Higher Education Systems in the Cloud - New Frontier or Already Here Transcript

How is the Cloud Helping Higher Education Transform?

During this recent webinar, Campus Management's Chief Strategy Officer Mark Armstrong, and Vice President of Cloud Operations and Services, Emiliano Diez, provided a timely look at the state of cloud adoption in higher education and took questions from institutions throughout the country.

What are some standards and best practices that institutions should look for in cloud vendors?

Emiliano Diez: I would look for a cloud vendor that understands the timing, the lifecycle, and the pain points of higher education. That means having an in-depth understanding of how applications work at institutions.

"Look for a cloud vendor that understands the timing, the lifecycle, and the pain points of higher education."

Mark Armstrong: I agree. It’s important that they understand the business cycles, culture, nomenclature and expectations, and have a track record of supporting institutions’ core applications.

There are standards that your ecosystem expects. For example, integrations – there are some great standards out there. Here I’m going to give a plug for IMS Global, which has created all kinds of interoperability standards across education; specifically, for higher education but even K-12. Things like that should go into your selection, if not directly into your RFP.

What are the plusses and minuses of moving systems to the cloud, whether that be the student information system, the CRM, the ERP, or all three? What are those tradeoffs?

Mark Armstrong: I think institutions are gaining more than they’re giving up. But each institution, first and foremost, needs to create a business case for why they’re moving to the cloud like they would for any kind of major acquisition of a product that’s going to change their operational model. They shouldn’t just take bullets or templates from us or anyone else around that.

"One of the main advantages to the cloud is adopting best practices."

One of the main advantages to the cloud is adopting best practices. I think increasingly, the solutions that are available today do reflect the best practices of the industry because higher ed is so open and tends to share them. And it gives institutions the ability to really think about the service levels they want to provide and adopt those best practices, which should result in more bandwidth or potentially, budget savings.

Ultimately, I think that should enable institutions to provide more and better service where it counts. Lurking behind that is the perception of giving up control. But control comes with a cost and you need to be very careful about calculating what that cost is. But that ability to control costs and have that transparency is an important component of adopting the cloud.

"The true gain of going to the cloud is focus, the ability of institutions to focus on their core educational missions"

Emiliano Diez: Control is one of the main concerns. But let me first share what you’re gaining. The true gain of going to the cloud is focus, the ability of institutions to focus on their core educational missions, “How can we improve academics? How can we teach more efficiently? Rather than, “How do I maintain this technology or ensure a virus doesn’t infect our systems again?” That is not the focus of an institution, but that’s where the cloud can help.

What are you giving up? One of the biggest things you need to be ready to give up are your fears. There are a lot of myths about what ‘cloud’ means, from terminology (what’s true SaaS) to, “Oh, I will be losing control,” or, “I will be less secure.”

But there are many ways to implement cloud solutions, and we will cover how Campus Management’s cloud service can give you all the high standards of security, flexibility, uptime, and elasticity without your institution losing control, without losing access to your data.

One of the concerns we hear is around data access and security?

Emiliano Diez: This is a vendor-specific question. Campus Management decided to implement cloud services in a single instance environment for each client. Meaning if you use our SaaS solutions, you will have your own database where your data is isolated, protected, performance tuned and not coming over with any other clients. Our clients have access to that database, to read those transactions, and to integrate external systems. We do drive all the updates through APIs but it’s your data.

"You will have your own database where your data is isolated, protected, performance tuned."

Mark Armstrong: There are templates you can use but be smart about how you define full and easy access to your data. And by all means, make sure that you’ve got an exit strategy. If you decide you want to go to a different vendor for whatever reason, or you want to return to your old system, make sure that you’ve got a way to do that – to get your data back quickly and effectively. You should define the terms around getting it back and for the vendor to effectively delete your data.

How should an institution prepare for moving systems to the cloud? What can institutions learn from other institutions that have already made that move?

Mark Armstrong: Use your higher ed network to find out how other institutions have moved. The nice thing about higher ed is that most institutions are open about the mistakes they’ve made, where in the corporate sector, that’s not always the case. So look at the mistakes and successes. But at a very basic level, use this as an opportunity to rethink not just your operational model but what is most important to your institution.

