How CIOs can advance education through the cloud

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This Public Sector Innovation series, in association with AWS Institute and Intel, outlines how CIOs can advance their mission through cloud innovation, acknowledging business challenges while outlining examples of best practice within the education sector.

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The sharp rise in remote learning – spanning all levels – has placed new demands on an evolving education sector, paving the way for widespread advancement through adopting the cloud.

With numerous students currently locked out of higher education, distance learning is emerging as the only viable short- to medium-term solution, as CIOs attempt to balance crisis management with future innovation ambitions.

Whether scaling learning management systems, launching virtual classrooms or setting up remote help desks, educational institutions are seeking new ways to drive change through maximising investments to modernise teaching post-pandemic, increasing reliance on cloud as a result.

“To accelerate transformation in education through cloud, the first step is for institutions to recognise that cloud is a platform to drive change, innovation, and disruption,” outlined Vincent Quah, Regional Head of Education, Research, Healthcare, and Not-For-Profit Organizations across Asia Pacific and Japan at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Such an approach is designed to ensure that cloud technology remains front and centre of what an institution endorses and advocates, backed by leadership support and acknowledgement that cloud can drive both change and innovation.

In drawing on sector specific market knowledge, Quah also advised CIOs to embrace a “discovery and experimental” mindset, transitioning away from “big bang” approaches to technology in the process.

“Cloud is the ideal platform for ideas to be tested, reiterated, and proven before scaling up,” he added.

As a result, the onus is now on CIOs to initiate a range of projects to learn from the cloud experience, not only at a pilot stage but also with the intention of company-wide deployment. This allows the business to build up muscle memory in relation to managing and operating cloud models, billed as crucial in ensuring organisations can develop internal capacity to drive transformational change.

Such guidance was outlined during an executive virtual roundtable housing CIOs from the education sector across Asia Pacific, in association with AWS Institute and Intel. During the session, CIOs assessed the state of cloud adoption in education, detailed ongoing and emerging sector challenges alongside highlighting examples of innovation best practice, and opportunities ahead within the education sector.

“The most important role of technology in the education sector is its ability to level the field of opportunity,” stated Akanksha Bilani, Regional Alliance Head of AWS across Asia Pacific and Japan at Intel.

For Bilani, technology – underpinned by cloud – is continuing to support advancements in the education sector at global, regional, and national levels, evident through a heightened desire to instigate wide-scale digital, network, and data access transformation.

This is in addition to increased community demand for advanced technology-ready skills, in addition to technology-led learning specific to the future of work, all of which is expected to have a “foundational impact” on the education sector at country levels.

Irrespective of location, skills development continues to be top of mind for CIOs within the education sector because despite accelerated adoption of cloud, the industry remains in the early stages of deployment.

In response, CIOs must seek to address ongoing skills challenges at the foundational level, in a move designed to allow students from all disciplines to learn and think differently about problem solving.

Alongside cloud and digital literacy, Quah recommended that organisations shift focus to embedding cloud topics into education programs. Such an approach will help students apply learnings and knowledge to solve real-world problems, on the basis that the learning reflects market conditions.

“Moving up a level, institutions should also look into transforming internal culture and operational models to demonstrate ‘walking the talk’ so students can experience how learnings become relevant to the real-world,” Quah added.

Building best practice through cloud

As director of Research Technology Services at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Luc Betbeder-Matibet spearheads the group tasked with providing shared research computing and research data infrastructure at the university.

From a collaboration perspective, UNSW leverages AWS cloud services to gain access to national high-performance computing for climate modelling, as well as access to cloud computing for projects involving secure health data.

“These are the kind of projects in which we work with AWS on,” he explained. “How to securely share data or how to improve a complex data pipeline from a high-resolution instrument to a flexible cloud compute environment.”

Delving deeper, Betbeder-Matibet cited the creation of a strategic digital roadmap – shaped by increased reliance on the cloud – as crucial in allowing UNSW to maximise the “best tools possible” when undertaking research projects.

“Some projects have very dynamic resource needs,” he said. “Therefore, being able to quickly spin up, run prototyping, then estimation and run the project with maximum efficiency with full transparency of costs is crucial.”

This approach ensures UNSW operates as responsible custodians of public research funding, as well as enabling in-depth studies at scale and enabling health researchers to carry out analysis on data sets specific to the healthcare sector.

“We use a combination of Amazon WorkSpaces for access and a wide range of AWS compute products including machine learning services for the delivery of these complex and sensitive research projects,” Betbeder-Matibet said.

With UNSW as a leading example, Quah advised CIOs to start the process of building out a robust digital strategy specific to education, cautioning against delay due to the added challenges created by COVID-19.

“The struggle is intense and real as schools, institutions, and universities have been forced to close down, without a clear date for re-opening again,” he emphasised.

The knock-on impact is a dawning realisation among educations sector-focused CIOs that the creation of a digital strategy – no longer viewed as a long-term project – must be addressed as a matter of business urgency.

Despite some institutions having digital strategies in place across the region, the difference between ideation and implementation is clear, highlighting the importance of execution to drive innovation.

“The good news is that universities are not alone,” he said. “There are many education focused technology providers in the market capable of accelerating the adoption of cloud.”

Echoing Quah’s observations, Bilani cited the recent work of AWS and Intel in rolling out Career Launcher collaboration with the Department of Education of National Capital Territory of Delhi in India. The move was designed to ensure education remained uninterrupted during COVID-19, with the initiative spanning more than one million students nationwide.

“Intel and AWS have an engineering partnership spanning more than 15 years, in which Intel customises its architecture to support AWS platforms,” Bilani added. “We share the value of customer obsession and are constantly aligning to AWS in terms of what their customers and partners want."

The AWS Institute convenes and engages global leaders who share an interest in solving public sector challenges using technology. For more information about the AWS Institute, please visit: https://aws.amazon.com/institute/

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