Strategies for Moving to the Cloud
As higher education continues to feel pressure to reduce costs and improve efficiency, campus IT environments are rapidly changing and the speed of cloud adoption is increasing. More schools are utilizing cloud technology to modernize systems, cut costs and analyze data to gain insights about more cost-effective ways to run the institution. But it is crucial that such an important decision is made strategically, and that cloud systems are adequately assessed to ensure they will meet the needs of the institution.
This web seminar outlined some practical strategies for successfully moving any college or university to the cloud. Presenters included the director of IT at the University of Wyoming and the director of higher education at Oracle, who described how UW assessed and selected a cloud platform to replace the school’s outdated financial and HR systems, and how this cloud model will benefit the university by improving efficiency and reducing costs.
Director of Higher Education
Director, Information Technology
University of Wyoming
Brad Saffer: Things have changed in the last 15 to 20 years in the higher education space. A lot of it is technological change—obviously, the advent of the internet and mobile phones have had a big impact on how we as consumers interact with the world, and by extension, how students expect to interact on campus.
There have also been a number of programs trying to reach out to the nontraditional student—folks who are not able to just stop working and dedicate two to four years of their time to school. The financial crisis also had a big impact on how students started to look at their education. That crisis severely dampened employment prospects for students, so those who were continuing their education were looking at its value more closely and making sure that the investment of time and money was going to pay off with a job at the end. The financial crisis also dampened the funding that higher education institutions were receiving. So a student today is looking at paying a lot more for their education and is then saying, “I need to make sure that I’m employable at the end.”
Now when a student comes to campus, they’re expecting a consumer-like experience. They’re expecting to interact on campus the same way they interact when they shop on Amazon. If I can buy shoes on Amazon at 3:00 in the morning, I want to be able to change my class on my mobile phone at 3:00 in the morning as well. That has a tremendous impact on systems.
On the back end, we’re seeing a lot of schools working through heritage or legacy systems that are siloed and bifurcated. These systems are preventing campus leaders from gaining the insights they need. There’s a challenge in getting data in a timely fashion, and it’s very difficult to drive standard business processes, which, of course, creates a lot of inefficiencies. On the IT side, you have departments focusing a lot of their time on maintenance—just trying to keep the trains running versus driving innovation.
Schools are focusing on the student experience and making sure that students are getting the education they need, that they’re being successful academically, that they’re employable when they come out of school. Related to that is the reputation that a university has on the marketplace. So, schools are very concerned with their institutional standing. A big part of that is the faculty and staff. Are schools able to attract and retain top faculty and staff? Can they not only drive participation in programs, but can they build and maintain quality programs that are reputable and unique?
All of this is tied to how the university is operating, both from a business process and a system standpoint. All of that mission-critical activity on the back end is what will make or break the institution’s ability to deliver that student experience.
Jennifer Chavez: While we had a need for data and reporting, we found that while we were able to produce reports, it typically took us two to three weeks to provide information when requested. We needed to be able to pull data from different systems to allow our new leadership to make some strategic decisions for the future. So in 2015 the university embarked on a needs assessment on running reports. That needs assessment found that in order to achieve the business requirements of the university, we actually had to look at overhauling the way we did business.
We then took a step back and said, “OK, if we need to overhaul our business processes to align with the strategy of the university, do we want to do that with our current system and re-implement? Or what does the technology landscape look like?” We had issues with real-time data availability. The transactions and how we were processing things were insufficient. The structure and the organization of the university didn’t allow us to roll up things. So we did an assessment and decided that based on where technology vendors’ research and development were going, that if we were going to change systems, we were going to look at only cloud systems.
The university went out for bids for what we branded as “WyoCloud,” an initiative to provide modern and sophisticated solutions for today’s demands and challenges on our university, including financial management, planning and budgeting, human capital management, business intelligence, and reporting and procurement catalog.
In August 2016 we went with Oracle’s Cloud solution, and in March 2017 we went live with student reporting, and in July went live with the financial management system. So, that was a ten-month implementation for us. We also then went live with additional student content, our financial business intelligence and pre-built content at the end of September. We also launched the HCM implementation, and that kicked off in October.
By making this shift, we made some accomplishments. We started with 7,200 account strings and we were able to consolidate that down to 267. We were able to go live with an interactive, public-facing dashboard, and now we have information out there about student finance and our budgeting, which also has been a success. Cloud allowed us to negotiate three specific contracts in the last 12 months with Office Depot, CDW-G and Fisher Scientific to allow for value and price discounts when the university buys in bulk, which we had not done before. Over the next three years, this should save the university roughly $2.7 million. We’ve redefined our grants process and have been able to implement a standard fringe benefit rate, which we weren’t able to do before. And we have developed an all-fund, zero-based operating budget.
To watch this web seminar in its entirety, visit www.universitybusiness.com/ws111417