SOAR Gets a Major Upgrade

EWU has a long and checkered past with degree audit technologies. By some accounts, we’ve been working on it for 14-15 years. As of the start of Fall Quarter 2010, all undergraduate programs are now available in our degree audit system: SOAR. Along with this notable accomplishment, we also implemented a significant upgrade to the product that I’d like to share more about.

SOAR is EWU’s branded name for redLantern/CollegeSource‘s u.achieve 4.0 product. u.achieve 4.0 is a complete rewrite of the COBOL-based DARS 3.5.X product but in Java. While we’ve found a quite few bugs, with many being quickly fixed and had to re-write our Banner interface components, overall this change is the definitely for the best. There are two notable benefits gained by implementing this product.

The first benefit is that we’ve moved away from COBOL. While COBOL is long from being dead, EWU no longer has anyone (that will admit) expertise in this language. The interfaces to and from Banner and DARS were both COBOL-based and significantly modified as every school has different rules for how data should come and go. Maintaining the modifications was becoming difficult as we continued to add more logic, and we were weighing (read: procrastinateing) the possibility of a complete rewrite, when the u.achieve product was announced. Ask any Java developer why they’d rather switch, and they’ll give you a long list of benefits. So we made the switch…

The second benefit to moving to u.achieve 4.0 is that the new u.achieve self-service product is functionally & technically better than it┬ápredecessor. While both are written in Java, the latter uses a couple of great templating technology, uses standard security apis, and uses other performance increasing technologies. The development team also combined the DARS Self Service web product with the DARS Interactive Audit (IA) product. The old product also was split having the set two of applications for both Student users and another for Faculty and Advisors. So, there were 4 different sets of source code (which we had locally modified) and configurations. Multiple that times two production application servers, and two to four development application servers and the problem becomes obvious. With the new u.achieve self service product, the web applications are combined into a single code base and a single set of configuration files. With the new templating technologies, changing the interface to meet EWU’s needs is quite easy.

So, did I mention that EWU is the first school to go live with the new product? (press release) Being first has generally been great, and it gives EWU a lot of exposure. We have identified a few scenarios where calculations continue to be off, and we are working with the redLantern staff to fix those. We have a few other desired task to do to improve the user’s experience and will be working on them soon.

So with a little work still needing to be done, we think that we have added a positive chapter to EWU’s degree audit story.