Managing university systems causes headaches for even the most battle-hardened developers. Huge numbers of users and many different platforms means lots of potential issues. But some universities, like Warwick, are seeking a fresh approach.
Warwick University, ranked 50th in the QS World University Rankings and joint 6th in the UK by the Guardian in 2015, is home to more than 23,000 students and thousands of staff.
We caught up with Mathew Mannion, Service Owner for the Warwick University web development team, to find out how they’re using Twilio to handle 2FA, account recovery and user notifications – and how SMS is part of a streamlined future for student engagement
Mathew Mannion’s team of 10 developers is responsible for maintaining more than 30 critical systems that support the administration, communication and learning activities at Warwick.
In particular, the team needed secure, reliable 2FA verification code SMS delivery for network access, as well as an API flexible enough to handle any new use cases they wanted to throw at it.
“It’s our responsibility as a higher education institution to be at the forefront of emerging technologies and practices,” says Mannion. “And there’s nothing worse than enforcing a choice of technology to complete an action on the web; it only breeds discontent.”
“We found that communications over SMS were consumed more immediately than email notifications,” adds Mannion. “But, we’d like to make SMS a choice from a student or staff member’s point of view.”
The team at Warwick investigated a number of suppliers to replace their existing SMS provider. They created a prototype application that allowed them to funnel messages from different providers and then monitored performance for each. “It needs to be reliable and fast,” explains Mannion, “with 95% of messages delivered within 1 minute, 99% within 5 minutes.”
It’s our responsibility as a higher education institution to be at the forefront of emerging technologies and practices.
Twilio turned out to be the fastest and most reliable, as well as one of the few services to handle international numbers – crucial for delivering messages to the university’s many overseas visitors. Mannion also points to in-depth reporting tools as part of their decision to move all SMS communications to Twilio in October 2014.
Though most Warwick SMS usage involves 2FA logins and account recovery, Twilio also powers the university’s admin system alerts (around 1,000 messages per month), as well as SMS invitations to use their in-house microsurvey tool (around 100-500 messages per month).
Mannion points out that, although they have no official figures, the university’s message delivery success rates are far higher with Twilio than with their two previous suppliers.
Offering SMS as an option for 2FA has also proved to be appealing to users. In June 2015 there were 1,504 successful authentications that required entering a two-factor token, with SMS accounting for 1,056 verification codes – around two thirds of all logins.
Mannion’s team now plans to create a single notification system for students to help avoid the problem of receiving information from multiple sources. “Students can then choose what’s important to them and receive these notifications via email, SMS, push notifications or other options.”
All part of a more coherent, reliable, and consistent experience for students and staff alike.