As budgets and timeframes are squeezed, education and research organisations can benefit from streamlining systems, says Josh Fry, director of cloud, Jisc

Since lockdown began in March, organisations in the UK have had to move faster than ever before to provide a continuation of teaching, learning and research. Dwindling international student numbers, uncertainty around reopening campuses and making sure to prioritise the wellbeing of staff and students are all major concerns.

The response so far has been impressive. In a sector where careful thought and due process are prized, moving quickly is not always easy, and the pace at which organisations have adapted to lockdown should be praised. However, there is much more work ahead, and organisations that wish to remain agile may find they are impeded by the weight of supporting a multitude of systems. 

This is where streamlining can play a key role in supporting a continued response. Agility and flexibility have always been central pillars of digital transformation, but with the forced change brought about by lockdown, institutions that may have been wary of digital change have had to accelerate their plans. The context here has changed; the luxury of time is no longer available, and since so many elements of the next academic year are still uncertain, budgets are particularly tight.

By taking a holistic view of organisational systems and services, the number of different technologies in use can be pared down, removing duplicate or competing systems, potentially saving on both time and cost.

One way to start streamlining is to focus on services that are at the forefront of delivery. This can help organisations avoid a cacophony of different systems all trying to interact with one another, which has often acted as a brake on digital transformation. For example, legacy data integrations can prove to be a problem, even if some systems are moved to the cloud; and whether because of licensing issues or because of gradual adoption, some institutions end up running a number of different systems to do the same thing. Streamlining these systems can help organisations do what they do best – focus on teaching, learning and research.

Many organisations are already relying on cloud computing to support remote delivery, using popular systems such as Microsoft 365 and Google Classroom amongst others. IT teams may find that in using cloud-based and cloud-native tech, they are freed from problematic legacy systems and ageing on-premises architecture. This, along with the agility afforded by cloud, can help organisations through rapid service deployment and delivery of essential services.

One of the most proactive steps organisations can make in their approach to streamlining is to ask for help. Whether this is working with third parties on managed services or collaborating with other HE providers and industry to share resources, working together can ease the burden.

As the country starts to emerge from lockdown, it is likely we will see an attrition phase where focus is placed on these essential services, streamlining where possible, and adding in more complex elements as time and resource allows. This will not be a pain-free process, but there is help available. Reaching out for the proper support and having a clear strategy to move forward can allow for a true transformation and allow organisations to move towards recovery.