Tribal's Marketing Business Partner for HE and Cloud, Daniel Barrass, recently sat down with Matt Avery, Sales Manager for Cloud to talk about some of UK Universities' common challenges and concerns when moving SITS to the cloud. This short interview focuses on a few key questions that customers frequently ask.
Let's get into it…
DB: Hi Matt, please introduce yourself
MA: Hi Dan, my name is Matt Avery, I am Tribal’s Sales Manager for SITS Cloud migrations. I’ve been with Tribal for about 2 ½ years and am responsible for our team helping SITS customers figure out their options for moving SITS to the cloud. Before this I spent 5 years at IBM in the UK and Middle-East, as well as working with a number of SaaS start-ups in the UK and Ireland.
DB: OK, I wanted to start in general terms if we can. I know that the SITS Cloud service is a key foundation of Tribal’s strategy now, so what’s the current status and how many customers are choosing to take this route?
MA: So the first SITS Cloud migration customer signed with us back in 2020, and as of today we have 13 customers that have chosen to migrate to this SITS as-a-Service model from Tribal. Outside of migration customers, there are about another 17 that purchased SITS Cloud as new customers, so the total is 30. We have seen a significant increase in demand for this service, especially in the last 12 months, and expect about ½ of the SITS customer base to be working with us in this way by mid 2025. I think the primary drivers are the concerns over security – especially with direct database connections to other systems – and a strong desire to not have skilled IT teams looking after “BAU” type tasks. Universities need to innovate and that’s really hard when all your time is taken up looking after infrastructure and patching software. I think it’s a really exciting time for both Tribal and our customers – we are seeing SITS Cloud prove to be a powerful “digital enabler” that supports the transformation our customers are seeking in terms of providing exceptional experiences for staff and students. Everything should be a lot easier once you’re in the cloud. In fact, we recently saw some feedback on the MySITS forum that spoke about not having to stay up to 3.30am because they are in the SITS Cloud service, which was great to see the positive impact this is having on our customers’ lives.
Security and GDPR
DB: Universities are becoming more concerned about security vulnerabilities and threats from cyber attacks. Does SITS Cloud help improve security?
MA: If the corporate network is attacked, SITS is firewalled within Tribal's cloud service and so can remain live even if the network has to be taken offline.
Also, AWS provides world-class security on the infrastructure layer with Tribal providing24/7/365 protection on the application layer through our Security Operations Centre, with data encrypted at all times both at rest and in transit.
The service is also certified to ISO27001 and Cyber Essentials Plus.
We believe that security offered by SITS Cloud is way beyond what could realistically be achieved by a single institution.
DB: Does SITS Cloud help to end the use of copies of production data being used in non-production environments?
MA: Yes, Tribal anonymises all data that is used in non-production environments, thereby making a significant contribution to data security and GDPR compliance.
DB: Many customers struggle with implementing data retention & archiving management policy - does SITS Cloud help with this?
MA: Tribal works with SITS Cloud customers to agree on and implement an appropriate strategy for data retention and archiving using the relevant SITS tools.
DB: Interfacing with other systems and services is often sub-optimal and inefficient with SITS on-premise - how is SITS Cloud different?
MA: So, Tribal work with migration customers to refactor all interfaces to use APIs as well as a publish and subscribe methodology to optimise performance and reliability in the cloud.
The performance of SITS can be significantly compromised when delivered on-premises by many services/reports connecting directly to, and polling from the SITS database, slowing it down. We offer an availability SLA in SITS Cloud, so there are no direct connections to the database, which enables us to optimise performance through interface refactoring. We can also offer to manage Interfaces for customers in this model, meaning they no longer require teams of people with StuTalk skills, which frees up these staff to work on higher value projects.
Removing direct connections to the database improves security and mitigates the risk of corruption.
DB: SITS performance is compromised for many on-premises deployments due to bloated databases containing lots of documents - what does SITS Cloud do to improve this aspect?
MA: We move all documents out of the database to more appropriate storage when SITS is moved to the cloud, and this helps to keep the database size under control and optimise database efficiency to avoid having a performance hit on the system.
DB: Implementing an effective Disaster Recovery strategy for SITS on-premises is challenging - tell us how SITS Cloud helps with your disaster recovery strategy.
MA: Tribal's multi-availability zone architecture will keep SITS running even in the event of a complete data centre failure. To-date, we have not ever needed to implement full DR procedures for any SITS Cloud customer.
DB: Problems can take a long time to resolve if it is not clear whether the fault lies with the application, the infrastructure or elsewhere. How does SITS Cloud help you resolve problems quicker?
MA: This is a really important part of the service. Tribal has full responsibility for problem resolution across both the application and the infrastructure and uniquely has direct access to the deepest bench of expertise, including SITS product specialists, software developers, cloud solution architects, technical leads, infrastructure experts, professional service consultants, technical service consultants, support teams, etc. Support for cloud customers includes a named Customer Success Associate and a named Technical Lead, it’s fair to say so the nature of the relationship is very different in that we are truly partners.
DB: We often hear that 85-95% of university SITS technical teams' time is spent on just keeping the lights on. Will this still be the case with SITS Cloud?
MA: I would say that after security concerns, this is the second most cited reason for migrating SITS to our Cloud service. By consuming SITS as a service, the University's technical team have more available time that can be focused on the digital transformation strategy and student experience instead of managing the application and infrastructure.
Change and Agility
DB: Creating extra capacity for times of peak demand is hugely inefficient for on-premises deployments of SITS and is hard to achieve quickly. Will this problem be solved by SITS Cloud?
MA: The SITS Cloud service utilises both autoscaling and manual pre-scaling capability as our team work with the university to schedule additional capacity when it will be needed. This is delivered to a fixed price to avoid large bills when scaling is required – unlike if a customer has moved SITS to a public cloud environment themselves.
DB: Infrastructure planning for things like new courses or additional students is complex and consumes time and money. Will SITS Cloud make these things easier?
MA: As per the last point, we work with customers to understand their “calendar of events” and then the SITS Cloud service will automatically scale up as needed.
DB: Anything else to add?
MA: I think it’s really important that we work closely with our customers through these projects – and we do. SITS is a critical application for a University and we need to ensure that it supports institutional ambitions. The only thing we haven’t talked about is reporting, and this is another key area we address during a cloud migration. Getting data out of SITS can be challenging, so we have developed a solution that resolves this and enables self-service reports in a fraction of the time it currently takes.
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