Software As a Service (SaaS) in Higher Education: Achieving Operational and Financial Benefits

While higher education has made monumental strides in the way that programs are delivered and student data is managed, many colleges continue to be plagued by challenges when it comes to hardware and software.Challenges include expensive up-front costs, ongoing maintenance costs, IT complexity, minimal ability to adapt to changing opportunities, and little to no integration across the organization.

Plus, colleges have invested in hardware and software that might either go unused due to smaller than anticipated loads or be used only sporadically. On the other hand, they are not set up to support unexpected larger than anticipated loads, putting colleges between a rock and a hard place.

The solution to these aches and pains: Cloud Computing, and specifically, Software as a Service. Cloud Computing uses shared hardware resources, software, and data storage that provide information to devices on demand. The “Cloud” has created a virtual infrastructure that enables business applications as a service. Also known as Software as a Service (SaaS), these applications present tremendous upside potential for higher education.

What is SaaS?

SaaS is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over the Internet or in the “Cloud.” These applications are licensed to customers for use in the “Cloud” as a service on demand, and customers pay only for what they use.

There is a significant difference between the hosting of traditional applications and true SaaS applications. The hosting of traditional software applications simply changes who manages the IT behind the delivery of the application. Hosting providers typically support more hardware and software versions and are not able to quickly increase capacity as user demand grows.

To take advantage of new data center technologies, the application must be truly architected for SaaS delivery. Hosting does not address the fundamental limitations of traditional enterprise applications or the old economic and high-cost model that is inherent.

Because SaaS delivers a single version of the software, vendors can quickly develop and roll out new functionality without worrying about supporting multiple “flavors” of their product. Vendors can produce and support their software at lower costs, which are then passed on to customers, creating greater value than traditional models.

What Does SaaS Mean for Colleges?

With SaaS,colleges don’t incur the expense and hassle of purchasing, installing and storing their own hardware and software. Because the application is delivered to the enterprise as a service securely over the Internet, schools also don’t have to maintain the application. Better yet, colleges are always automatically on the latest version, which reduces costly and disruptive upgrade projects. Higher education institutions also can realize staffing efficiencies because they can move the focus away from software maintenance and upkeep to instead focusing on strategic decisions to improve the overall college student experience.

The primary benefits of a SaaS model come in the form of both technology cost savings and greater efficiencies in the areas of hardware, software, maintenance and staffing. But it doesn’t end there – SaaS drives numerous other operational and financial benefits as well.

SaaS can improve a college’s institutional effectiveness and its student support because it delivers high availability, and enables a school to better manage growth and address new markets quickly and easily. Additionally, SaaS combined with open APIs presents an opportunity for colleges to integrate broadly with other important education and business applications, as well as easily integrate their own internally developed applications.

Adopting a comprehensive SaaS solution can not only save time, but colleges can also expect to see greater financial benefits. SaaS allows colleges to reduce their IT spend, redirect savings toward business improvements, and strengthen their financial viability. A SaaS solution often results in a quicker launch and simplifies on-going support, delivering faster time-to-value and increasing ROI. These lower costs and immediate impact ultimately drive bottom line improvements within the school.

Is Your College Ready for SaaS?
Because SaaS allows schools to support more students without adding staff or infrastructure, a number of colleges are choosing to go this route. As colleges weigh their options in transitioning to a SaaS model, they should think about the following questions:

  • Do we have representation from all key departments across campus in the decision making process?
  • What information are we currently storing on our servers that can be managed in a SaaS environment?
  • When evaluating a SaaS vendor, how scalable is their model?
  • What kind of uptime does the SaaS vendor deliver from a reliability standpoint?
  • What is our implementation time line, and is all information backed up so that we can stay competitive during the transition process?

Adopting a SaaS model as the architectural standard across a college or university can not only help the school overcome hardware and software challenges, it can put them on the path to achieving greater operational and financial results.

Blended Learning Solutions

With an emphasis on rejuvenating educational practises, the Coalition Government certainly has a lot on its plate. In fact, since coming to power in 2010, the Coalition Government has sought widespread reforms in the area education and learning practices. This has involved research into primary, secondary and higher education, as well as university funding. In all, the introduction of Academy status schools – characterised by their independent status and blended learning solutions – has meant that local authorities are now seeing their role decreasing as parents and teachers decide the best way forward.

More recently, the debate has continued to revolve around the merits of the highly sought after grammar schools, and whether they should be widely re-introduced once more. In fact, the counties of Essex and Kent still operate grammar schools widely with few remaining outside of the South West (Devon & Dorset) although one should not forget how grammar schools are the school of choice in Northern Ireland where student attainment rates are higher than their mainland counterparts.

Either way, one thing is clear, the coalition government is intent on ensuring that government funded schools – whether they be grammar, state, comprehensive or religiously aligned – continue to offer the best possible education at an affordable price to the taxpayer. In doing so, the schools will keep up with their private and public school rivals as academies are able to specialise in a particular area of curricular.

But what about university education where the divide between educational background comes to the forefront? Well, with the changes in funding have come changes in educational processes and what it means to now attend university. For instance, blending learning solutions such as in class discussions mixed with group work and targeted employment training are becoming the norm; with students expected a well-rounded package for the financial expenditure. Perhaps the purist example of these changing dynamics has come from the institutions like the Open University, Birkbeck College, London, BPP Law School and London School of Business and Finance, each of whom deliver blended learning solutions. They do this by offing online classes/seminars, mobile learning opportunities, e-resources and even an online graduation. These flexible learning techniques are aimed to help part-time/career learners to continue, or further, their education.

Arguably the changes that have been seen in education will benefit future generations with schools now focused on excellence, whilst universities are taking steps to make learning that little easier, more flexible and with greater employability rates. If anything, educational changes should be welcomed but monitored closely to ensure that continue to meet the needs of those they serve – students.

Don’t Bemoan It, Own It: LMS Education Solutions

As educators, it’s easy to bemoan and criticize the trend of short attention spans in the digital generation. As a language teacher, for example, it’s like pulling teeth to coax students students unwilling to perform repetitious drilling.

Memorization and rote learning, of course, gets a bad rap. For years repetition has been deemed an inadequate teaching technique.

However, memorization is still a highly valuable teaching and study practice. Some examples are typing, playing the piano, and learning an alphabet, a language, or the multiplication tables. None of these skills could be learned without the use of repetition, memorization, and “rote learning”.

In learning a language, repetition is essential. After all, a new word often isn’t registered into the brain until it’s been repeated about 15 times.

We educators need to respond to changing times in a proactive way. We can’t go back in time or change students’ behaviors. Instead, it’s time to take the efforts to adapt the multimedia, quick-paced digital generation.

Blended learning techniques involving audio and visual tools are an absolute must. A learning management system (LMS) is one big tool that offers many possibilities for educators and subject matter experts interested in designing a dynamic course that caters to our tech-savvy youth.

However, even if you don’t use an LMS or incorporate online learning into your classroom, you can still tap into the audio and visual pedagogical tools on your own. Make a podcast that students can listen to on their ride home, or on their way to work. Create a video of your classroom, encouraging students to participate.

There are many ways, using an LMS or not, to adapt to the digital generation’s ways, rather than simply lamenting them.