Every major service sector is under pressure to adapt to the current circumstances, and the education sector is no exception. Significant adjustments were needed across educational institutions to move onto the reality of having minimal face-to-face interaction. This case is especially true with the tertiary education sector, which has to provide its services across international borders.
The restrictions imposed in 2020 on in-person classes resulted in a large-scale shift towards online-based classes. E-learning platforms existed long before the pandemic; however, recently, these platforms took centre stage in delivering educational content. Consequently, it resulted in an upsurge in virtual classrooms, as well as a suite of remote services, including teaching, workshops and examinations.
These options provide support for students disrupted by the closure of universities. However, these e-learning platforms require a scalable yet flexible and reliable IT infrastructure. Hence, this situation requires institutions to re-evaluate the said infrastructure to manage the demands of their staff and students.
Here, we share some success stories from the education institues that have embraced digital transformation as an opportunity to bring better learning experiences for its students.
Universiti Sultan Azlan Shah (USAS), adapting to circumstances
USAS was granted full university status on 15 June 2016. The institution offers a variety of courses from foundational studies to PhDs. Its campus, located at Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar,was completed in 2008. USAS currently offers 47 courses in Islamic Studies and multiple subjects under Management and Information Technology. Currently, USAS has the support of 198 lecturers and serves nearly 5600 students.While it still has traditional systems in place, USAS is a key example on how educational institutions can adapt to changing circumstances. The upgrades implemented by the university enables effective online leaning for students and lecturers too.
Breaking free from traditional systems and their limitations
To manage the demand for remote learning, USAS transformed to a cloud-based IT infrastructure from a traditional on-premise setting. The former on-premise system required high amounts of capital investments, labour, and maintenance. For example, on-premise systems typically require higher investments in hardware,including logistics and setup processes. During the lockdown periods, the response time to scale was severely affected by supply chain disruptions. Moreover, in terms of maintenance, IT teams must be on-site to respond to any system glitches encountered.
Such limitations often result in higher costs to support the IT infrastructure. These experiences limit the ability of USAS to scale efficiently and match the demand for remote learning. Due to these limitations, USAS considered engaging TM One to adopt a cloud-based learning management system.
“The decision to engage TM One was due to its capabilities of providing end-to-end technological solutions inclusive of connectivity, cloud services and cybersecurity, catered specifically for the education sector,” said a USAS C-Level representative.
Reaping the benefits from cloud migration
The success of cloud and its effects on universities’ performance is spoken of widely in the education industry globally.The surge of users using online platforms, which posed a scalability challenge with on-premise servers, was addressed with cloud solutions. Using cloud platforms, educational institutions can scale depending on the activity and user base in a cost-efficient manner.
In this very manner, USAS could efficiently scale up or down based on its usage. This ability allowed USAS to tap into the readily available capacity from TM One on a scalable pay-as-you-go basis. USAS reported that it could have 800 students sit for exam sessions concurrently on the renewed cloud-based system, compared to 200 students on the legacy platform.
Other than scalability, USAS was also able to capture significant cost-saving benefits by migrating onto cloud platforms. For example, leveraging cloud technology allows USAS to have lower hardware dependency. Therefore, USAS can focus more on operational expenses, resulting in higher flexibility on its expenses. Unlike on-premise systems where universities were responsible for upgrades and maintenance – cloud-based systems are primarily managed by the cloud provider. This shift in responsibility significantly reduces the financial burden on universities to manage their data storage systems and infrastructures.
These benefits also extend to the IT department, which can now focus on higher-value services rather than on maintenance work. Moreover, the IT Department has the added advantage of being able to conduct support work online safely. As a result, the IT team of USAS noted improvements in their Mean Time to Restore (MTR). In the case of upgrades, the USAS IT team can activate upgrades within 48-hours, allowing them to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Improving user experience for both students and staff
Ultimately, these benefits aims towards enhancing the services for students and lecturers. By leveraging the power of the cloud, USAS can now provide higher-quality content to its students. This leverage is crucial to compensate for the difficulties faced by lecturers due to the loss of physical interaction.
Feedback from the students noted that the performances of past on-premise servers made it difficult for them to learn through digital platforms. The students claimed that they were affected by long loading times and lags. The alternative at that point was to use the platform during off-peak periods, which was inconvenient.
The scalability, efficiency and performance of the cloud provide the robust infrastructure for a conducive learning environment. For example, during crucial exam periods, the cloud reduces system glitches by providing the needed scale. Students can now enjoy a smoother delivery of classes and have real-time responses with their lecturers, leading to an augmented learning experience.
Local counterpart leveraging cloud beyond the classroom
Apart from delivering in-classroom benefits, education institutions are also able to utilise the cloud to enhance customer servicing. A local counterpart, Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), teamed up with TM One in 2018 by adopting a Unified Customer Service (UCS) powered by cloud. The service provided has a consumption-based business model to manage customer interactions for customer experience.
This solution offers an effective way of managing customers by having a one-stop-centre approach. Post-adoption, UTP had expanded its contact centre services from 5 departments in 2018 to 25 departments in 2020. TM assisted UTP by handling more than 1000 interactions monthly, achieving an average of 95% in performance levels. Along with other improvements, these efforts were recognised regionally, with UTP awarded the CXP Best Customer Experience Award in 2020.
The success UTP experienced with the power of cloud technology is not foreign to their peers. UTP was amongst the first educational institution in Malaysia to drive a cloud transformation strategy. After signing a three-year MOU with Microsoft back in 2017, UTP has been a transformative player by integrating tools such as Azure, Power BI, and Machine Learning to future-proof its students and staff. These initiatives were part of a wider goal of improving its capabilities for its educational services and drive operational efficiency.
Learning from global leaders in the education industry
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, leading universities are using this period as an opportunity to further drive the adoption of cloud services. For example, The London School of Economics (LSE) followed through with complementary changes to streamline its financial and business management systems. By engaging with a technology partner, LSE now uses a cloud SaaS solution to manage its finances, budgeting and procurements. This enhancement frees up the staff to focus on providing higher levels of service to their students.
On the other hand, Standford University (SU) shows that adequate training must supplement cloud adoption strategies. Observing its cloud transformation journey, the university made clear communication plans to prepare its staff for the upcoming changes. SU deployed several training programs and communication channels to prepare its staff technically in handling the changes. These steps are crucial to provide confidence for lecturers and supporting staff to embrace the cloud’s capabilities.
As cloud technology continues to grow into a necessity in the education sector, adopters need to have the right information and expertise. Whilst the benefits are clear, misconfigurations can often lead to cybersecurity concerns. Hence,a technology partner is often regarded as a preferred option for institutions to integrate cloud-based solutions. Similar to USAS and UTP, cloud services work best with collaboration. This way, institutions can rest at ease knowing that their cloud strategy is backed by reputable expertise, bringing the full potential of the cloud to the forefront.