Flinders University takes to the cloud for institutional success
With an eye on breaking into Australia’s top 10 universities list by 2025, Flinders University has transitioned to using Microsoft’s three cloud platforms–Azure, Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365.
The move aims to advance the university’s 2025 mission “to make a difference” in the lives of its students, its research community, wider industry and to the country as a whole.
“We live in an era of disruptive change in which the pace of technological innovation is remarkable,” says Flinders Vice-Chancellor Colin Stirling.
“Unprecedented access to information is redefining the ways we live, learn and work.”
Flinders University, he adds, needs to produce graduates prepared for this era and research that will propel it.
Four pillars underpin the university’s 2025 agenda, namely: people and culture; research; education; as well as engagement and impact.
A critical part of this mission is aligning the university’s IT strategy with the four pillars and ensuring all stakeholders across the institution from students to staff and faculty have access to cutting-edge systems that enable their success.
Leading this mission is Flinders University CIO Kerrie Campbell. Campbell notes that Flinders’ mission isn’t unlike others in the sector; ie. every institution would have set its designs on moving up on rankings, boosting student outcomes and lifting research productivity.
What’s different with Flinders, however, is the business focus the university’s IT group has cultivated in advancing its mission.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve changed; instead of IT teams delivering on IT products, we’re actually talking about the business value that we’re delivering back into the organisation so that they can see what that looks like and the scale of that,” she says.
A key accelerant, according to Campbell, is the university’s strategy of “cloud first and buy, rather than build”.
According to the university, moving to Microsoft’s clouds has more than quintupled its project workload capacity. Between 2017 and 2018, the university’s move saw it deliver from 12 IT projects to a significant 62.
“I have 400 applications here at the university … if we can rationalise those products we can make savings, because having 400 applications, you’ve got 400 different maintenance cycles, 400 different ways of keeping that working,” Campbell adds.
Dynamics 365 has been used by the university since 2016 but Campbell is looking to extend its use across the university, including as an enrollment and marketing platform for domestic and international students.
To make that happen, the university is tapping the help of KPMG.
“We’re doing student journey mapping so that we can make sure we’re using the right product for the right part of the student journey.”
The move to Microsoft 365 A5, meanwhile, will help elevate security posture at the university, a key priority area for the university following recent breaches at other schools. Australian National University earlier this year suffered a major breach that affected 19 years’ of personal staff, student and visitor data.
Campbell notes that Flinders too could be a security target.
Flinders has also transformed the way in which data is collected, as well as how it is accessed and used. On-premises Oracle data warehouses has been replaced with a data ecosystem (including a data lake and data warehouse) built on Azure that can be accessed and analysed using Power BI.
The Azure data lake will eventually hold all key corporate information assets of the university to ensure a “centralised, timely, performant and consumable value proposition.”
“We used to say to our business, ‘Yes, you can have that information. It’ll take us 12 months to put it in a warehouse’.
“[But] With some of our services we have now in Azure, we are able to make more effective decisions with near real-time data. This is a fantastic step forward and we are looking forward to build this functionality further with Azure over many more services at Flinders.”
Finally, the university is also exploring ways to make greater use of artificial intelligence to improve institutional efficiency. In a recent project, the university employed robotic process automation to sift through 15 systems for information needed to compile the Chancellor’s letters of commendation.
The automation saved an estimated 1,700 hours, the university said.
What lies ahead? Campbell debunked commonly raised fears of robots replacing human jobs.
Instead, she says automation would only take away “dull parts of our jobs”.
“That’s the sort of way we’re looking at AI – as an ecosystem. Not just chatbots but ways where people make that interaction really seamless and really easy.”