The Progression of Cloud Computing in Further Education Colleges

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1 The Progression of Cloud Computing in Further Education Colleges A study based on Cloud Technology projects managed by the Association of Colleges and funded by the Skills Funding Agency November 2013

2 Contents 1. Executive Summary 2. Introduction 3. Summary of Findings 4. Project Outcomes 4.1 Student and other Relationship Management in the Cloud 4.2 Finance, HR and payroll Services in the Cloud 4.3 Disaster Recovery in the Cloud 4.4 Employer/Business Focused Applications in the Cloud 4.5 Learner Focused Applications in the Cloud 4.6 Virtual Learning Environment (VLEs) in the Cloud 4.7 and Storage in the Cloud For each of the above areas: - Needs and Opportunities - The Projects - Similarities and Differences - Details of Delivery Models, Supplier Relationships, Service Level Agreements, Project and Change Management, Impact, Savings, Sustainabilty and Expected Longer Term Impact, Replicability 5. Conclusion

3 Executive Summary This report describes the early experiences of 34 projects in planning and implementing the movement of selected IT applications to the cloud. It should be of value to Colleges who are considering moving applications to the cloud. The report highlights the emerging benefits of moving to the cloud. It identifies the risks and the mitigation strategies to manage these. It shows the potential of cloud technology to meet College stakeholders rapidly increasing demands for IT capacity, complexity and accessibility. The report provides a snapshot of experiences to date including early impact. The full impact of these projects will be evident in the coming months, with a follow-up research report being developed during The current report shows how Colleges are: using cloud technology to develop Student and Other Stakeholder Relationship Management Systems in the Cloud, which integrate web applications, CRM and MIS applications. These systems provide key information to learners and record their engagement with the College from the point of enquiry onwards. This also informs parents and employers; increasing their business efficiency through developing Finance, HR and Payroll Services in the Cloud, which enable self-service access by Curriculum Managers as well as Finance Staff; meeting the business-critical demands of Disaster Recovery in the Cloud through agreements with cloud data centre providers and processes which include data encryption and consideration of the location of data centres; supporting the needs of employers and learners through the development of Employer-/Business-Focused Applications in the Cloud, such as by supporting, tracking and recording work-based learning using Google Apps; supporting anywhere/anytime learning through developing Learner-Focused Applications in the Cloud, such as virtual desktops, Google Apps and mobile learning; migrating Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) to the Cloud, to support increased access and flexibility for learners and collaborative working between Colleges to share learning resources; migrating and Storage to the Cloud, to provide greater resilience, improved access and flexibility, such as through the use of Google Mail or Microsoft Office 365. As an overview, many of these projects are already reporting savings and these will be reviewed again in the coming months. For some, improved service is seen as the significant benefit. Colleges have experienced some challenges in upgrading their bandwidth to the levels required by their applications. Valuable experience has been gained in supplier selection including selecting cloud hosting and specialist IT partners. Some common challenges have been identified in migrating to 365 and with authentication issues generally. Experiences have been shared by Colleges who have implemented single sign-on facilities. Some projects address increased access to learning for those with physical or learning disabilities. Many of these projects are replicable in other Colleges. A number of projects are part of Shared Service approaches, where the development costs, overheads and benefits are shared by a group of 1

4 Colleges. These Colleges work to a common set of business standards and processes. A number of Colleges have emphasised the importance of using formal project management methodologies. This report illustrates initial findings and is naturally limited by the information available at this point in time. Many projects are ongoing and will be reviewed into The Association of Colleges (AoC) has captured information over the lifetime of the programme and further detail can be found on the AoC Policy section of the website (www.aoc.co.uk/cloud_computing). The report concludes with some areas of desirable further research. This includes the need for forensic studies of IT costs in Colleges. 2

