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Cloud technology in education: why more institutions are moving to the cloud

Mike Cope spent ten years as CIO at University College London (UCL) before joining Tribal as CTO in 2019. Having seen first-hand the pushback on cloud adoption rates in the education sector for the last decade, Mike discusses why he believes there has been a shift in mindset over the last 12 months. 

 

Despite the well-documented benefits case, first presented nearly a decade ago, cloud adoption rates in education settings have only really started to accelerate in the last three years. Around 12 months ago, it became apparent that increasingly more universities and colleges were finally accepting that the future is cloud; in fact, the 'now' is cloud. Of course, there were early adopters before this, but now the default approach is finally 'cloud-first'.

 

Rewind a few years, CIOs like myself, who tried to make a case for cloud option, often received pushback from finance – but thankfully, this is no longer the case. Email is a great example of the rate of change. Five years ago, it was common for universities to exchange servers on premise to support third-party email providers; very few institutions do this now. Although it can cost more, there are undeniably many advantages.

 

Business flexibility and agility

 

The acceleration in migrating services to the cloud is primarily because the sector’s appetite for risk has changed as institutions seek solutions that provide the most up to date capability, for the maximum number of use cases, whilst also providing enough flexibility to adapt to increasingly frequent business changes:

 

Three or four years ago, data security and business risk were barriers to moving to the cloud, but today, there are very few education leaders who are solely concerned by that. Now institutions may choose to make the switch as each on premise application comes up for renewal. They will also consider the maturity of the offering, with institutions looking for mature options with frequent updates.

By becoming cloud-first, institutions gain the flexibility to scale up or down depending on their needs. It has been common knowledge for some time now that institutions are paying for redundant services that are never fully optimised. Moving to the cloud allows systems to be monitored to identify peak usage periods, ultimately providing peace of mind when the extra capacity is required while offering value for money.

 

Service reliability and business continuity

Business continuity, particularly in the current climate, is another significant reason driving universities and colleges to migrate more services, faster. As well as enabling more remote working, meaning continuous operations can be achieved even in the recent ‘lock-down’ situations, cloud providers often offer a better 24/7, 365 service that runs more efficiently for a similar price.

As the people who have written the software are by far the best to manage it, outsourcing maintenance and support of the solution to the cloud provider usually means CIOs are able to oversee a better, uninterrupted service.

The business case for improvement in service is always difficult to make. Service has to become particularly bad for stakeholders to attach a value to it. Cloud services are typically – that’s not to say always - better than those enabled by on premise solutions, but the improvement is difficult to make tangible.

Cloud based SIS

That said, ‘cloud-first’ remains the preferred option, for the aforementioned reasons. Which is why Tribal now offers many of its solutions in the cloud.

SITS and ebs were written as on premise solutions, but we are now running these on behalf of customers in the cloud using AWS Azure. These are very niche applications so many of our customers don’t have the skills and knowledge internally to run the implementations (database and servers) and configuration maintenance or if they do, the resources are expensive, so they prefer to outsource the service. Moving these solutions into the cloud means Tribal manages the configuration maintenance and upgrades, can implement new modules with ease, and provide another level of support.

Cloud based CRMs using Dynamics 365

 

The growing strategic importance of student marketing and recruitment has in particular seen more and more universities and colleges choosing to deploy their CRMs in the cloud, with Microsoft Dynamics 365 often coming out top in this scenario.

 

There are two main options when it comes to CRM – Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics – and Dynamics is built for recruitment and marketing. Microsoft price their products for the education market, making them a relatively lower-cost provider offering access to a wide range of services by packaging up software per student/staff member.

Dynamics is also attractive to institutions because it can become a universal (commercial and academic) CRM across the whole organisation. This one application can now serve all CRM activity, from recruitment to alumni, through to businesses working with the university, and government contacts.

It’s why Tribal has built upon the underlying functionality of Dynamics, developing CRM and other solutions specifically tailored to HE and FE environments to support, facilitate and analyse every interaction with students.

Customers don’t have to design solutions themselves, they can ‘bolt on’ best practice functionality that is tried and tested, via a packaged cloud solution that works for many institutions.

If it’s the right time for your institution to move services to the cloud and you’d like to understand more about building a business case, download our CIO Guide To: Building better student relationships – in the cloud. 

The CIO's guide to: Building better student relationships in the cloud

Mike Cope, Chief Technology Office, Tribal Group

Mike Cope