Welcome to the university of the future
Feb 3 | 6 minutes read
Students have access to the departments they need anytime and from anywhere. Staff payroll is protected and uninterrupted so that even in the midst of a natural disaster like Hurricane Maria, a university can reopen in just 17 days. Complex ecosystems can be maintained and integrated affordably. Security is enhanced for critical infrastructure and systems. In-house staff are able to do more with less resources and innovation can be adopted at pace and in the right place without impacting day to day life
This is what the university of the future looks like.
Digital transformation is making this future a reality for clients of Ellucian, a higher education technological solutions firm.
Often the first step is a move to the cloud. Many explore other alternatives, including updating and upgrading on-premise servers, archiving data that hadn’t been used in a while to free up space or creating new data centres in new locations to support disaster recovery strategies.
But in the end, presidents, VCs, CFOs and CIOs all realise that it would make more sense to use cloud solutions. It’s cheaper, more comprehensive, frees up valuable time and resources and takes the institution forward into the future, instead of backwards.
We spoke to Ellucian’s Vice President of Digital Transformation, Richard Forrest, about what the higher education sector can do to achieve this.
It starts with understanding the world we live in today, the outcomes we are trying to achieve and how we are structured to meet those strategies, according to Forrest. He spoke about how institutions and students today have different demands, often economic in nature but that’s not always the core focus.
For example, we’ve heard many times that students are increasingly expecting the “Amazon experience” from their universities.
“It’s often the case that current infrastructure on the campus, particularly on-prem, if it’s an older infrastructure, can’t meet their needs and ties up too many resources just keeping the lights on instead of advancing,” Forrest said.
This demand started from the wireless revolution on university campuses. It’s set a benchmark and students are only waiting for things to get more connected.
Now students are conducting multiple bank transactions in a single app, talking to their devices to get updates on the world around them or communicating via social media on their phones with more than just their friends but with companies and stores. They expect their higher education institution to have much more than just a mobile presence too.
“The cloud provides the capacity and opportunity for an institution to get there more quickly,” Forrest said, “and once there, stay ahead of the game.”
An inevitable inertia
Network-based computing is nothing new. In 1961, Professor John McCarthy said at MIT’s centennial celebration: “Computing may someday be organised as a public utility just as the telephone system is a public utility.”
“Each subscriber needs to pay only for the capacity he actually uses, but he has access to all programming languages characteristic of a very large system … Certain subscribers might offer services to other subscribers … The computer utility could become the basis of a new and important industry.”
McCarthy predicted rightly. Cloud computing is one of the hottest phenomena to sweep the technology world in the last decade.
Companies, individuals and even governments are now choosing to share a common computing infrastructure instead of buying their own computer systems. This infrastructure is made up of interchangeable parts that manage lots of computer servers, data storage and networking.
There is multilevel security which prevents interference from one user to another. Programmes and data can automatically move to new locations if a single part or even entire location malfunctions or needs updating.
Compared to operating on many individualised computers dispersed among different businesses and agencies, cloud computing is able to do more despite often costing less. Many businesses are finding that hiring services in the cloud also frees up their resources and produces better performance not just in computing but in the processes, they are supporting.
Since the modern context of the term “cloud computing” was coined by Google CEO Eric Schmidt in 2006, the cloud computing market is forecast to reach US$411 billion by 2020.
This is testament to the far-reaching shift this technology has made on the world.
From voter registration to streaming the World Cup, many businesses are depending on cloud solutions to provide better services to their customers, reduce the burden of maintaining on-prem solutions and freeing resources to adopt and power new innovations.
Higher education is increasingly aware of the multiple benefits cloud computing can bring.
But first, institutions have to move there successfully – a process that can face a few roadblocks unique to this sector, Forrest explains.
Firstly, governance is diversely spread but also shared. Higher education is very collaborative so decision making can be “very difficult and time consuming” compared to a company or a bank. Like in any large organisation, getting people and processes to change and adapt is usually the biggest challenge.
“Resistance can surface because some stakeholders may have more work to do, some don’t want to change, some don’t understand the value and others just can’t see where to start” he said.
Then, there’s the issue its often a decentralised system. Like a large business, its operations are decentralised, especially in larger institutions.
”The most effective way to bring an organisation like this together is to find the common goals and drive from the institutional strategy down.” Forrest explains. “By matching the strategy and value it will bring to the organisation to the capabilities needed to deliver those outcomes, it becomes clear very quickly what to prioritise. You often find so much time is being spent on processes that don’t differentiate the institution or drive them to their goals. Shifting systems of record to the cloud allows institutions to free resources and adopt new innovations not only from those systems but to bring in new innovations that before were just distant dreams.”
Another psychological barrier is security, ie. will the cloud be more secure than an internal data centre? David Caldwell, Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration of Trevecca Nazarene University, had this same concern at first.
The on-prem servers at the private, accredited, comprehensive institution of higher learning located in Nashville, Tennessee were in need of an upgrade. Furthermore, they did not have a good disaster recovery plan. To fix this, they could build a duplicate server room, but it would cost six figures, an unfeasible amount for a small university.
However, once Trevecca’s CIO John Eberle convinced Caldwell the cloud is safe, the answer was clear to him: Ellucian’s Colleague software-as-a-service (SaaS).
“I took the proposal to our cabinet and I said, OK, this is what I’m proposing. It’s going to cost us some additional funds, but we’re going to have disaster recovery, we’re going to have these other things in place, and then over time we’re going to start saving money because we will be able to find greater efficiencies.”
The move was a success.
Trevecca can now access the most current application releases without taxing the IT team with the work of upgrades. Faculty can better connect with students, ensuring progress and completion. And the university’s cloud-first policy is providing the best experience to students, including its growing non-traditional student population.
“Ellucian is a great partner in our push to the cloud—the team is an exceptional resource and kept us on track to ensure a successful migration,” said Eberle.
What will the digital transformation of your university look like using Ellucian’s cloud solutions? Explore more here.