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How can shared IT services save money for universities?

On 24 November we were joined by senior IT staff from twelve universities at our Swindon Data Centre to discuss outsourcing and shared services within the higher education community.

Stephen Butcher, our CEO, set the tone for a day of lively and interesting discussion with an opening debate that challenged the title of the workshop – ‘How can shared IT services save money in HE’ – suggesting ‘above campus services’ as a more useful term for universities to use rather than shared IT services.

Andy Powell, our Research Programme Director, presented an introduction to the UMF Cloud Pilot. Andy discussed the infrastructure and pricing models for Eduserv’s Education Cloud, which is being launched in January.

Next our Business Development Director, Andrew Hawkins, considered how universities could take some first steps to shared services and outsourcing. Andrew’s presentation introduced a cost/risk model to identify non-core services that could potentially be outsourced. He suggested a checklist for selecting partners and identified planning objectives to consider before starting a project.

After a networking lunch we were joined by Peter Tinson, Executive secretary of UCISA, who initiated an interesting analysis of the barriers to adopting the cloud within HE. Peter began by highlighting the unnecessary lack of trust in ‘the cloud’ by universities. The delegates contributed their thoughts, identifying these key barriers:

  • Universities aren’t always clear on the full cost of ownership
  • Senior management don’t understand the importance of disaster recovery
  • Universities aren’t clear on the quantifiable benefits of cloud

Peter has supplied links to a number of useful resources that were referenced during discussions:

A cloud briefing paper, intended for use by senior management.

Cost of IT downtime: a resource to assist institutions to calculate the business cost of losing IT.

Nottingham supplier relationship case study (winner of 2010 SDG Best Practice Award)

Joanne Jones, Finance Director for Oxford Brookes University, helped the group understand a Finance Director’s perspective of IT projects – providing a useful insight into understanding IT costs and a possible business case structure for IT projects.

Joanne’s advice included:

  • Aligning IT projects to strategic objectives
  • Completing a full and clear risk assessment of the IT project – including the risks of not doing it!

Joanne concluded by highlighting the increased desire to improve services within HE in order to make staff available for other priorities.

Getting started with cloud technologies

The day finished with a round table to discuss the pros and cons of outsourcing, and the types of services universities would consider contracting out. Participants agreed they were interested in cloud technologies and would consider using it as back-up as an initial ‘toe in the water’. Delegates acknowledged that their decision-making was not just about economising but was largely based on trust and the relationship with the supplier.

Eduserv’s offer of an introductory free two-month trial was well received but universities were concerned it wasn’t long enough to assess the value of the service. To help universities fully benefit from the trial we suggested we work closely with individual institutions to develop plans to ensure an institution is ready before the two-month trial starts.

A list of applications suitable to run off-campus was discussed – with the favoured idea being an online file storage service for HE – which Eduserv will be working to deliver to universities in the New Year.

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