Category: Robust & reliable technology

Under the Banner of collaboration

ICT’s Student Lifecycle Administration Product Line, led by Adrian Thomas have been collaborating closely with Registry to make improvements to the Banner Student System.

“Collaborative working between Registry and ICT benefits from complimentary experience and expertise, which enables us to get the requirements right, and communicate effectively between ICT and end users.” Eleanor Grant, Senior Systems Officer, Registry

What is Banner?

Banner is used to manage the information of our student applicants and student administration.

Together, ICT and Registry have been testing and getting feedback from our Banner users on some fantastic improvements to the Student Records Management application and Banner Student Enquiry Form.

The Banner Student Enquiry form is a bespoke form pulling together vital information regarding a student’s programme so that department administrators, senior tutors, Registry and others can easily view information around specific students in one place, such as:

  • Student person details
  • Programme and programme status
  • Student record information including year of programme, level, faculty and department
  • Progression information
  • Interruption of studies
  • Modules
  • Degree outcomes
  • Research information including milestones, supervisors and thesis title

Making improvements that work for all

Learning and teaching staff from the faculties have been supporting the testing and feedback to help identify issues with some incorrect content and the challenges relating to accessing the form on Apple Mac devices.

This collaboration between the Student Lifecycle team, with Registry and faculty staff to identify, understand and resolve issues means that now Mac users get the same experience as Windows users.

Registry’s Senior Systems Officer, Eleanor Grant, was integral to the project as a subject matter expert and dedicated to ensuring improvements were fit-for-purpose.

Eleanor said, Registry (Student Administration) discussed feedback from university users on the Banner Student Enquiry Form with ICT, and teams worked together to deliver a solution. Collaborative working between Registry and ICT benefits from complimentary experience and expertise, which enables us to get the requirements right, and communicate effectively between ICT and end users. Registry and ICT work together in this way to deliver fixes and improvements across the Student Lifecycle Product Line.”

“It was great to see our digital ambitions and agile methodology in action, with the Student Lifecycle product line teams working together with Registry, faculty staff and suppliers to make iterative changes to ensure a better user experience. I look forward to continuous development and improvement for this and many of our student lifecycle products”.  Adrian Thomas.

Find out more about Banner Student System

Staff can access Banner through My Imperial.

You can find out more about the Banner Student System. or get training on the Student Records Management web page.

Further support

If you want to support or feedback on Banner and other Student Lifecycle applications, please contact our Student Lifecycle Team.

If you have any technical issues, please contact the ICT Service Desk.

ICT Expo – from ‘Technophobe’ to ‘Tech’Xpert’ in 2 days!

ICT Expo servcie desk standOur ICT team came out from behind their laptops in Sherfield and went on the road with our first ever ICT Expo.

The ICT Expo took place on Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 February in the College Main Entrance at the South Kensington Campus.

The ICT Expo is a showcase of our support and products, and is a great space for collaboration and innovation enabling you to achieve your learning, teaching and research ambitions.

The two day event was a great way for the team to get talking to you – our customers, colleagues and our brilliant students.

It was really beneficial for our staff to talk to you about what you are trying to achieve and how we can support this, with many of our teams saying that had insightful chats that would impact the work we do.

We helped support many of you on the day, be that from our tech support at the Service Desk, or with Office 365 tips and tricks. We discussed digital accessibility, GDPR to High Performance Computing and data analytics. There were many opportunities to talk about the future of our current products, services, tools and apps with our Product Teams, tooling team, cyber security team and with Heads of Functions and the roaming CIO, Juan Villamil.

Phew, we talked so much my voice got hoarse!

Adrian Mannall, Office365 guru showcasing at the ICT Expo

Our Office 365 guru, Adrian Mannall, was very busy on the day training and supporting our staff and students.

Adrian really enjoyed the event, “The best thing about the day was the opportunities for staff and students to come and meet members of ICT and the Business School’s Ed Tech Team in person and to have a chat, ask questions and take away some answers. We got great feedback from attendees saying that they loved the fact they could come and ask lots of different parts of ICT about things that were either causing issues or for which they wanted a bit of a chat and they could do that all in one dedicated space.

