Welcome to the university of the future
How digital transformation is making higher education’s future a reality
- The first step towards digital transformation is usually a move to the cloud.
- Communication and effective change management are key to addressing fear and inertia.
- Key cloud benefits include availability, integration, security, and enhanced experiences.
A state university doubles its application numbers in the midst of the coronavirus shutdown. Students access the departments they need, anytime and from anywhere. A university can reopen in just 17 days, without a single missed payroll, in the aftermath of a catastrophic hurricane.
This is what the university of the future looks like. 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 fewer resources, and innovation can be adopted at pace and in the right place without impacting day-to-day life.
Digital transformation is making this future a reality for the Ellucian community.
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 centers in new locations to support disaster recovery strategies. But in the end, presidents, CFOs, and CIOs all realize 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.
So how can the higher education sector 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,” says Richard Forrest, Ellucian’s vice president of digital transformation.
For example, we’ve heard many times that students are increasingly expecting the “Amazon experience” from their universities. They’re used to conducting multiple bank transactions in a single app, talking to their devices, and communicating via social media on their phones with friends, companies, and stores. They expect their higher education institutions to have much more than just a mobile presence, too, and are waiting for things to get more connected.
However, “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. “The cloud provides the capacity and opportunity for an institution to get there more quickly—and once there, stay ahead of the game.”
Network-based computing is nothing new. In 1961, Professor John McCarthy said at MIT’s centennial celebration, “Computing may someday be organized 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. Programs 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 individualized 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 this year. 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. Due to higher education’s highly collaborative nature, decision-making can be “very difficult and time consuming” compared to a company or a bank.
Also, as at any large organization, getting people and processes to change and adapt are usually the biggest challenges. “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,” Forrest said.
Then there’s the issue that like many large businesses, a college’s operations are often decentralized, especially at larger institutions.
“The most effective way to bring an organization 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 organization to the capabilities needed to deliver those outcomes. It becomes clear very quickly what to prioritize. 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—i.e., will the cloud be more secure than an internal data center?
David Caldwell, executive vice president of finance and administration at Trevecca Nazarene University, once shared this concern. The university’s on-prem servers were in need of an upgrade, and it was time to strengthen the institutional disaster recovery plan. To fix this, the university could have built a duplicate server room—but it would have cost six figures, an unfeasible amount for a small university.
However, once Trevecca’s CIO John Eberle built the case for cloud security, the solution was clear: Ellucian 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 its IT team with the work of upgrades. Faculty members can better connect with students, ensuring progress and completion. And the university’s cloud-first policy is providing the best experience to its students, including its growing nontraditional student population.
“Ellucian is a great partner in our push to the cloud, says Eberle. “The team is an exceptional resource and kept us on track to ensure a successful migration.”
What will the digital transformation of your university look like using Ellucian’s cloud solutions? Explore more here.
Learn more about our Digital Transformation Series.