5 Introduction The context within which the projects described in this study were commissioned, funded and managed is the rapid uptake of cloud services in the public and private sectors over the last five years. In 2008, an article in The Economist noted that, The rise of the cloud is more than just another platform shift that gets geeks excited. It will undoubtedly transform the information technology industry, but it will also profoundly change the way people work and companies operate 1, a statement that made clear that the maturing of cloud technologies would go on to transform business processes and have a significant impact on the economy. The trend to the widespread adoption of cloud technologies was given further impetus by the publication of the Coalition Government s ICT strategy in The development of the Government s G-cloud would, it was argued, improve efficiency, resilience and security because, Cloud computing delivers infrastructure, platform or software as a utility service, giving government the capability to respond to changing operational needs. The standardised cloud platform will also allow developers, especially SMEs, to generate innovative solutions. 2 As cloud technologies matured, and as government departments and agencies began to adopt cloud services, an increasing number of suppliers began to enter the market with the result that rate of adoption of cloud technologies began to increase. One result of this trend was that funding became available to allow publicly funded organisations to respond to the opportunities presented by the cloud. The Collaboration and Shared Services Board, established by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), allocated 1million for cloud projects from the Shared Services Grant Fund, managed by AoC. The aim of the Board was to progress cloud computing in Colleges through the provision of funding of a range of projects. Colleges were invited to bid for individual projects by completing an Invitation to Tender (ITT) that had been written by AoC and other partners in the Shared Services project. The ITT allowed Colleges to bid for project funding provided they met the definitions of SaaS or IaaS described below. The ITTs were assessed by independent experts, the AoC Innovation Committee and the Shared Services Board, before contracts were drawn up for the successful applicants. A total of 36 bids were selected covering a range of projects involving Colleges and commercial suppliers. 34 projects are now running, with two that did not go ahead; these projects are being managed by the AoC project management team. 1 Special Report on Corporate IT, (The Economist, 2008) 2 Government ICT Strategy, March 2011, Crown copyright 2011, p.14 3

6 The purpose of this report is to review the progress of cloud computing in Further Education (FE) Colleges. This is based on the development projects which were managed by AoC and funded by the SFA from 2012 onwards. The projects are divided into two categories: Software as a Service (SaaS) when software and its associated data are hosted centrally by the cloud computing provider and the organisation accesses it when and where required. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) when a College effectively outsources the IT equipment used to support operations. This includes storage, hardware, servers and network components. 29 projects were funded in the Software as a Service category and five in the Infrastructure as a Service category. In practice, some projects fall into both categories. Colleges have complemented this funding with their own resources to plan and deliver projects which meet their specific needs. This approach has enabled the FE and sixth form College sector to gain valuable experience of a wide variety of ways of implementing cloud computing. The Colleges involved have reported the gained and expected benefits and the challenges encountered. The projects address the following areas within a College s operations: Area Number of Projects Student and Other Stakeholder Relationship Management in 3 the Cloud Finance, HR and Payroll Services in the Cloud 2 Disaster Recovery 4 Employment / Business Focused Applications in the Cloud 3 Learner Focused Applications in the Cloud 9 Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) in the Cloud 7 and Storage in the Cloud 9 A number of projects are in more than one category. For each of these areas, project outcomes have been analysed, where applicable, in terms of: Delivery Model Supplier Relationships Project and Change Management Service Level Agreements Impact Savings Sustainability and Anticipated Impact Replicability 4

7 Due to the differing nature of these projects, some projects have reached completion, whilst others are still in progress. In most cases, impact and savings can only be reported fully after an appropriate period. Some of the findings in this report are therefore indicative and will be updated at a later date. The findings are based on progress reports which Colleges have submitted at appropriate intervals as well as presentations at workshops and conferences. The projects represent a rich variety of approaches. Where similarities and differences in findings exist, these have been identified. 5

8 Key Findings Overall Benefits This study has identified a range of clear benefits in Colleges moving selected IT services to the cioud in the form of: Increased flexibility Greater and scalable capacity Agility and innovation Enabling a College to focus on front-line business, outsourcing what doesn t have added value Significant savings on staff time and equipment The facility to move significant IT capital expenditure to operating expenditure Risk and Mitigation Cloud computing is a disruptive and change technology. Tim Marshall, CEO, JANET and Executive Director, Technology and Infrastructure JISC at the AoC Cloud Technology Conference, 11 June This brings a range of risks which need to be analysed and appropriate mitigation strategies devised: Risk Percieved security of data in the cloud Mitigation Data can be safer in the cloud if due attention is paid to: Encryption of data Service agreements with cloud hosting providers Location of data where EU legal jurisdiction applies. JISC Legal is the authority on this. There is a single point of failure in respect of the College link to the JANET network Ensuring appropriate band with capacity and resilience. AoC is working with BIS and JANET to secure investment in infrastructure development to allow for an increase in bandwidth and the avoidance of a single point of failure for all Colleges. 6

