Customer stories

University of Pretoria logoUniversity of Pretoria

AI-powered service desk and automation transform student experiences and ensure business continuity when crisis hits

University of Pretoria logo

About The University of Pretoria

The University of Pretoria (UP) is one of Africa’s top universities and the largest contact university in South Africa, producing research to find solutions for pressing issues. The University teaches in the classroom, online, and embedded in communities.

Students take a picture
  • Founded:
  • User population:
  • Campus size:
    2900 acres



  • Addressing the need for a scalable solution due to resource strain.
  • Bridging gaps in device access and connectivity.
  • Overcoming resistance and aligning diverse departments for non-IT adaptation.


  • Streamlined service management.
  • Implemented learning modules to rapidly educate users forced into remote learning by COVID-19.
  • Automated processes to address VPN and laptop provisioning.


  • 11x increase in VPN requests handled within an hour
  • SMAX managed a 60% surge in post-COVID-19 requests
  • Automated delivery of 400 laptops per day


  • Scarce support (8 agents) for 132,000 students
  • Device and connectivity gaps lead to digital inequality
  • Non-IT adaptation challenges to remote workflows

The University of Pretoria (UP), a leading educational institution in South Africa, was facing significant challenges. With a vast student population exceeding 132,000 and only eight dedicated service agents, UP grappled with the strain on support resources, leading to potential service gaps. The digital landscape presented another hurdle as the university aimed to bridge the digital divide among its students. Insufficient access to devices and connectivity for some students hindered the effectiveness of remote learning initiatives, exacerbating existing socioeconomic disparities. Furthermore, the adaptation of non-IT departments to remote workflows presented a complex scenario, as the traditional in-person interactions were abruptly replaced, demanding swift and seamless integration into the digital service management framework. These challenges were further exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitating rapid adjustments to workflows to ensure business continuity. Comprehensive support was needed for students facing diverse needs, from VPN access to the provision of laptops and data bundles. The university's existing resource constraints and the urgency imposed by the global crisis underscored the critical need for a scalable and efficient solution to address these multifaceted challenges.

college students looking at camera with smiles

The value of machine learning is phenomenal in our student community, as evidenced by the wide use of our virtual agents and knowledge articles within SMAX. Without machine learning and AI there is absolutely no way we could support our end users with the few dedicated agents we have.

Charl Joubert
Change and Configuration Manager, University of Pretoria, South Africa


OpenText™ Service Management Automation X and OpenText™ Operations Orchestration supported 132,000 students, handling an 11-fold VPN increase and a 60% service request rise due to COVID.

Products deployed

Streamlining support for 132,000 using eight service agents

Though universities in South Africa are particularly resource-constrained, UP made an early decision to prioritize an investment in IT service management (ITSM); a decision that has paid dividends over the years. When Charl Joubert, change and configuration manager joined UP, he inherited a service desk and incident management solution. Through his association with ITIL, Joubert became a certified ITIL master and drove streamlined processes for the university in his capacity in ITS (Information Technology Services). “Through our longstanding partnership with OpenText we evolved our service model. Our first priority was to introduce a change management module, so we were delighted when OpenText announced this. As new modules became available, we opted in and OpenText SMAX was launched just at the right time for us.” UP implemented the full stack of modules and were able to consolidate stand-alone solutions into SMAX, saving license and maintenance costs.

SMAX’s embedded machine learning and process automation capabilities enable UP to support 132,000 end users (including current students, alumni, and study applicants) with just eight dedicated service agents. “Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) were the driving force to include our student helpdesk in the SMAX architecture,” said Joubert. “Students had been served with a separate tool and the ITSM team only directly supported our faculty staff and post-grad students, with six dedicated agents, delivering a higher touch support model. The value of machine learning is phenomenal in our student community, as evidenced by the wide use of our virtual agents and knowledge articles within SMAX. Without machine learning and AI there is absolutely no way we could support our end users with the few dedicated agents we have.” Over the years, UP evaluated other OpenText™ IT Operations Management solutions carefully and, if found to be of value, introduced them into the existing architecture. OpenText™ Operations Orchestration (OO) started the whole journey of process automation. Today, OO enables all types of IT operation needs— from password resets to VPN access and student laptop sourcing. OpenText™ Universal CMDB assisted service modeling and visualization builds a complete understanding of how the UP infrastructure delivers business and IT services, helping resolve issues faster and avoid service downtime. UP currently has 1,800 Universal CMDB licenses and looks to increase this to cover 2,400 servers.

Rapidly educating users forced by COVID-19 to work remotely

The combination of SMAX and OO delivered tangible value during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. The university, like businesses around the world, quickly had to pivot to a remote working and learning environment for its staff and students. The first priority was to provide VPN access to everyone who needed this. “We saw our VPN requests increase 11-fold and thanks to SMAX and OO we defined, reviewed, published, and automated the VPN provisioning process within hours,” commented Joubert. “Users are granted VPN access in a few seconds, as soon as the request is approved.” The OpenText™ Adoption Readiness Tool (ART) played a key role here. Joubert was quickly able to provide a step-by-step and ‘try me’ simulation-based tutorial on how to install and use VPN as well as many other service offerings. This was placed into SMAX as a knowledge article and the OO-driven VPN provisioning process directed users to it. ART has replaced internal IT training and is fully integrated with the university’s learning management system (LMS). Joubert comments: “The ART ‘show me, try me, and test me’ learning modules have proved very successful for us. Eliminating one-to-one training saves approximately three months every year, our training is rolled out in three languages as part of our onboarding process, and our LMS gives us the metrics to track user adoption.”

