Please tell us more about the partnership between the University and Agilisys…
At Agilisys it’s important that we work together with our clients and it’s a real partnership with the University. We are working together to build on their existing IT skills and capabilities to develop full use of the Office 365 suite, with the aim of enabling knowledge transfer right across the university.
At Huddersfield, they’ve recently migrated to Windows 10 and they have an Exchange environment on premises, which is coming towards the end of its life. They have realised there is now a need to move forward to Office 365 to benefit from all the collaborative tools and extra functionality it offers.
Agilisys is taking the University on their journey to Office 365, acting as the enabler, working with the University’s technical in-house team. Our role is focused on the technical architecture design as well as strategic consulting, providing advice and guidance on the best way to implement things.
Is this a common situation that you’re seeing more and more?
Yes, it is, especially in the higher education market, where there is frequently good business as usual in-house IT capability. They like the idea of a partner bringing specialist experience on board so that their technology transformation journey goes further and faster. This combination of in-house expertise and external knowledge can be very powerful.
Does this approach make it easier to get buy-in?
What we are seeing in higher education, which differs from other types of organisations that we work with, is that typically the schools and the faculties within universities hold their own funding and therefore have a lot of influence on IT decisions. This can be challenging with shadow IT, because the schools and the faculties, especially the more technical ones, will have their own development capability, which in turn can become a governance issue.
Let’s say that somebody goes and develops something in Office 365 and there’s some kind of security breach. This type of scenario is quite a problem for a university’s head of IT, who needs to ensure there’s governance and structure in place, so they understand what’s being developed out there and can manage it appropriately, without constraining what the schools are doing.
How does this affect what you’re doing with Huddersfield?
The first project we’re undertaking is the Office 365 Exchange online migration. We’re working together around the technical design. The University already uses Office 365 for their student community and they have about 20,000 student mailboxes, but their academic and administrative staff haven’t moved across yet. So, we’re looking at their environment, we’ve come up with the readiness assessments are now putting together the designs for migrating them to Exchange online. This will probably also include OneDrive for business as well.
It’s very much a partnership. The idea is that we are providing the experience and expertise to guide the implementation and migration, leading on what the technical configuration needs to be and using the university’s IT capabilities to undertake the technical work. We’re working together in a very open and collaborative way, using workshops to engage all stakeholders and agreeing what best practice looks like.
Where does the modern team working angle come into play?
Once we’ve done the Office 365 Exchange online migration, the rollout of interactive collaborative services will follow.
We hosted a workshop recently, which showcased what’s possible with modern working teams solutions like Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, and there is a lot of interest in it. The University has traditionally used SharePoint and InfoPath very heavily, and they have a lot of customisation.
Much of the functionality is already built in – things like student applications, enrollment, financing and getting grants, paying your fees online and living in Huddersfield. So, the opportunity is for us to show what best practice looks like, drawing on our experience from other similar programmes.
The University already has a virtual learning environment where lecturers and students interact and where lecturers provide information, teaching and learning.
We’re not looking at using modern teamwork tools to replace the learning environment, but where we are looking to use tools like Teams and SharePoint is with academic research, where there’s a very distinct business case for academics to interact, share results and work on ideas. We see things like tools in Teams being a great asset to use in that sphere. The University is already seeing other institutions start to use these tools, but what they need to do is get the basics in place first.
Where do you think the main return on investment comes from with a project like this?
Certainly, in terms of ROI, there’s obviously going to be a cost saving in terms of Exchange, by enabling the University to move out of their current data centre, which is nearing the end of its life. There’s also a clear saving to be made by moving to Cloud services.
There is also a drive to interact and share more, to work closer with research institutes and to improve their service offerings to students. I think that’s an important driver for them and they are expecting to see benefits in terms of their research capability.
Technology seems to be unlocking a lot within education. Do you agree?
Yes, absolutely, and we’re seeing a big shift, especially with Teams, to real-time interaction on documents and presentations. The days of sharing documents via email and file drives and the problems they create have gone. One of the things we’ve discovered is that much of the data stored on SharePoint are old versions of documents, or multiple copies where people have been editing files.
The ability to edit a document together or go to a single version and a single source of that document, which they know is up to date, is far more useful and beneficial to all concerned.
From an Agilisys point of view, we’re very excited. Huddersfield is a really good client to work with. They know a lot about the technology, but the challenge for them is making that change to the next generation of technology. Our role is as an enabler and a partner to walk beside them, to use our experience and expertise and say, ‘this is the best way to do it’ and ‘this is where the risk is’.
Together, the partnership will enable the University of Huddersfield to deliver maximum benefit to its staff and student community from its IT services. It’s an exciting time to see what the future might hold.