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Posted: 10/7/2013
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National University of Singapore Singapore University Enhances Learning for 37,000 Students with Big Data Solution

The National University of Singapore (NUS), a leading research institution in Asia, wanted to enhance its learning management system but faced the challenge of having to analyze enormous volumes of multiple types of data. To gain better insight into students’ online behavior, the university implemented a Big Data solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise. As a result, NUS can quickly analyse multiple terabytes of information and design more targeted applications and services. The university has cut reporting time from two weeks to less than a day with built-in business intelligence (BI) tools, and it has better support overall for advancing its innovative model of education.


Business Needs

With 37,000 students from more than 100 countries, the National University of Singapore (NUS) is one of Asia’s leading research institutions. Like many universities today, NUS has a significant online presence and places a strong emphasis on using technology to further education. For example, its web-based learning management system hosts 90 percent of the university’s academic modules. NUS wanted to improve the user experience for students, but to meet that goal it needed better BI tools.

The university’s Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) manages the learning management system, called the Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE). The center wanted to look at the click-stream data generated by students using resources such as chat rooms, discussion forums, and files, but the sheer volume of information was daunting. “Exploring the data was almost impossible with our existing tools,” says Jeffrey Tay, Associate Director of the Center for Instructional Technology at the National University of Singapore. “We’re talking about five terabytes of information and approximately two billion records.”

The center needed a Big Data solution that would not only provide insight into large data sets, but also offer easy-to-use reporting capabilities.

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* Our mission is to use education to shape the future, so we look at SQL Server 2012 and Microsoft Big Data as a way to move ahead. The solution helps us stay at the leading edge where technology can change education. *

Jeffrey Tay
Associate Director of Center for Instructional Technology
National University of Singapore

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Solution

NUS CIT was already using Microsoft products in its data center and kept a close watch on advances in database technology. When Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise software was released, the university knew it had found the right solution. NUS decided to create a data warehouse, and use SQL Server 2012 Integration Services to pull in data from its IVLE system. It also wanted to take advantage of powerful analytics capabilities and built-in BI tools.

CIT began deploying the solution, which runs on the Windows Server 2012 Enterprise operating system, in October 2012. The center went live with the project three months later. After loading log data, CIT creates cubes with SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services. Then, the IT team can work with the millions of rows of data in Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software using Microsoft SQL Server 2012 PowerPivot for Excel. The IT team also uses SQL Server 2012 Power View, an interactive visualization feature in SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services, to quickly create management reports.

CIT uses the tools to consolidate and analyze information including student profiles, web traffic data, and log-in information. The solution provides valuable insight into peak traffic periods and the popularity of specific features, as well as the types of devices students use to access the system. The center can take advantage of this information to enhance the IVLE system and create new applications that more accurately map to students’ needs.

For the next phase of the project, CIT plans to combine SQL Server 2012 with Microsoft StreamInsight, a complex event-processing platform that enables real-time analysis of high volumes of data from multiple sources. CIT intends to use the solution to design more personalized services for students. For example, CIT will be able to track students’ online behavior in real time, and suggest relevant features and resources while they are using the IVLE system.

Benefits

With its new Microsoft Big Data solution based on SQL Server 2012, the National University of Singapore is enhancing services with better insight into student behavior, simplifying reporting, and gaining better support for its educational goals.

Enhances Services with Data-Driven Insight

By taking advantage of insight into large volumes of data, CIT is gaining a more accurate view of students’ online behavior. As a result, the center can more effectively target student needs and focus on developing value-added services and applications.

“For example, prior to implementing the new solution, we knew that iPhone had approximately 80 percent of the market share in smartphones, so we developed most of our apps for Apple devices,” says Tay. “But by taking advantage of SQL Server 2012 and its Big Data capabilities, we discovered that an equal number of students were using Android. As a result, we developed a mobile app that runs on Android phones and tablets.”

Cuts Reporting Time From Two Weeks to Less Than a Day

Before, creating reports for management review was a time-consuming, mostly manual process. Now, in less than half the time, CIT can create engaging reports that provide more accurate business insight. “In the past, we had to manually build a separate report whenever someone requested information, which could take up to two weeks.” says Tay. “In contrast, SQL Server 2012 Power View makes exploring data much easier, and we can quickly generate reports in less than a day.”

Supports Innovative Education Model

By using insights gained from its new BI tools, NUS CIT can provide better support for the university’s long-term goals.

“Our mission is to use education to shape the future, so we look at SQL Server 2012 and Microsoft Big Data as a way to move ahead,” says Tay. “The solution helps us stay at the leading edge where technology can change education and transform the way students learn and think.”

This case study is for informational purposes only.
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 2196 employees

Organization Profile

The National University of Singapore (NUS) is a research institution with 37,000 students from more than 100 countries. NUS oversees 23 research institutes and offers a broad range of graduate and undergraduate programs.


Software and Services
  • Microsoft Excel 2010
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services
  • Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services
  • Microsoft SQL Server StreamInsight Technology

Vertical Industries
Higher Education

Country/Region
Singapore

Business Need
Business Intelligence and Reporting

IT Issue
Data Warehousing

Languages
English

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