Using the Cloud to Meet Students’ ExpectationsSherry Watson | Executive Director of Technical Services, Lone Star College
Today’s students have immensely high expectations of their higher education institutions. As experienced and savvy consumers, students today have become used to the level of service and convenience offered by major online retailers. In a higher education marketplace where students have numerous options to pursue their education, colleges and universities have to take steps to be able to match the experience students expect, or they look elsewhere. In this interview, Sherry Watson shares some insights into how her institution uses cloud-hosted services and systems to create the experience students expect inside and outside the classroom.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are some of the most common impediments to a strong customer experience for students caused by traditional, on-premises hosting of major administrative functions, especially across a major, multi-campus system?
Sherry Watson (SW): Our students have made it known loud and clear that the traditional on-premise methods of supporting their needs are no longer appropriate. Systems and services hosted on-premises do not provide the level of convenience that students have come to expect from us. They have demanded that Lone Star provide our services to them in every manner that they are accustomed to doing everything they do in today’s world.
Everything has to be at their fingertips and available on their phones, tablets, laptops and all other devices. Lone Star has met that demand by developing its own cloud of services that we offer to our students 24/7/365. They demand the capacity to register for classes, request advice from an advisor, pay for their classes, download transcripts, change class schedules, etc. all online and at any time.
Evo: How can moving major administrative systems and services to the cloud help to alleviate some of these issues?
SW: By moving our environment to a cloud solution—be it internal or external—you change the customer’s experience and expectations. They are likely to serve themselves on tasks that in the traditional manner may have taken hours to complete and we have found that makes our students happier.
The student’s customer experience today is more important than ever before. If we do not meet our students’ expectations when it comes to service and convenience, they go someplace else. We do not want to lose one student to this.
Hosting our services in the cloud allows us to deliver the experience students expect, and this has a positive impact on our capacity to attract and retain learners.
Evo: Beyond creating a more positive student experience, what are a few of the other benefits an institution can gain from moving to the cloud?
SW: For Lone Star, moving some services to the cloud provides staff more time to devote to other projects or tasks that they may not have been able to cover if they were supporting a system in-house. Faculty can interact with students now through many methods that were not available before. They can have discussion at any hour if need be, not just during regular class time. Faculty has the ability to enter grades and look at progress from anywhere on students.
Students have the ability to log in to the Lone Star Portal and take care of all business from anywhere at any time of the day or night. This could include paying for classes, registering for class, looking at grades, submitting assignments, etc. This also contributes to creating the experience students expect.
For the student, this allows access to their applications 24/7/365. It also allows redundancy in the event of a major incident at one of our locations, ensuring services are still available to our customers even if we have issues at one of our data centers. There are lower infrastructure costs for the institution as far as hardware, software, licensing, power, facilities, etc.
Evo: What are some of the roadblocks standing in the way of this transition?
SW: Some roadblocks that stand in our way is resources. It does take considerable resources to make this switch to the cloud, be it personnel resources or financial resources. Overcoming some of these challenges is sometimes difficult but if we can provide data on how this will ensure Student success or if we can show dollar savings than those roadblocks are often overcome.