Use this as an opportunity to think about the kind of institution that you want to be on the other side of this implementation. Who are the constituents you’re going after? How does this move enable you to focus on those areas? For some institutions, they may have plenty of budget and resources to make this. It’s more of a tactical move than a strategic. But for a lot of institutions, it’s really the chance to transform.

"The biggest challenges around cloud migration are around human alignment to goals."

Emiliano Diez: And that’s coming from the Strategy Officer, right? So it’s a very strategic type of answer. I will give a complement to that. The biggest challenges around cloud migration are around human alignment to goals. If you don’t have clarity on where you’re going and why you’re going to that place, you won’t get there. And this is valid for any type of project, but it’s so important here.

IT organizations are very used to users resisting adoption. You deploy an ERP or a SIS and you have to make sure that your user community embraces that change up front. And that goes from early incorporation into the decision-making process.

With the cloud, it will involve a very similar transformation within IT. If the IT department is not mentally ready to make this transformation, it’s likely going to fail. Now, if your IT department embraces the cloud, and can communicate the benefits, that will help navigate the transformation.

In terms of total cost of ownership, how does the cloud model work versus traditional perpetual licensing model for on-premises?

Emiliano Diez: It’s pretty hard to define an aggregate TCO but we have to do it. If you don’t have true TCO, you cannot calculate ROI. And if you don’t have a positive ROI, you’re not going to get through your finance department, board of directors or trustees.

So you have to understand what you’re putting in to deliver a service. And that includes your license for core software, plus the maintenance, plus the servers, plus the security (meaning firewall networking) plus the people managing the infrastructure, the databases, the security, and the audits. It also includes the physical space. Once you start aggregating those things, you really have quite a bit of expense.

"Instead of buying things, you’re subscribing to a service. So your cash is much better managed on a SaaS model."

The more flat version is a model where you pay a fee per month or per year and that’s it. It includes the license, maintenance and all the infrastructure support services. It’s a one-price model that you pay in perpetuity as long as you use the application. You don’t have to put a huge initial amount out on the implementation of services. Instead of buying things, you’re subscribing to a service. So your cash is much better managed on a SaaS model.

On the other hand, you will be increasing the operational expense side of the house because now you have to pay every year. So you have to be aware of ROI in context with your bottom lines for operational and capital expenses.

Mark Armstrong: You also have to consider opportunity costs, which can be somewhat subjective. But really, what the cloud brings is transparency to the cost model. Everything is metered, so you’ll be able to know the cost of things, whether it’s adding integrations or doing customizations. Not only are costs going to be more predictable but that transparency may highlight some things that you can use to your advantage, or may throw up a red flag somewhere.

Calculating return on investment has always been very tricky in higher education. Not just getting to the dollar amount but in effect, the visibility and the politics around what an ROI truly is when you’re talking about student-facing transactions and things like this. But moving to the cloud gives you the ability to calculate a true ROI.

"So don’t just look at this as a straight dollar-to-dollar comparison."

So don’t just look at this as a straight dollar-to-dollar comparison. Again, look at the opportunity this provides you and frankly, some of the risks. So go into it with your eyes open and manage the complete aspect of costing it out as part of your move. And be ready for some surprises, potentially.

Emiliano Diez: If there’s one thing you get out of a cloud conversion, it’s the ability to focus on what’s going to be more significant and transformational to your institution, and forgetting about the transactionality and commodity of maintaining an application.

Mark Armstrong: I think that’s a good point of context. In terms of higher ed adoption, there’s a realization that by and large, some of these back-end systems, like payroll, financials, HR, are commodities. That’s the right way to look at it. It’s very, difficult to make a sustainable business model around customizing and doing things in a very specific way to your institution for these areas beyond higher education standards.

There might be some different considerations around CRM and students where the uniqueness of an institution may have to come in to play. But again, make sure you do the cost comparison and the budgeting, in the right context and present it as such. That can make all the difference in the world in making your case.