“I covered everything from To Do lists for personal planning all the way to resolving SharePoint and OneDrive issues and confusion.” Adrian Mannall, Microsoft 365 SME, ICT

Staff member using VR headset

The Business School’s Ed Tech team Stephen Vaz, Senior Learning Technologist, Phil Tulip, Senior Online Developer and Joe Pollard, Senior Online Learning Designer were a special VIP guest team who came down with their Virtual Reality (VR) headsets and telepresence robot showcasing what the future of education may look like in the virtual classroom.

It was great to meet lots of students, faculty and professional services staff to try out VR and to see our robot. It also provided a great opportunity to meet other individuals and teams across the College who I may not have met otherwise. Joe Pollard, Senior Online Learning Designer, Business School

ICT Expo goers wanted to know how VR could be used in a business education context/wider education context. It was nice to speak to both those who were keen to see it used within their learning and those who were sceptical about its use case in a business education context.

Stephen said, “it was also useful to see how students responded to VR in action and to also hear their pros and cons of its use. It was a great opportunity to try out a new technology and get in front of students and some faculty members in person.

I spoke a lot to attendees about how VR would be used in education in future and they wondered when this would happen.”

It was a great showcase into the types of technology being used now in the College and what the future might hold. Stephen Vaz, Senior Learning Technologist, Business School

What did you think?

It was great to hear your feedback on our products, services and roadmap’s for the future.

Our customers said “ I liked being able to talk to someone in person about IT issues I have been having”

What did you think? We would love to hear your feedback on the event so please do complete this survey.

“It was really well organised and fun, with lots of engaging materials.” Anonymous

Future Expos

We ran another Expo in May – watch our roundup video:


The ICT Comms team were also on hand at the event to welcome guests and to hand out exclusive fun badges that indicated if you were a self-confessed technophobe or a savvy tech’xpert.

Don’t worry if you missed out on a badge or the Expo event, we will be coming to a Faculty near you very soon.IT Savvy #ICTExpo

We intend to take the ICT Expo on the road to other campuses very soon, and to create smaller fringe and online events throughout the year.

Watch this virtual and physical space 😊


Coding along with Azure Databricks and MoJ’s Splink

In January, our ICT team supported and took part in a Public Sector Code-Along workshop at Imperial’s White City Advanced Hackspace with 60 other data specialists from across public sector organisations, with representatives from Microsoft, Databricks the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)’s Splink team and the National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD). 

This event focussed on the MoJ’s Splink package:

Splink is a PySpark package that allows you to link millions of distinct records that refer to an individual entity but lack a consistent identifier. It applies established statistical comparison methods to detect whether records in a dataset related to the same thing by comparing values in any column, and assessing the probability of a match that would be impossible to do manually across large datasets – for example it can be used to detect if two or more similar records amongst millions are actually related to the same individual person. 

Databricks is a unified set of tools for building, deploying, sharing, and maintaining enterprise-grade data solutions at scale. It is the technical solution that we use at Imperial to power the Unified Data Platform, launched by our Data and Analytics product line in 2022.

We also heard from keynote speakers:

  • Paul Watson, Director of NICD, who gave an overview of the work they are doing to support the National Data Strategy and the skilling up and knowledge transfer.
  • Robert Porteous, Deputy Director of Data Strategy, Implementation and Evidence at DCMS, who spoke about the National Data Strategy work, data standards, data share and data challenges.

The workshop gave us the opportunity to get to grips with a government endorsed external public sector package within Databricks. The code from Splink is available in a Databricks workbook that can be easily imported into our Databricks account. 

Improving our data use at the College

The Splink tool has a lot of potential to allow controlled cross-system record matching with many uses. It allows a solid statistical model to be built, trained and then ported between technologies.

“Splink could allow us to develop solid common definitions that would be transparent and auditable. For example, it could help when the College wants to check for things like spotting duplicate people in records (e.g. CID deduping), connecting building data between systems when there are no common building identifiers and so on.”

Andrew Lewis, Information Insight Analyst, ICT.

