A journey to the cloud

March 4, 2019
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Change Management
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  • Student Information Systems
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A translucent cloud symbol rains binary

It’s an ongoing consideration in student information system (SIS) technology: will moving to cloud computing (remote, internet-based storage) provide better operability and service than the traditional locally hosted model?

After research, discussion, and analysis, The Ohio State University (OSU) decided moving to a cloud-based SIS was the right step for their institution, offering the opportunity to modernize and streamline processes and policies across campus.

Now in the middle of a multi-stage process of migrating to the cloud (in partnership with Workday), the team at OSU is looking forward to kicking off a rolling go-live process beginning in the summer of 2021, with full implementation by summer 2022.

Cloud discoveries: Lessons learned
“We’re one of the first really large institutions moving to a cloud environment,” said Jack Miner, University Registrar and Executive Director of Enrollment Services. “We’re getting a lot of questions about design and process, and we want to share what we’ve discovered along the way, as well as a road map for the next few years.”

Here are some of the key themes that have developed during the transition:

1. To improve efficiency, empower people to make decisions.  “One of our biggest lessons from a project management perspective has been how we refined the decision-making process,” said Ryan Hunt, Associate Registrar and Business Process Lead for Record Enrollment and Curriculum.

“As key decisions had to be made, we had to figure out how to get those to leadership and uncover who really is the best person to make the decision,” he said. “Early on we had a lot of things we thought needed to go much higher up the ladder than maybe was realistic. Now we’ve empowered business owners to make those decisions that before would have gone to an executive steering committee. That has netted a huge improvement in getting timely decisions made.”

2. Stay on your toes. Because the cloud environment is relatively new, industry best practices are being developed right alongside the technology itself.

“We have to be flexible and willing to adapt on a weekly basis,” said Misty Lenhart, Assistant Registrar and Business Process Lead for Academic Advising. “We know where we want to go, and we’re working with a company on a product that’s still being developed. That has forced us to be adaptable.”

As best practices emerge, policy, procedure, and business processes need to be reexamined and adapted regularly.

3. Engage, engage, engage. “The piece we’re doing a really good job with is really engaging the campus community and individual colleges,” Miner said.

“Specifically, we’re tiering that engagement: we’ll come up with a process change and work with the advisors on the ground to work out the kinks in design,” he said. “Then when we go back to the deans and associated deans, we can say we didn’t come up with this in a vacuum, but we developed it in cooperation with the staff from your office. That’s helped with buy-in and with the ability to be more nimble with some of those changes.”

That level of change management has also helped mitigate some of the risk around adoption, building support and momentum for change as it is phased in over time. It has also meant that an incredible amount of policy work is being done ahead of full implementation.

The silver lining(s)
One of the most exciting benefits of the cloud system is that it will continuously, incrementally improve over time.

“This model delivers a small amount of new functionality every week and major changes twice a year,” Miner said.  “Had we bought an on-premise solution we probably only would have been able to upgrade the technology every two or three years, and do major upgrades every 10. With the cloud model, we’re in a place to keep our technology really advanced and able to address concerns quickly and be responsive to changes in university or college needs.”

In addition, the adoption of this model prevents siloed, locally produced solutions that cannot be applied system-wide.

“By default we’re always thinking about the big picture and always thinking about best practices,” Miner said.

Another benefit of the cloud system is how it will facilitate data analytics and forecasting.

“Currently we have our SIS separate from the degree audit system, for example,” Lenhart said. “Using one system, we’ll have the data we need in one place, which will streamline reporting. The user experience for accessing and analyzing data will improve with modern reporting tools and interactive dashboards.”

Learn more
OSU’s move to the cloud has been an opportunity to re-engineer most of their processes and transform the way they serve students. Miner, Hunt and Lenhart will offer the opportunity to learn more about project management, changing to new systems, what it means to be in a cloud environment and how you can use a technology shift to significantly transform your student services and student success initiatives in their session “Cloud Crazy” at the 2019 AACRAO Annual Meeting. Find out more about exciting AACRAO19 sessions here.