Will moving to the cloud add time to my ERP migration plan?

Emiliano Diez: If you’re planning this from the very beginning, you will shorten your implementation time by going to the cloud. Because the RFP and provisioning process for equipment, data and configuring the networking and acquiring software licenses and deploying operating systems is hard and time consuming. With cloud solutions, we spin off clients and environments every day so we can repeat and scale the process to get deployments faster.

"If you’re planning this from the very beginning, you will shorten your implementation time by going to the cloud."

Mark Armstrong: In aggregate, it shouldn’t. You have to use it as an opportunity to understand what the new product looks like and accept best practices. If you’re going to move to a new platform, it’s very difficult to say, “Well, I’m going to move, let’s say, my HR system to the cloud, but I want to retain my financials and student information system on premises for the foreseeable future.” You can do that. There are plenty of integration services you can use. But you are adding complexity to the deployment that most institutions are trying to reduce by going to the cloud.

The question is, “what are you trying to achieve from a business standpoint in putting in a new system and specifically, moving to the cloud?” What added agility are you going to get from new products and services as a result, and in many cases, a completely new and enabled architecture. Even if the timelines start to look very similar to some of the implementations you’ve done in the past, you have a lot of control over how quickly that implementation goes based on how many customizations you put in. And that’s where the rethinking needs to happen.

What if we buy cloud services from Azure and deploy the application there? Is it cheaper? And what about security?

Emiliano Diez: If you want to deploy our software into Azure, you’re more than welcome to. In fact, our cloud is built on top of Microsoft Azure. If you deploy it, what you’re doing is taking responsibility for running your applications, so you’re not securing a SaaS provider. What a true SaaS provider offers is a turnkey solution where you don’t have to worry about the configuration, the upgrades, the security, the monitoring, the certifications, etc.

"Whether institutions implement on premises, in AWS or in Azure, that’s really a customer decision."

But Campus Management supports both on-premises and SaaS models. Whether institutions implement on premises, in AWS or in Azure, that’s really a customer decision. But if you choose a SaaS solution, you won’t have to worry about all the headaches.

With data being in the cloud and our school having a large number of reporting platforms and options for our users, would we expect to see a cost increase for massive data transfers? Or is this something that is covered within cloud services?

Emiliano Diez: In general, we do not see that case. We have 140 higher education clients today running on our cloud and haven’t encountered that issue. Every school has reporting needs. Many of them are standards. In fact, our systems have hundreds of reports. And clients use different technologies. Most of the reporting engines are able to submit a request, process it on the cloud and then download whatever the result of that report is.

What is tricky is combining those different tools to be efficient. But that’s not a cloud issue; that’s really an application issue. If you end up with five or six different reporting technologies and maintaining all those customizations, that’s an internal IT issue we often see.

Mark Armstrong: And I don’t think the ultimate answer to that question is simply based on storage capacity and executing disparate reporting solutions in this environment. If you’re talking to us about systems, we’re a Microsoft partner and we’re optimized around Azure, so we’ve also incorporated reporting tools into our applications that are consistent across our business applications. For example, we not only have a reporting warehouse within the products we ship but you can use the Power BI tool to report from disparate systems, not just our own.

"Storage is absolutely the one thing where the cost drops significantly year over year, and we expect that trend to continue."

The other question is if you move massive amounts of data for storage in Azure, will there be a cost? Of course. But storage is absolutely the one thing where the cost drops significantly year over year, and we expect that trend to continue. So don’t just think about what it cost you last year. I know if you look across all the vendors what they were charging two years ago. The cost for storage now is less than half of that. Frankly, Amazon is driving a good deal of that and everybody else has to follow.

There may be an end to that price cutting but it doesn’t seem like it’s right around the corner. So it’s one of the few areas where you can forecast the cost of your storage being cut in half every twelve to eighteen months for at least – I don’t know – the next three to four years.

Emiliano Diez:And I wouldn’t use the term “unlimited” but you can store decades of data without any issue, and report across that. Document imaging and multimedia have quotas. But other than that, for data itself, reporting and processing, I don’t see an issue. To the contrary, we usually see higher performance because you have a lot of capacity to process on the cloud.

