Delivering a Better Faculty and Student Experience with Low-Code

Delivering a Better Faculty and Student Experience with Low-Code by Garret Weigel

Koç University is a non-profit research university located in Istanbul, Turkey, and is ranked as the top university in the country and the region according to the 2022 QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Rankings.

Using Mendix, the IT team has built multiple applications to streamline the University procurement process, improve safety communications and protocols during COVID, and increase user experience with a new university portal and accompanying mobile app. These applications leverage a suite of microservices that enable critical functionality within the ecosystem of apps they have built.

The IT Professional Tackling COVID, Procurement Processes, and Portals

Fatih Büyüktaş has been an IT professional for 28 years and is the Software Development and Infrastructure Operations Group Manager at Koç University. The Software Development department includes the following teams: Engagement Apps, Administrative Apps, Academic & Research Apps, and Data Engineering. The Infrasctructure Operations department includes the Systems & Cloud, Network & Telco, and Research Computing teams. Their work covers technical projects including infrastructure, DevOps and cloud migration, as well as data center management for the university. Their matrix organization ensures that each team has dedicated product owners and quality assurance managers who ensure that the solutions they build are providing value to end-users.

Procurement Headaches Need a Process-First Approach to Development

Koç University is subject to regulations for procurement, which is the process of opening a tender for requested goods. Abiding by these procurement regulations is challenging. There are multiple documents, each with a long list of requirements to finalize the procurement request. Previously, this process was handled manually using Excel files and email communication. When faculty members needed to request supplies necessary for providing education to Koç University’s students, they would have to complete a slow and cumbersome process to open a tender.

Büyüktaş’s journey with low-code started with an application that was in response to these procurement challenges. Using Mendix, Büyüktaş and his team took just six months to build their procurement application that automates and digitizes their procurement process. To develop the solution, Büyüktaş and his team needed a workflow-centric platform that could tightly integrate with their SAP instance. “After checking the basic requirements, we decided that we do not need just a workflow application or workflow engine. We need something different, and it must be an agile platform,” Büyüktaş explains. The procurement process includes steps performed in previously disconnected systems, which required an end-to-end software platform.

Koç University’s procurement homepage, where faculty can open tender for necessary supplies.

The new procurement application is providing Koç University faculty with an easier to use process to obtain necessary educational materials for their students. As Büyüktaş describes, “it would be impossible to buy anything without the [procurement] application.” The faculty is now using a streamlined process to obtain critical educational materials.

The application has streamlined Koç University’s procurement request process.

Tackling COVID Protocols as a Route to Better Academic Transparency

When COVID became widespread, universities struggled with how best to bring their students and faculty back to campus while maintaining a safe educational environment. Büyüktaş’ team created a portal that would help students and faculty determine if they could return to campus. The portal would provide critical pieces of information to ensure safety, including building capacity and checking an individual’s COVID status. This includes communication about specific protocols, in addition to ensuring that students who do return to campus are not at risk of spreading COVID to other students. Data is collected from a variety of sources, including WiFi access points and cameras, and the application integrates with government-supplied APIs to check if individuals are at risk. The app has improved COVID safety for thousands of students and has helped make sure the campus opened according to local protocols.

Koç University’s portal is available on both desktop and mobile.

Koç University’s portal is available on both desktop and mobile.Büyüktaş’ work with low-code didn’t stop there. With much of the infrastructure in place and university students and faculty alike already using Mendix-built apps, Büyüktaş built out their internal university portal and accompanying mobile application. As with the aforementioned projects, Büyüktaş developed the applications alongside the Product Management team to ensure that these applications were aligned with the intended functionality meant for Koç University’s faculty and students. In addition to COVID safety functionality, the university portal includes academic information for their students, from course evaluations to transportation routes to dining hall amenities.

Their new portal offers a wide range of functionality, including building occupancy information and shuttle reservations.

Koç University’s Keys to Success: Data Integration and Agile Development

The solutions that Büyüktaş and his team have developed are made possible through a network of microservices that have been built using Mendix. The application, titled KU Microservices, are accessed via an API gateway and collect information from a variety of sources, including a legacy SAP system that the team still relies on. Microservices collect data, perform calculations, apply filters, and make it accessible to both the university portal and mobile application. Büyüktaş has described his experience as “very easy to make an integration with SAP. With traditional technologies, it’s a headache.” The ease of data integration with Mendix is enabling Büyüktaş’ team to simplify access to the necessary data sources that feed into their microservices. In addition to their SAP integration, the team is leveraging Azure Active Directory for single sign-on and Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions.

In addition to data integration, agile development was critical to the success of their solutions. Requirements for each of their applications changed frequently. Because Mendix is a visual, model-driven development environment, Büyüktaş and his team have been able to respond quickly to COVID developments, changes with their procurement process, as well as in response to students returning to campus. Their increased speed in development is enabling the team to deliver solutions to faculty and students faster than ever before. With Mendix, new developers can be onboarded to the platform quickly, with Büyüktaş explaining that “junior developers are productive to Koç University in one month… it’s not possible to get these results if you code in a traditional way. We thought that their adaption to the platform would be easy, and we were right.”

The Future is Bright for Koç University’s Students

Büyüktaş and his team have already delivered applications that are increasing the experience of both students and faculty, and he is confident that their adoption of low-code will bring important changes to their IT organization. “Mendix is very exciting. It is an end-to-end platform, from coding to getting requirements through deployment, it is a fully integrated platform.” Spending less time on operational tasks frees up Büyüktaş’ time to focus on building a great team, delivering applications that help their faculty, and ultimately, improve the educational experience of Koç University’s Students.

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