Automating processes to address VPN and laptop provisioning

COVID-19 is a formidable and unprecedented challenge for anyone, but especially universities where the migration to emergency remote learning has sharpened existing socioeconomic fault lines in society. Many universities struggled with this transition. This was mainly due to inadequate IT infrastructures, limited expertise for online teaching and learning methods, and the inability to provide computers and data to students. Joubert was clear that having an enterprise service management architecture in place was a major help, “SMAX frankly saved the day when COVID-19 hit. The supporting structures for remote service delivery were quickly put in place and we SMAX-onboarded facilities, security, and student administration departments to support students who needed travel permits, data to access remote learning services, or even daily necessities to their accommodation as they were not allowed to travel back home. Our SMAX architecture tackled it all efficiently and effectively.” Providing seamless VPN access was a good start in the COVID-19 crisis, but the university also had to support students who did not have laptops or devices that were conducive to distance learning. The South African government quickly put grants in place for universities to supply laptops to students in need. The UP IT team called upon SMAX and OO again, and included OO’s robotic process automation (RPA) capabilities. Creating a ‘shopping’ site that was directly linked to a courier service, they integrated SMAX, OO, and RPA capabilities to automate the process of ordering up to 400 laptops a day. The laptop vendors leveraged these capabilities to receive and send order information and arrange courier collection, with delivery straight to students’ accommodations. The courier’s proof of delivery was imported into SMAX’s asset management module, allowing the team to track exactly what device went to which student. Joubert was delighted, “This seamless process meant that many disadvantaged students with no means of accessing remote learning were up and running with a new laptop within just a couple of weeks. The process operated like clockwork.” Students can also apply for a data bundle if they do not have adequate connectivity—the cost of the bundle is covered by the university. Students navigate to the SMAX portal, locate the “data bundle” tile, and enter details that include the mobile service operator and the mobile number on which the data bundle will be loaded. OO transforms this information and sends it to the respective mobile operators.

The University Campus

We saw our VPN requests increase 11-fold and thanks to SMAX and Operations Orchestration we defined, reviewed, published, and automated the VPN provisioning process within hours. Users are granted VPN access in a few seconds, as soon as the request is approved.

Charl Joubert
Change and Configuration Manager, University of Pretoria, South Africa


OpenText automated operations at UP with SMAX and OO. This transformative solution displayed adaptability to diverse challenges.

Onboarded non-IT functions to SMAX and OO automation

With the pandemic still causing much disruption to normal life, many non-IT university business units recognized the benefits of leveraging SMAX and OO in delivering effective services to students, as Joubert explained, “18 months on from the start of the pandemic, our students and staff are still not allowed back on campus and we foresee that this situation may be ongoing into the new academic year. This caused challenges for departments who are used to dealing with students in person. We have created SMAX/OO workflows for our department of enrolment and student administration dealing with new and prospective students. We have also worked extensively with our libraries, who found themselves having to digitize content to make it accessible to remote learning students. They can now apply through the SMAX portal to have certain content digitized. The workflow process triggers copyright approvals and the actual digitization process. The digitized content is then delivered through SMAX.” The security department is also leveraging SMAX to manage students’ campus access, and the faculty of natural and agricultural sciences are now managing all student queries through SMAX. This single solution for service management has made it easier for IT to support and simpler for students who were already familiar with the SMAX interface.

Adapting to a new normal with technology support

Service request volumes have increased by 60 percent compared to previous years, with an average of more than 50,000 requests every month of which approximately 30 percent are via the virtual agent. With this in mind, and aware that the university is at an inflection point in its service delivery model, UP is accelerating its automation journey. OO is ideal for automating legacy applications that lack web services or applications that are inaccessible due to security reasons, according to Joubert. OO also helps automate applications that require complex integration and expensive skills. The UP team started using OO with a use case that would make a difference—automating the increasing volume of student laptop order requests. Here, a robot facilitates the complex interaction with Peoplesoft. The robot reads a PDF form, extracts the necessary fields, and creates the order request in SMAX—just like a human would. “The OpenText solution has given us awesome new capabilities,” said Joubert. “The easy-to-use interface makes developing workflows effortless. We look forward to expanding our use of automation with OO in the near future.” Joubert concluded, “COVID-19 has polarized the world, especially in countries such as ours, and made us grateful for the ITSM investment that enabled us to adapt quickly to a new normal. We evaluate our IT investments annually as part of a normal process and OpenText comes out on top every year. Thanks to our involvement in the Product Advisory Council (PAC), we have built a mutually beneficial partnership where we have collaborated on new features as well. Our experience with OpenText has been great, and we look forward to our continued partnership.”