9 Uncertainties in financial implications Uncertainties in the activities involved in moving a specific application to the cloud Uncertainties in how users will take to cloud computing Loss of control in working with other Colleges in consortia or shared services partnerships Sound business planning incorporating demand forecasting and supply planning. Forensic studies of College IT costs. Use of robust project planning and control methodologies Use of other Colleges experiences Work with shared services partnerships and College consortia Robust training strategies Well-planned change management strategies Ensure strong leadership buy-in Work with trusted partners Debate and subscribe to common standards and processes Underpin this with robust Service Level Agreements between the partnership and the partners 7

10 Detailed outcomes from Individual Projects Cloud technology is being applied selectively in different areas. For each area the needs and opportunities have been summarised. The purpose of each project is described. Similarities and differences in approach and outcomes are highlighted. Detailed outcomes are documented in terms of: Delivery Methods Supplier Relationships Service Level Agreements Project and Change Management Impact Savings Sustainability and Longer Term Impact Replicability 4.1 Student and Other Stakeholder Relationship Management in the Cloud Needs and Opportunities All Colleges have a need to manage their communications and relationships with students throughout their learning journey. This includes initial engagement in marketing to prospective students and recruiting them. Thereafter, it includes regular communication at many points in the learner journey and keeping a record of that engagement. This includes student engagement and achievement with learning programmes, their satisfaction and their destination. Once they have left the College there is an on-going need to engage students as alumni. Communication and relationship management extends beyond students to parents and to employers. Communications and relationship activities, recording and reporting are often delivered on a range of disconnected websites, management information systems and customer relationship management systems. The range of devices through which students 8

11 can access and communicate key information regarding their learning journey is also limited. Cloud computing provides an opportunity to integrate the range of communications and relationship management systems and to communicate with students and other stakeholders on devices of their choice. The Projects Three projects were commissioned in the Relationship Management Area. These projects represent a range of different approaches and perspectives. Brockenhurst College s project is a collaborative project run by the Wessex Federation. A home-grown system, Emily has played a critical role for nearly a decade now in driving forward the effectiveness of the College to recruit, support and retain their learners. Brockenhurst have now re-platformed in the cloud, using Microsoft Azure, to continue to support their learners in new, responsive and innovative ways. Gloucestershire College s project has been driven by the need for a single system to track and support learners on their journey onwards from first engaging with the College. This is now a much larger, more integrated and more medium term project than initially proposed. It is based on the development of a new cloud-based College website which will be integrated with Microsoft Dynamics CRM in the cloud. It will enable the delivery of personalised services to learners, employers and other stakeholders as well as capturing data on learners from the point of enquiry onwards. The website is planned to be live from November 2013 with the CRM component of the project following in February Gloucestershire College is already successfully hosting Moodle in the cloud and using student in the cloud through Microsoft 365. City College Coventry s project aims to support students and communicate critical information to them. This uses cloud mobile technology to deliver an HTML5 mobile app. This includes key campus & student union information, VLE & eilp access, e-library and QR scanning. The approach enables this information to be made available on a range of mobile devices iphone, Android etc without the need to develop platform specific apps. This includes use of a cloud Platform and access to the app through a number of app stores. Similarities All projects focus on information provision to learners. Brockenhurst College and Gloucestershire College offer personalised service benefits to learners and other stakeholders. Both Brockenhurst and Gloucestershire are longer term projects which are evolving to include the different stakeholder sets learners, staff, parents, employers. Both are dependent on systems integration for example Brockenhurst with EBS and Gloucestershire with Unite-e. Both are bespoke web based developments and have been developed in Microsoft environments. 9

