Members of the Strategic Technologies Group of the JISC’s FSD programme met at King’s Anatomy Theatre to, ahem, dissect the options for shared services and the cloud in HE.
The STG’s programme included updates on projects of the members as well as previews of the synthesis of the Flexible Service Delivery programme of which the STG is a part, and a preview of the University Modernisation Fund programme that will start later in the year.
The main event, though, was a series of parallel discussions on business problems where shared services or cloud solutions could make a difference. The one I was at considered a case from the CUMULUS project; how to extend rather than replace a Student Record System in a modular way.
In the event, a lot of the discussion revolved around what services could profitably be shared in some fashion. When the group looked at what is already being run on shared infrastructure and what has proven very difficult, the pattern is actually very simple: the more predictable, uniform, mature, well understood and inessential to the central business of research and education, the better. The more variable, historically grown, institution specific and bound up with the real or perceived mission of the institution or parts thereof, the worse.
Going round the table to sort the soporific cloudy sheep from the exciting, disputed, in-house goats, we came up with following lists:
- Travel expenses
- Student network services
- Telephone services
- File storage
- Infrastructure as a Service
- Course and curriculum management (including modules etc)
- Admissions process
- Research processes
This ought not to be a surprise, of course: the point of shared services – whether in the cloud or anywhere else – is economies of scale. That means that the service needs to be the same everywhere, doesn’t change much or at all, doesn’t give the users a competitive advantage and has well understood and predictable interfaces.