you don’t run into waitlists, and you’ve memorized all the classes you’ve already taken, SIS will breeze you through registration. If you are an actual student, however, you’re probably crying into your monitor on registration day with the following windows coldly staring back: SIO (Student Information On-Line), OLR (On-Line Registration), and CIO (Course Information On-Line) within SIS, in addition to Academic Audit, Schedule of Classes, the Course Catalogue, and an online scheduler.

When SIS came onto the market in the early 1990s, it was likely a cutting-edge technology. Today, however, the lack of integration between its various functions is appalling. That the application that tells you if a course is available is separate from the one that lets you choose that course for your schedule, which is in turn separate from the one that shows you a list of available courses, is mystifying.

The ideal system for students’ ease would be a combination between an online scheduler (which would allow you to create a schedule from courses uploaded from the official Schedule of Classes) and audit that shows you what courses are necessary to complete your major, the availability of the courses, and, the cherry on top: one-click registration once you have created your online schedule.

Yes, it would take a lot of money and time to develop, but it would the leader among applications of its kind, and leadership in the area of software development is not something Carnegie Mellon balks at. There are far more important projects afoot that deserve resources, of course, but it is a shame that the chief information officer’s staff has to spend hours and hours of work to repair (and incidentally, globalize) a system that is in dire need of a face-lift.