12 Item Brockenhurst / Wessex Gloucestershire Development resource In-house team Digital partners Savings Savings identified at 20K per annum Service is key driver Replication in other Colleges Other Colleges in the shared service partnership could use the software once the Brockenhurst College specific elements are removed The website is tailored to the College but the strategic approach is replicable Delivery Modules Brockenhurst/Wessex Education Shared Services: The delivery model used is Microsoft Azure, which enables the development of the software and its database to take place in the cloud (Infrastructure as a Platform) and the application to be hosted by Microsoft in the cloud (Infrastructure as a Service). Microsoft Azure enables the use of a wide range of Microsoft Software in the cloud, which in turn enables Wessex Education Shared Services to build upon the well-developed Microsoft expertise of the team at Brockenhurst. There is a staff view of the information on the system. This includes all key information on students, their attendance and grades. All of this is linked to EBS which is synced as a feed to SQL server data in the cloud. The following diagram illustrates the system integration involved in this project: 10

13 The student and parent portals enable them to view timetables and a range of other real-time information. Parents can see how their son/daughter is progressing, their attendance and where and when their exams are and the results. Putting this in the cloud has enabled the necessary scaling, particularly to provide a resilient service on exam results day where demand for access peaks considerably and abnormally. Gloucestershire College: This is an integrated system comprising a cloud-based website hosted by Rackspace and Microsoft Dynamics CRM hosted by Microsoft. The system also includes links with College-hosted systems UNIT-e, MIS, the Payment Gateway, Curriculum Planner (an in-house developed application) and the College intranet which is run on SharePoint. This is shown in the following diagram: 11

14 City College Coventry: The delivery model used is for cloud hosting of key College information services which can be accessed by students on a range of mobile devices through apps which are available from the apps stores of providers such as Apple. The following screenshots indicate how the content of the app is displayed: Supplier Relationships Brockenhurst/Wessex Education Shared Services have built on the good relationships developed between Microsoft and Brockenhurst College to achieve a good working relationship with the Microsoft Azure Team. Gloucestershire College: The digital partner is Gill Fox James with the website development carried out by Firehoop. The digital partner was selected through a tendering process. City College Coventry: A key aspect of supplier relationships in this project is the need for the app to be accepted by service providers, such as Apple, to be included in their app stores. Project and Change Management The Brockenhurst/Wessex Education Shared Services project used formal project management tools and methodologies which included the Team Foundation service and Scrum. The project was well managed and the development phases were all completed on time and to the full specification. Testing through the summer period when internet usage was comparatively light (while students and staff were away from College) proved very successful. However, once staff and students were using internet resources to the full extent during September it became clear that bandwidth could not be guaranteed to ensure that the user experience accessing cloud-based resources was consistently good enough. The cloud-based system works very well. The Azure platform is robust and reliable. Unfortunately any cloud-based strategy can only be as strong as the weakest link; in this case the bandwidth on the connection has proved to be the weak link and while an upgrade has been budgeted for and ordered, there is an extensive lead time to getting this installed and running. Gloucestershire College: The project is in its technical development stage with change 12

15 management processes to follow for staff use of the system. The project is managed for the College by Gill Fox James according to the College s specification. There is a small Systems Team which includes a systems developer who handles data issues and an internal web developer. City College Coventry: The project management activities included a full consultation with students on the information which they would like included in the app. SLAs Brockenhurst/Wessex Education Shared Services: Service Level Agreements (SLAs) include agreements with Microsoft in respect of Azure and will increasingly involve SLAs between Colleges and Wessex Education Shared Services Ltd for on going support and further development. Gloucestershire College: the main SLA is with the Digital Partner, Gill Fox James, who arranges SLAs with the web development and hosting companies. City College Coventry: SLAs include agreement for hosting and with app stores for app distribution. Impact Brockenhurst/Wesses Education Shared Services: The impact is through: Supporting learners in new responsive and innovative ways. Communicating effectively and efficiently with learners. Improving individualised marketing and applicant tracking. New ways of working and tracking learners. Development experience gained by project team. Student impact is to be evaluated at end of project in October 2013 and will be made available via an AoC Technology Briefing. Gloucestershire College: Impact will be evaluated in There has been a huge buy-in and support for the development of the project enabling detailed planning to take place in a very tight timescale. This has included positive input from stakeholder groups, senior management and Governors. City College Coventry: The key outcome of the project is the genuine enagement with the student community and developing a system which supports their needs. 13

