HEC BOLSTERS MODERN IT SOLUTIONS

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July 19 - 25, 2010

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) in Pakistan often recommends IT solutions to universities. Before doing so, it tests them on its own organisation. When HEC needed to update its IT infrastructure, it implemented the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system with Windows 7, Microsoft Office Professional 2007, and Microsoft Unified Communications solutions for an intuitive and easy-to-use system. The result was so well received that the organisation is now encouraging universities to deploy some of these technologies.

BUSINESS NEEDS

HEC is the regulatory agency for higher education in Pakistan. Its primary focus is to help build a knowledge-based economy by developing the country's universities into highly respected centres of education and research. The commission has always led by example, supporting the use of IT in education by implementing cutting-edge technology and making it available to institutes of higher education. In fact, HEC takes pride in being one of the first organisations in the government sector to use the latest advances in IT.

In recent years, HEC has reformed the way IT is used in higher education by setting up a programme of e-reforms. These reforms provide guidelines on technological infrastructure and address issues such as plagiarism and inefficiency of IT systems.

Infrastructure projects that are part of e-reforms include a digital library containing a wide variety of locally and internationally published journals and papers, as well as digitised versions of papers published by PhD scholars in Pakistan.

The commission had a fairly robust IT system with a high-speed network, local area network connectivity and security, data centres, and proprietary in-house applications. However, it was unresponsive to increasing demand for user services because of the lack of integration between applications. For example, the organisation uses two parallel systems for local and international e-mail. Moreover, it relied on a third-party audio and videoconferencing solution, which didn't provide single sign-on, and the cost of which was high. Due to these challenges, only a limited number of users were provided with collaboration services.

The commission also needed to replace a paper-based filing system that was prone to human error and delays, with a structure that would increase productivity with automated systems. Above all, any system implemented needed to be easy to adopt, allowing users with a wide range of technology skills to interact with each other seamlessly through a common interface.

SOLUTION

HEC initiated the process of reforms through a thorough evaluation of solutions available, and signed up for a School Agreement with Microsoft Pakistan in 2008. HEC became the first public sector organisation in Pakistan to use the Enterprise Client Access Licence Suite, giving employees access to multiple business productivity applications within a single system.

In 2009, the IT team worked with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Expert Systems and Microsoft to roll out a centralised infrastructure based on the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system with Windows 7.

Anwar Amjad, Director General Information Technology HEC says: "When I was introduced to Windows 7, I was so impressed with the performance that we're now encouraging our universities to adopt it."

The solution included the familiar Microsoft Office Professional 2007 suite of applications, along with Unified Communications. Users who are geographically dispersed can now access conferences, workshops, and meetings from virtually anywhere. The use of Microsoft Office Live Meeting to host training for capacity building of remote users from the HEC head office has also helped cut costs and boost productivity. HEC is also using Microsoft Office Share Point Server 2007 to publish its external Web site and automate multiple business processes through an internal portal.

Deploying Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V cut the number of physical servers in half, from 30 to 15. Through more efficient use of its servers, HEC now has the ability to offer a rich set of services to end users without incurring additional hardware and real-estate cost.

BENEFITS

Deploying Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V is a key part of the commission's strategy to provide the latest technology to universities. This stable environment for vital services improves communications with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface for executives and operational staff.

Geographically dispersed team members can now easily communicate through audio and videoconferencing. Help-desk staff can solve user problems in seconds without moving from their seats through the Desktop Sharing feature in Office Communicator 2007 R2.

Virtualiation ensures physical server requirements are cut by 50 percent, reducing the cost of acquiring and running a system that is easy to build on as needed.

Windows Server 2008 R2 integrates seamlessly with existing systems. Amjad says: "We already has security mechanisms set up, but Windows Server 2008 R2 combined with Windows 7 gives us an even more efficient way of securing data."

HEC can now provide universities with access to the latest technology and modern interfaces university students expect. Videoconferencing has significantly lowered the cost of travel among five offices in four provinces. "I used to travel at least twice a month," says Amjad. "Since we installed Office Communicator, I've had to travel only once in the past six months." Productivity has increased at least 40 per cent since implementing the technology. Amjad says: "The bottom line is that a computer needs to meet the speed of a human working. Windows 7 is an operating system that helps us keep our productivity high."