by Jennifer O'Brien

Ivy College adopts multi-cloud strategy for online and blended learning

Jul 06, 2016
Cloud Computing

When Ivy College first opened in 2009, it had a handful of staff and fewer than 100 students. Today, the college has grown to become one of the top providers of online and blended learning in Australia for adult learners, and now employs over 100 staff.

And while initially a small player in the market, and knee deep in start-up mode, the management team had big plans for expansion and wanted to have in place the tools and platforms that would be needed to support its growth and expansion plans.

And so the journey to transform the ICT platform to a cloud-based system began two years ago when the organisation was still in start-up mode. Ivy College executive director of operations, Roger Burgess, told CIO Australia the company embarked on deploying a cloud strategy to support its CRM and learning platform systems.

“We knew from the outset that we wanted our IT systems to be completely cloud based,” said Burgess. “It was clear this would give us the flexibility to maintain our quality of service as we increased in size.”

Burgess said he relied on his background at the top end of town to help him implement change on a smaller scale.

“I come from the big business world. I I moved into the small business world, but with a big vision,” he said. “We knew we were sitting in a market with a huge ability to scale so early on we employed all of the right types of people and we developed a mission and a core set of behaviours for the group. In essence, it all came back to being a customer-centric organisation.

“From the outset, we had a clear vision of how this had to focus around the customer. It had to be completely scalable. We wanted to be able to focus on systems that were able to add value and make sure there was a seamless and easy experience for our students when they are on the journey of learning with Ivy.”

Getting down to business

During the first year of operation, Ivy College’s internal teams selected cloud-based services and resources and brought them together to provide the support the college required. Components included Microsoft’s Office 365, Dropbox for file storage and as a CRM platform.

As the business grew, however, the internal team found it was taking more time to manage and maintain. This was diverting attention and resources away from the core goal of providing top-quality education services to students. The lack of integration that the cloud services had was also showing some signs of productivity loss.

“We realised we needed someone who could help with our IT management and ensure all our critical services were rock solid at all times,” said Burgess. “We wanted a partner who understood what we were trying to achieve and could work alongside us to achieve it.”

Speaking about his journey to modernise his small slice of the education market, Burgess said the education sector still lags behind business in terms of cloud adoption.

“From an outside perspective, you’d look at it and think [the education market] is quite an innovative sector. When you’re on the inside and you look at education providers as a whole, it is still very manual. It is not automated. There is still a lot of things sitting on-premise.”

Burgess said the company selected managed service provider, Tecala Group, in part, because the solutions provider could provide complete aggregation. He said the company’s experience with cloud platforms and deep technical expertise made them a natural fit for Ivy College.

“I had this greenfield environment. We had a clear vision of what we were going to develop and what I wanted to instill right from the beginning was a partner that was able to aggregate a whole lot of services whether it be in cloud, on-premise, telephony, network carriers, Amazon Web Services, all via one common platform,” he said.

“Essentially, we needed a partner that could become an extension of our own team that truly understood the complexities of our business. Tecala has proven to be that company.”

As a first step, Tecala worked with Ivy College’s in-house IT team to review its existing cloud-based infrastructure. Elements such as identity management and directory services were strengthened and a new management platform deployed.

“We now have in place a multi-cloud environment incorporating resources from Amazon Web Services, and Tecala’s own cloud platform,” he said. “Proper and effective integration of these cloud platforms has been critical for the company and Tecala has helped us get it right.”

Burgess said the multi-cloud platform supports everything from administrative systems to the central myIVY learning platform used by all students.

“We wanted to be able to not have to worry about our IT and simply pay for services on a per-user basis as required. Thanks to Tecala, we have been able to achieve this, and we now have a very agile approach to our technology platform.”

“Our close partnership with Tecala has enabled Ivy College to truly emulate the IT-as-a-Service model,” he said. “Their services are flexible, yet have predictable expenditure modelling backed by stringent Service Level Agreements.”

The goal of the project from a technical perspective was to make the customer experience really simple, he added.

“For example, the student administrative function of a college or university is typically very manual, it is very paper driven. What we did was integrated solutions, whether it was via Salesforce, Amazon Web Services, DocuSign, where things could be done digitally or on a mobile.”

Scalability was a top goal – and a key reason for implementing everything in the cloud. “I wanted to be able to implement an infrastructure that I didn’t have to have a team to focus on, the tin that sits in datacentres, we are not interested in that. I needed to have an infrastructure that was robust. If we are going to have customer service at the fore, one of the simplest things from a technical perspective is 100 per cent availability.”

Burgess said the next step is to continue overseeing the cloud platform integration on a larger scale now that Ivy College has merged with the Australian Institute of Management and the company is now part of a larger group, with other brands in the fold including AIM College.

“Ivy is now part of a bigger group called Scentia. We are now 300 employees as part of the group,” he said, adding there are now 10,000 students as part of the larger group. “Tecala is also integrating with us, up until August this year when they complete the project, and continuing to integrate the Australian Institute of Management into that framework as well.”

Asked about future technologies, he said he sees a role for Virtual Reality (VR). “VR in the education space is already underway. Education is going to be flipped on its head where you are going to be using VR for workplace simulations. It is definitely an area that we are going to be investing in.”