16 Savings Brockenhurst/Wessex Education Shared Services: This is largely through savings in replacing College servers at 10k per year. Final information will be available in October 2013 on completion of evaluation. During the project no new server infrastructure (physical or virtual) has been deployed on College premises. Traditionally at least one new server would have been purchased for an implementation of this sort, more likely two (data and applications delivered separately). The College can therefore estimate a cost avoidance to date of c 10,000 on hardware. In addition, support services for the infrastructure, including ensuring high availability during peak examination results period have been avoided. The College can also estimate cost avoidance of c 10,000 on support team services. Gloucestershire College: The College has invested in this ambitious project to enable a high level of personalised service to learners and other stakeholders. It is based on the premise of service not savings and better not cheaper. City College Coventry: To create a native mobile app on each platform would cost the College at least 50 development days per platform; for three platforms this would at least 75k. Access to College information portals for students is also available on the Mobile platform which should keep them up to data with College information and thereby increasing the College retention figures. Sustainability and expected longer term impact Brockenhurst/Wessex Education Shared Services: The longer term impact will be in benefits to a wider set of Colleges who, in choosing to use this application through Wessex Education Shared Services, would benefit from the development that has taken place and cloud infra-structure that is available. Gloucestershire College: The longer term impact will be to track and support students through their whole period of engagement with the College, from initial enquiry onwards. As the implementation of the project progresses this will also apply to employer and other stakeholder engagement. Hosting the website in the cloud along with the CRM will enable energy savings. City College Coventry: The app is sustainable in the College given the cloud hosting and app store distribution. Replicablity for the Wider FE Sector Brockenhurst/ Wessex Education Shared Services: The software can be used for other Colleges, following removal of features which are specific to Brockenhurst College. Other Colleges have expressed an interest in this system. Gloucestershire College: The strategy adopted by the College to specify needs and work with a digital partner to develop the project is replicable in any College. The website design is tailored to Gloucestershire College s specific context but the structure would be applicable in other Colleges. City College Coventry: Whilst the app is specific to the College, the development process could be replicated in other Colleges. 14

17 4.2 Finance, HR and Payroll Services in the Cloud Needs and Opportunities The main need for the delivery of efficient finance, HR and payroll services in an FE College is to provide the highest level of service combined with maximum business efficiency. This involves accurate and timely recording and reporting services to the College management, governors and other stakeholders including staff. Delivery of services requires a high level of systems functionality which, increasingly, includes self-service facilities for staff. Cloud computing has the potential to support the maximisation of business efficiency by enabling users to access the latest software. Users, of course, are drawn from support and curriculum services. If a shared service approach is also adopted, further efficiency gains can be achieved through single software purchases for a group of Colleges, adoption of a common set of business processes and shared use of IT and expertise. The Projects SISSC Ltd (Shared Services in Sussex and Surrey Colleges) comprises eight Colleges (three in Surrey and five in Sussex). It is allied to FE Sussex, a consortium of 12 post-16 Colleges in Sussex (six general FE, five sixth form and one land-based). The FE Sussex project, which is led by Northbrook College and delivered by FE Sussex and SISSC Ltd, involves the development and delivery of shared financial, HR, payroll and e-recruitment services across the Surrey and Sussex Colleges. At the time of writing, payroll services are going live in one College, with a progressive roll-out planned. The system has been tested extensively through parallel runs with historical data. A training programme is in place. Further updates on the success and impact of this project will be reported in updates of this report. The Isle of Wight College Project is a single-college project based on running Symmetry, a finance system, in the cloud. This system went live in August/September 2013 with a roll-out to 35 staff members across College campuses. Evaluation of the use of the system will be reported in updates of this report. Outcomes Similarities Both projects, Isle of Wight and FE Sussex aim for service improvements which include self-service access in departments. Both projects anticipate significant savings. FE Sussex and Isle of Wight

