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Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

How Higher Education is Transforming in the Cloud

Guest Author

By Austin Laird, Director, Education Industry Solutions, Oracle

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to host a panel discussion at the Higher Education Cloud Symposium. I’ve attended countless such events during my career, but the excitement and energy in this room was palpable.

Higher education institutions around the world are facing some common challenges, among them:

  • Competition for students raised on mobile devices, who expect registration and administrative processes to be as easy as opening an app
  • Competition for the best faculty and researchers, in an environment where new sources of funding (especially public funding) can be difficult to come by
  • The need to reduce expenses—in order to free up additional funds for the best talent, well equipped research labs, modern classrooms, and investment in mobile services

In this environment, the business reasons for moving to the cloud have become more and more self-evident—and the conversation has moved from “Why should we move to the cloud?” to “How do we do it?”

Get the results of our Higher Ed business officers survey.

One of the key insights from the panel participants—which included the University of Wyoming and Birmingham University—was that they looked at the cloud from the point of view of line of business users, rather than through the traditional IT lens. With their old, on-premises ERP and HR systems, these institutions couldn’t provide the reports or analytics requested by their presidents, boards of directors, faculty, or campus administration teams.

Thus, the cloud is not just a technology strategy for these institutions; it's a business transformation strategy.

Investing Scarce Dollars in Research, Not IT

Another fascinating presenter at the conference was Boise State University. They spoke at length about the change management challenges that come with a move to the cloud. Implementing cloud technologies is much quicker and easier than convincing your entire staff to adopt new ways of working (a challenge that our own finance leaders here at Oracle understand all too well).

Oracle’s approach to change management includes teaming a “process owner” from the line of business with an “IT owner” from the technology side. Together, this team is responsible for ensuring that everyone, everywhere, follows a standard process across the company. Standardization is often the toughest challenge, because it requires people to change the way they work—but it delivers a high return on your cloud investment.

"In order for Boise State to meet our goals, we needed to change our budgeting model and our strategy, and in order to do that, we needed systems," explained Stacy Pearson, VP of Finance and Administration in a video interview. "Vendors like Oracle can help in higher education by helping us with the business processes. Let's save our innovation for academics and our research mission as opposed to how we pay our bills."

Ovum’s Nicole Engelbert was also a presenter at the symposium. She subsequently wrote:

But perhaps more importantly at the conference, Boise State University and Birmingham University provided candid and practical insight on their approach to migrating enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions to the cloud. The audience was riveted and the question and answer portion had to be cut off because the sheer number of questions was threatening to derail the agenda. I have no doubt that representatives from these institutions went home with pockets full of business cards with pleas for follow-up conversations. The question is no longer should our institution migrate core systems to the cloud, but how should we do it and on which early adopters should we model our implementation strategy.

Ultimately, it’s the return on investment that is driving higher education institutions to move their on-premises systems to the cloud. With fewer sources of funding and ongoing competition for students and faculty, institutions cannot afford to spend scarce dollars on IT. With a move to the cloud, they can spend less time and money keeping the lights on—and invest more in ground-breaking research and student success.

How do Higher Ed business officers view their fiscal landscape? Download the survey results.

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