Working with real word data

Andrew explains what they achieved at the event, “In the workshop we focussed on some real-world data available data sourced from Companies House. The hack involved training a statistical model to create rules for checking data in columns such as first name, date-of-birth, postcode etc and using accepted stats methods of scoring closeness of matches.

This chart below shows examples of how the models can be trained to acceptable levels. (Image from Splink tutorials available with code.)

Table showing interpretation, showing duplicate data

Andrew suggests “It’s too detailed a subject to cover in this post, but Splink has really powerful and robust settings that allow comparisons to be made much faster than other solutions, and with as fine or coarse levels of details as we could need in the rules. It is possible to separate exact matches from probable matches and define what we accept as “must be 100%”, “good enough”, “close – check these” or whatever.”

This chart below shows how applying the probability rules in sequence can greatly increase the chances of spotting data matches, in a way that is automatable and auditable to a defined statistical tolerance. (Image from Splink tutorials available with code.)

This chart shows how applying the probability rules in sequence can greatly increase the chances of spotting data matches, in a way that is automatable and auditable to a defined statistical tolerance.



Overall, this was a great day. We made contact with lots of data practitioners in other public sector organisations and learned about the potential of Splink.

When our analysts and data professionals spend huge amounts of time retrieving, merging, cleaning and verifying College data, it’s time not spent doing the valuable work of understanding and synthesising their analysis into actionable information. Splink has the potential to do this automatically at scale faster than other tools available.

Andy Lewis (Middle) working with other team members

If you want to find out more about how we are using Databricks at the College you can contact our colleagues:

  • Richard Howells, Head of Technology Office
  • Andrew Lewis, Information Insight Analyst
  • Jose Maria Vidal Fidel, Product Developer
  • Maria Teresa Douglas, Data and Analytics Product Owner
  • Henry Nwiido, Data Domain Specialist
  • Nelson Cerqueira, Solutions Architect
  • Cho Fung Chan, Data Specialist
  • James Clubbe, Data Engineer (Data Specialist)
  • Irene Kalkanis, Data and Innovation Lead

Research Software Engineering enabling ‘Surgery from your sofa’

To increase the quality, impact and sustainability of the research software developed at Imperial, supporting the College in enhancing its world-leading research outputs’.

That is the bold mission statement of the Research Software Engineering Team (RSE) here in ICT.

A large part of a life in academia involves research – the process of investigation into a particular study, utilising various resources and materials.

The RSE team believes in the dependance of research software on modern science and says that ‘good software engineering accelerates and boosts the impact of research’.

With projects like ‘Liionsden’ – that provides a tool which easily archives and visualises the experimental and generated data in simulations in relation to batteries research, and StrainMap – that prepares a new diagnostic MRI technique for use in clinical settings – Therefore, RSE not only  helps Imperial, but benefits many other areas of society.

At the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in 2021, even the public got involved in the process; working with HARMS Lab (Human-centered automation, Robots and Monitoring for Surgery), the RSE team produced a game that involved the remote control of surgical tools – and, despite a few ‘hiccups’, finalised a method that utilises head-movement using Gaze-Tracking technology to move the various tools and complete objectives – an emerging technology that can revolutionise surgical processes.

RSE robotic ‘Operation’ surgery game that is controlled by head movement.

Image: RSE robotic ‘Operation’ surgery game that is controlled by head movement.

Open Science and collaboration are the future’ – RSE believes.

The creative and functional freedom that software engineering provides pushes academia forward – more efficient and technically active programs can automate redundant processes, as well as deliver greater precision over manual entry.

There are almost 30 RSE teams already set up at academic institutes across the UK – with official job titles, fellowships and extensive industry opportunities rising, and with the increasing importance in data science, Research Software Engineering is becoming imperative in providing solid academia – with a main goal to ‘create recognition and career pathways for individuals that develop research software in academia. ‘

Better Software. Better Research’ is RSE’s Mantra.

Watch a video of Chris Cave-Ayland, ICT’s Senior Research Engineer showcasing RSE and the process for building ‘Surgery from your Sofa’ – a system for remote control of surgical robots over the internet. He also gives you an insight into Research Software and what his team does.

You can also read more about RSE on their blog.

Author: Matt La, Work Experience, ICT June 2022