Is there a strategy behind where the storage centers are located? Is that something that should matter to the institutions, where their data is physically stored?

Emiliano Diez: For some institutions in certain countries, that’s absolutely critical. There are different laws in the States and Canada and European Union and even within that, in specific countries. So if you have restrictions by law, definitely.

In the States, to serve US institutions, we keep the data within the States. And if you secure the disaster recovery services, we do also disaster recovery within two locations within the States. We try to get the data as close to the customer as possible.

If you had a crystal ball how would you predict cloud service level agreements might change in the next five years?” Will there be significant shifts? Incremental changes?

Emiliano Diez: Well, it’s hard to keep going up but that’s a reality. It’s just adding more nines to that number.

"if you are an enterprise client on our Campus Management cloud in July, you’ll be getting 99.9 SLA."

Exactly. And I want to recognize that SLAs are absolutely critical, and we live and die by SLAs. But if you are an enterprise client on our Campus Management cloud in July, you’ll be getting 99.9 SLA. That’s really minutes of downtime, if at all. For an institution, there are certain moments where that is absolutely critical. Like the morning of registration or the date that grades come in, or the closing of the month in the financial system. So those moments are absolutely critical. And for that reason, even though the rest of the cycle is not absolutely as critical, you get 99.9.

Going higher than that? Definitely. The industry will continue to push us higher. Not too long ago, 99.5 was acceptable. And maybe you’re getting close with 99.5. The peer pressure in the industry is driving that higher and higher.

"You’ll have different tiers, different SLAs, with very incremental differences in some cases, available to you for different costs."

Mark Armstrong: I think that’s true. I think like as things mature and customers become more familiar with structures and their own needs, there’s a level of sophistication that grows out of it. So for example, you’ll have different tiers, different SLAs, with very incremental differences in some cases, available to you for different costs. And as customers live in the cloud, so to speak, they’ll understand what applications are critical and need all of that uptime and what are other applications that are just fine for a slightly lower SLA, given that the cost could be significantly lower for that SLA. So that’ll just become a normal part of how you evaluate your cloud services, like when you go to a car lot and you look at the options on the car. I’d like everything but I’m not sure I can afford everything. So what is good enough given my needs?

Emiliano Diez: Mark talked a lot about rapid adoption and innovation. And I talked about focus. Let me try to combine those two elements in a very tangible example.

Once you’re in the cloud, you will have the capacity to augment and change services at a speed that you’re really not used to. For example, let’s say that you need to have an ancillary system to provide functionality we don’t do. We can provide the platform in literally days, if not hours, for you to experiment with that either in production environments or non-production environments.

"Once you’re in the cloud, you will have the capacity to augment and change services at a speed that you’re really not used to."

Not only that, Azure is coming out with new features all the time. You gain the foundation for the latest innovations such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, and, some day soon possibly, voice-registration for students. That sounds super futuristic. Well, it’s not. We already talk to devices at home, whether it’s through Alexa, Cortana, Siri or Google Assistant. We’re not that far from that reality in our systems.

So being on the cloud gets you ready to both experiment and adopt new technologies and new features that will keep your institution ahead of the curve and not behind.

"The fact that institutions will be building around standard business practices will mean that the innovation that they do around the edges will be more transportable."

Mark Armstrong: There was a question earlier about, “What do I give up? Do I give up control?” And what I find interesting about cloud deployment is that you can move to standard integration points, perhaps adopting standard platform services of which there are many hundreds if not thousands of services available on the Azure cloud, to do things like build integrations and mobile applications.

What institutions will have to do is adopt those standards to build out those features and functions. And because they’re willing to share, I think there’s going to be this tremendous innovation cycle. Right now, maybe institutions share things but they tend to code things up in specific ways for their institution. And it may be a little counterintuitive, but the fact that institutions will be building around standard business practices will mean that the innovation that they do around the edges will be more transportable and can be built upon by other institutions.

