QUT pushes ahead with five-year cloud-focused digital strategy

As part of the plan, the organisation is focused on getting the foundations right first.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is adamant that in five years' time its technology infrastructure will look very different from what it does today.

"There's still a lot of duplication and a lot of complexities … that will take quite a number of years to remediate," QUT associate director solution design and delivery Scott Lawry said. 

For instance, the university has some 11 different asset management systems in place. 

"When really, you only need one," Lawry said. "If you use that example, and you multiply that many times, then you can understand why that is one of our key concerns."

Another aspect of the strategy plan -- and one of the larger pieces of work -- is moving the organisation away from traditional on-premise data centres and onto the cloud.

"The move to the cloud has been underway for about half a decade now, and part of it was indirect with business-led projects where they would go to market and they would be looking at products that didn't have to be installed internally that were accessible," Lawry said.

He continued, saying that once QUT has completed its five-year digital strategy plan, it would mean the university can provide consistency for students and other staff members, as well as access to quality data.

"To do that, we're going to have to look at integration across our whole portfolio, and essentially rewire all of our integration using a contemporary approach," Lawry said.

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Lawry admitted the hardest part about executing against the university's strategy has been getting the foundation right. 

"Getting the governance right, getting the connections and the rules in place, getting the capabilities -- that doesn't happen overnight. But it's important that you understand that you have to have all these things in place before you can do any large movement onto the cloud," he said.

Part of getting that foundation piece right has involved QUT reviewing its approach to software maintenance and support for its Oracle ERP system.

Lawry explained about two years ago, the organisation noticed that its annual spend on software and maintenance support delivered as part of its agreement with Oracle was not delivering value for money. Rather, it was a cost to the business in the millions.  

"The challenge we were facing was the value just wasn't really there … so every year Oracle would release its latest and greater version, and we would be effectively paying for that as part of the plus-million dollars that we were spending for support and maintenance," he said.

"But we weren't using it … and we know that for the foreseeable future we're not planning on upgrading our core systems, so maybe we should take a pause … and bank the savings."

Read more: Digital transformation: It's time to invent the future we want (TechRepublic)

As a result, the university made the switch last year to Rimini Street support services for maintenance and support of its Oracle footprint, which Lawry said, has worked out for the better. He pointed out that security patches are deployed faster, for instance.

"In Oracle's instance, it can take them up to 12 months before they actually release a [security] solution … so during that period, you're exposed to that vulnerability. Whereas using Rimini Street security applications, as soon as a vulnerability is exposed, or you're notified, the system will dynamically update and start protecting you straightaway," he said.

Plus, it's also meant the IT team has placed more focus on "value-add work", Lawry said. 

"One of the challenges we had was auto-maintenance under Oracle … that to us was quite costly. We would have to engage a number of resources over that 12-week period to download, test, remediate issues, fine-tune … and prepare the release to go into production. To move away from that … meant that those resources were then free to do higher-value work".

Despite moving away from Oracle for maintenance and support, Lawry emphasised that the university still continues to use several Oracle applications.

"Part of that is driven by the licence model. Because the Higher Education Consortium was so successful in what it did, it really encouraged universities to gorge a little bit. They just have to maintain what is known as EFTSL, which is their equivalent to a full-time student load, and then they were able to use a lot of Oracle products as much as they wanted, like a buffet," Lawry said. 

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