18 Differences Item FE Sussex Isle of Wight Scale 8 Colleges 7000 users 1 College 20 users Training and Culture change The most significant element of the project. Agreement and conformance to common business processes and standards. Users are adapting well to the new system. Technical Replicability Proceeding smoothly in a staged manner. Can be used by any college within the partnership. Initial challenges with getting Symmetry to work fully in the Cloud and with JANET band with provision. Can be used by other Symmetry users. Delivery Models FE Sussex: The delivery model for FE Sussex, as a shared services project, is cloud hosting of finance, HR and payroll applications software and databases, supported by the SISSC Ltd team. There is a single database for each application serving all Colleges, all of which are required to implement a common set of business processes. Isle of Wight College: The delivery model for the Isle of Wight College is cloud hosting of Symmetry software and the College finance database. Supplier Relationships FE Sussex: An OJEC tendering process was used for procurement. ULCC was selected as the hosting service, through a JISC-supported process. Risks in software procurement were minimised by using a system that has been proven in the University of Sussex and Northern Ireland Colleges. Isle of Wight: Having selected Symmetry cloud, the two main supplier challenges encountered concerned the timing of the upgrade of the JANET connection and the need for further support from Symmetry to enable functionality of specific College-based reports. Project and Change Management FE Sussex: Change management has been the biggest challenge of all! The human element is seen as more difficult to solve than any technical problem. Systematic recording of faults and changes to specification is essential. A training programme has been put in place across the group of Colleges for 7000 users. This training has been around the new system and moving away from paper to an online system. This 16

19 in turn, it is felt, will lead to a change in culture over time through changes to working practices. The software has been set up and the main complexities were around configuration, ensuring that all was set up correctly, documenting all the information in a configuration log and ensuring continuity with staff over any issues and making sure these were logged. Isle of Wight College: One of our most significant issues was the conflict between the need to run our existing services whilst trying to deploy a new system at the same time. All change management meetings were successful up until the testing phase. At this point, time pressures and frustrations with delays possibly caused us to pay less attention to the details than we should have done. Some reports were missed and silly things, such as the wrong logo being ported over on the reports, were not identified in a timely manner. This has led to issues being carried over into the final version that should have been resolved prior to the live version being deployed. During testing it was found that several critical reports did not work correctly and this required a significant amount of reprogramming by the Symmetry consultants. Once this work was completed, it was found that the reports were still not running correctly and as we were heading towards the end of the College financial year, we delayed the final handover until we could be sure that the system would work from day one. The Symmetry team provided a series of test versions until we agreed that they were working fine. The rollout of the new system was carried out overnight and we closed down the old server the same day to prevent any data crossover. Unlike FE Sussex, the human element has not been a significant problem. Most staff are using the system with little requirement for long training sessions and have been up and running fairly quickly. There are some areas where staff are having issues. These are being completed via individual trainings sessions and lessons learnt are being disseminated to other staff. SLAs FE Sussex: This project involves extensive SLAs between specific Colleges and SISSC Ltd and between SISSC Ltd and ULCC, the software provider and JANET. Ensuring watertight agreements and a collaborative atmosphere mitigated the barriers. Binding Solution Design Documents underpin the transition to the cloud for each application. Isle of Wight: The main SLA for this project is between the College and Symmetry, now Blueqube. 17

20 Impact FE Sussex: Impact is continuously evaluated as Colleges become live on the system. Isle of Wight College: Many staff have found the system easier to use and it is significantly faster to complete a lot of the finance processes than with the previous system. The ability to customise your own reports and to export to Excel has made budget monitoring much easier and quicker. Savings FE Sussex: We will reduce in-college servers by ten at the end of this project. Each server costs approximately 13,000 per annum to run and service. Hosting environment fees are less than half this. This will result in a 75,000 saving. Isle of Wight: The following savings have been identified: 2,000 software upgrade costs will no longer be required in 2013/14. 11,000 from modifications to our existing dashboard software installation that will no longer be needed 2013/14. 2,000 annual consultancy costs. 3,000 hardware replacement costs. Total projected savings 18,000. Staff time will be saved in the following areas: Report writing can be completed by local managers without recourse to the finance team. Requirement for specialist technical skills to support server-based issues will be reduced. Sustainability and Expected Longer Term Impact FE Sussex: Sustainability for the project is an integrated part of the business plan and SISSC will increase its reach as further Colleges and applications come on board. Isle of Wight College: The Isle of Wight College is expecting the project to provide an improved financial system that will enable local managers to produce timely, relevant reports directly without the need to refer to finance staff. This will enable staff time to be used more efficiently whilst improving the quality of data to facilitate better decision making. Replicablity for the Wider FE Sector FE Sussex: The ability to replicate the project in other Colleges in the group is in-built. There has been a high level of interest in the project from other Colleges who are keen to benefit from the savings the shared service can produce. 18

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