So rather than think about this as limiting, it could be hugely enabling; in particular, for smaller institutions that perhaps don’t have the IT budget or the personnel on staff to build all the kinds of things they wish they could. And now, they can start adopting them from the wider ecosystem.

And we are absolutely going to take advantage of Microsoft AppSource to take some of the things that our professional services teams do, or what our customers want to build out, and make it available to all of our customers that are running in Azure.

So I think there’s a tremendous wave of innovation that’s going to be out there on the other side of this adoption curve.

What do you recommend as the steps or strategic path for institutions to take in general terms? What would the next steps be?

Mark Armstrong: Well, I’m going to go back to the basics and ask what are the business objectives driving your decision to move to the cloud. What kind of institution do you want to be at the end of that couple of years? What does the budget profile look like? What are the types of constituents you’re going after? Is it going to change? Are you going to re-tailor some of the programs you offer? Or is this simply a need to get off of either homegrown unsustainable products or you have concerns about your current vendor?

"Go back to the basics and ask what are the business objectives driving your decision to move to the cloud."

So it’s really making the business case and then stepping back and looking at that business case first. Because everything’s going to flow out of that, including the product that you’ll ultimately select and the sequence in which you implement them.

So I always absolutely believe that that business case is essential. And if you start to make that business case and get lost along the way, there are companies out there – there are consulting groups and other resources out there – that can come in. I think justifiable cost to help you really understand what you need to do to change operations in a way that meets your strategic imperatives. Planning is absolutely essential before you execute on a project like this.

Emiliano Diez: You will also have to determine your cloud adoption policy. And different institutions might say, “Well, we’re going to select a single vendor and we’re going to put everything there.” But there is a very important distinction between cloud services as a platform, an infrastructure, and cloud as a service. You will have to decide. Do I go into the cloud myself? Meaning all I’m doing is moving my servers from my location to another location and I manage the applications? Or do I transform with a SaaS solution?

"There is a very important distinction between cloud services as a platform, an infrastructure, and cloud as a service."

Mark Armstrong: I mentioned planning, but part of a good plan actually involves experimenting. And maybe you’re already running some cloud applications at the moment. But if you’re not, look at some opportunities to take some high priority objectives to the cloud now. That’s the beauty of it. You can try it, if it doesn’t work, you can shut it off and move forward.

Most vendors will enable you to migrate over where there’s discrete components, recruiting or talent acquisition for example. You can try it out without having to move your entire HRMS and payroll footprint over and see how it works and learn from it as you go through your planning. Many of these cloud services are very low cost. So budget that in, give it a shot, and gather as much information as you can as you move forward with your plan.

Final advice or thoughts for institutions considering a move to the cloud?

Emiliano Diez: I want to really emphasize that this is not about saving two hours or getting little elements here. This is about focusing on your business while adopting new and capable technology. There are cultural and implementation challenges but many institutions have gone through that and you can learn from those processes.

"This is a great opportunity for higher education institutions to realize there’s not as much to fear."

Mark Armstrong: This is a great opportunity for higher education institutions to realize there’s not as much to fear. If you go into this project thinking, “I’m going to absolutely minimize risk and try and hang on to certain things,” you’re going to have more of a struggle and potentially, more of a cost. So understand that this is an opportunity to embrace new ways of thinking. Think about that rapid innovation cycle again.

Try some things. The beauty of the cloud is you can try some things and if it doesn’t work out, you can quickly recover or try it again. I don’t mean to oversimplify the cost and impact to implementing a new system and moving to a new platform. But there’s a lot of exciting things to be had here and I think going into it with that perspective – learning new things, embracing new modalities, using this as an opportunity to really transform aspects of your operations or even your institution, will make it exciting, maybe even fun in spots. Hard to believe with an ERP implementation.

But nonetheless, really significant things are coming out of higher ed cloud deployments right now. And if you have questions or concerns, we’d love to hear about them. We’d love to point you to institutions that really are doing fantastic things out there, many of which aren’t even our customers. But we’re part of that higher ed community and they’re always willing to share.

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