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To enhance the quality of student accommodation, the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) through its commercial arm, Tshwane University of Technology Enterprise Holdings (TUTEH), has now launched TRes, a new digital platform built to enrich the quality of life for students in the university’s student accommodation.

Although the platform brought dignity to students’ lives, TUTEH has to still fully leverage it on a cloud platform, leading the team to turn its eyes to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

TRes is a digital platform built for the student accommodation market. It provides quality student experiences from the first time each student searches for accommodation until the time they check out from the university. It’s an easy to use tool for both students and accommodation service providers who can communicate directly using the platform. TRes, therefore, gives a voice to the students in the residences.

Using the TRes system is pretty simple. To sign in, a student simply enters their official student number and password. A student dashboard will then load, and a profile box will pop up with the student’s complete profile. The students then complete their personal and course details into the system.

From there, they then update their room status where there are three options to select from. These are “moving to a different residence”, “transferring to a different room” and “reserving a room”.

TRes also allows the students to raise the issues they will be having with the landlords in a smart way. Landlords also have to register or sign in into TRes to engage with their clients – the students. The launch of TRes followed extensive user testing and obtaining inputs from user groups. A team, all of whom are under thirty years of age developed TRes.

According to TUTEH CEO, Nicholas Motsatse, TRes is a digital platform built to enhance the quality of life for students in student accommodation while providing appropriate tools and support to accommodation providers.

“The design and functionality of the platform aim to create ongoing interaction between students, accommodation providers and university administrators in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. The core idea behind TRes is that student accommodation is not only big business, but also about human dignity – it is about the total experience of being a university student, which is a critical contributory factor to student performance,” says Motsatse.

However, to fully leverage TRes, TUTEH was looking for a cost-effective, seamless managed solution that would host their student accommodation and issue management platform.

AWS then worked with TUTEH to develop an initial minimum viable product of TRes in just 20 days.

AWS tools used included AWS Control Tower, which was used to codify a multi-account strategy, with each TUTEH team member experimenting in their individual developer sandbox.

Other services deployed include IAM, Amazon CloudFormation and CodePipeline which were used to implement a cross-account CI/CD pipeline distilling TUTEH’s software development lifecycle, with a CodeCommit source.

Amazon Lambda and Amazon API Gateway were used for computation logic and request routing with Amazon DynamoDB and Amazon S3 used for storage and hosting.  Notifications to students are delivered using Amazon Simple Email Service, with domain name management (SPF records etc.) managed in Amazon Route 53. Outside of TRes, TUTEH also deployed their internal wiki on EC2.

Aligned to the African proverb: “it takes a village to bring up a child” it took a “village” of technology-savvy organisations to collaborate in developing TRes. Students were core to the process of creating a product for them that they could be proud of.

Through an alliance with TUT’s Faculty of Information and Communication Technology (FoICT), TUTEH recruited a team of recently graduated technology students who were part of FoICT’s Informatics Community Engagement Programme (ICEP) and gave them the responsibility to lead the development of TRes.

In adopting a modular approach, the team will continue adding features that will further enhance the value of TRes to its users, students and accommodation providers.

One of the unique features in the student accommodation space is that students are now able to rate the quality of their accommodation daily, which then translates into the prominent display of those highly rated residences on the landing page of TRes, which increases transparency.

Motsatse adds that TRes’ modular development makes it adaptable and responsive to a rapidly changing environment. To this end, TRes now has three features related to Covid-19: In compliance with the law, it displays the banner of the official coronavirus; it is a source of relevant, up to date and student-specific information on Covid-19, through a dedicated process of de-cluttering the news and repackaging it for students; and it has a Symptoms Assessment and Hotspot Identification (SAHI) feature, which enables the development of hotspot heat maps.  

“In essence, TRes is the one-stop-shop for student accommodation and soon to be one-stop-shop for student living,” Motsatse concludes.

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