University of Helsinki: Software Development – Legacy System

Entering a Student Centric Digital World

The University of Helsinki is developing an integrated, student centric digital teaching and learning platform that makes students part of research a community. “We are aiming at a visually consistent learning platform that looks like the University. The students have a wide range of functionality to use. They can, for example, create study groups autonomously,” says Sari Koski-Kotiranta, the learning technology director of the University of Helsinki. “The new infrastructure is focused on transparency: We want to tell the world about our offerings and also we want the source code of the system to be open.”

The first step in the new infrastructure is a student information system that is currently under development. The system is being developed by an agile team of six Codento consultants and two user interface designers from the University. “The student information system is the administrative core, the master data infrastructure, on top of which other parts will be constructed. It manages information about studies, course registrations, and, as a new feature, the planning of one’s own studies,” says Tuomas Naakka, one of the product owners of the project.

Quality Is a Priority

Preparations for the new student information system have been underway since the beginning of 2013 and its development is scheduled take three years.

“Quality is a top requirement for the system. We want to replace the old system, and simultaneously upgrade processes and enhance the digital learning experience. Therefore we had strict criteria for developers,” says Tuomas Naakka. “Luckily, we got a highly experienced team. And, in addition, the developers are highly motivated to work on the project.”

One of the Codento developers, Teemu Kalvas, agrees: “This project has a meaningful focus: firm substance with quality.”

How is quality created? Tuomas Naakka highlights the importance of interface development and active participation of users. Teemu Kalvas points out the importance of the commitment of the developers. Best practices of development, such as continuous integration and automated testing, are useful for filtering out a lot of basic defects, but have their limits. “Real quality is built by a team of professional developers, who commit to creating quality over and over again.”

An Experienced Scrum Master in Key Position

Agile development practices are already well rooted in the University of Helsinki, but the Scrum process was still new to some of the product owners of the project. “An additional challenge in our case is that there are a total of five product owners as opposed to one suggested by Scrum principles,” says Tuomas Naakka. “Therefore, an experienced Scrum Master was invaluable, especially in the beginning of the project. He managed to coordinate the process well and handle project ambiguities.”

Developing Software on Schedule

Tuomas Naakka has been very pleased with the ongoing development for almost a year now. “The work is very productive. The project has developed well and we are already working on features that didn’t exist at all in the old system. Currently we are polishing publication routines and preparing for the first big launch.”

“The best thing about the project is to get working software in production on schedule. Despite the fact that the project seemed gigantic, even impossible, to many in the beginning,” says Naakka, laughing.