30 apps in 90 days: University of Auckland goes all-in with AWS

30 apps in 90 days: University of Auckland goes all-in with AWS

COVID-19 continues to prompt an acceleration of investment in digital transformation.

Stephen Whiteside (University of Auckland)

Stephen Whiteside (University of Auckland)

Credit: Supplied

New Zealand’s largest university, the University of Auckland (UoA), has selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its strategic cloud provider. 

The university has already migrated 30 applications, including several contact centre operations and online learning tools, from its on-premises data centre to AWS. 

It plans to move a further 100 applications to AWS by 2022 to modernise its IT infrastructure, drive operational efficiencies, and deliver more innovative services to more than 45,000 students.

“Cloud is a significant pillar within our multi-year digital transformation program, and harnessing the breadth and depth of AWS allows us deliver substantial and ongoing business value across our organisation,” said Stephen Whiteside, chief digital officer at UoA.  

COVID-19 has become a huge driver of transformation globally and locally and it loomed large in OoA's decision-making.

With pandemic restrictions prompting unprecedented demand for online learning, UoA drew on AWS’s portfolio of cloud services to rapidly digitise its educational applications to deliver remote learning in a fast, scalable, and user-friendly way. 

For instance, UoA migrated its lecture theatre recordings – a critical teaching and learning application that holds 29TB of learning content – to AWS. 

AWS compute and storage capabilities, as well as Amazon CloudFront, a fast content delivery network for securely delivering data, videos, and applications to users, enables the university to scale online content delivery systems quickly than it was  able to achieve with on-premises resources. 

The new cloud-based system delivers learning content to students, including more than 2000 overseas students who were unable to travel due to lockdowns. 

The university became the first organisation in New Zealand to completely migrate its internal and external contact centres to AWS's omnichannel cloud contact centre, Amazon Connect starting 2019.

Minutes from a May 2019 council meeting said the university's cloud enablement team was working with the university’s partners, Consegna and AWS, to deliver an AWS platform that would meet the security, architectural and delivery needs of the university. 

"The ‘operationalise cloud’ initiative aims to achieve ‘platform readiness’ for further applications to be moved into the cloud environment," the minutes said.

"Focus over the last few months has been on enabling other teams to use cloud services to productionise significant workloads in our cloud environment. 

"In conjunction with this enabling work, the team is developing a cloud cost model to enable us to reliably forecast our cloud spend and to identify which are the workloads for which the cloud environment makes operational and financial sense."

The shift to Amazon Connect helped the university manage a 40 per cent increase in call volumes in 2020, as well as deliver business continuity and resilience during peak periods such as enrolment or exam result days. 

UoA is also using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities in AWS to help reduce call wait times and volumes and to increase first-call resolution.

“The key to unlocking cloud’s transformational value lies in leveraging the innovative services that sit within the cloud ecosystem," Whiteside said.

"Our ability to harness these services such as Amazon Connect while upskilling our staff on cloud capabilities, were key drivers in our successful adoption of cloud and the associated capabilities we now have across the University.”

UoA also launched a new cloud guild using cloud uplift standards and practices (CUSP), a UoA framework to help employees adapt faster to the new cloud environment across 25 areas of the business. 

The program trains UoA staff with skills across AWS cloud essentials, machine learning, data and analytics, and security, with the eventual goal of empowering teams beyond IT to exceed business expectations. 

The university has already trained 225 employees and plans to achieve more than 400 AWS accreditations over the next three years. 

“Our IT infrastructure is the cornerstone for delivering the best experiences to students, staff, researchers, and other stakeholders, which is why we turned to AWS to address the gaps and areas of improvement we identified," said Bharat Kochar, cloud transformation programme manager at University of Auckland.  

"AWS has made a crucial contribution to evolving our online learning environment, and our success in adopting cloud services to upskill our workforce is a source of great pride for the university.”

The university's digital transformation program was a great example of how a large university can use the cloud to flexibly accommodate and empower students wherever they were, said Tim Dacombe-Bird, head of public sector at AWS New Zealand. 

“By moving to a cloud-first environment, the university can fully leverage the breadth and depth of AWS services to adjust to the changing learning needs of their students in real-time, while continuing to deliver a great student experience," he said.

The university’s commitment to upskilling its workforce on AWS would help it to continue to innovate and improve how higher education is delivered.

“COVID has been a kick in the pants to the University sector," said Dr Joseph Sweeney, advisor, IBRS. "It's not just remote learning and huge uplifts in support calls, but a downturn in revenue streams. 

"The University of Auckland’s focus on developing cloud skills and knowledge across the university is a critical lesson here. It addresses one of the major roadblocks to getting the niche software out of siloed areas and up into a common cloud platform."

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