The benefits of academies moving to the Cloud are well documented. It removes capital expenditure associated with legacy purchases and eliminates the headache of dated infrastructure. It’s also cheaper, and it frees up time spent dealing with local IT issues.
What the cloud also does is centralise disparate, localised IT support systems operating across multiple schools in a trust, enabling resources to be refocused on what matters the most. Senior leaders and teachers can focus on what’s important which is learning: they can access important data to gain a real-time view of learner progress – facilitating an efficient and rapid response to any immediate issues identified, and fast dissemination of positive best practices. And crucially, given the frequency of cyber attacks reported in the media, the cloud can keep that important data secure as reputable providers will be regularly patching and updating their systems.
In short, the cloud can empower academies and staff to positively impact outcomes, in an instant. But, before making the jump to the cloud, there are four vital questions academy leaders must ask themselves.
How will a transition to the cloud impact my learners?
Ultimately, and certainly where Ofsted is concerned, every decision and budgetary spend an academy makes will look to answer this question. Teaching staff will often spend time in the evenings and at weekends performing tasks linked to planning, preparation and assessment. A cloud-based system would enable staff to access their learners’ data, anytime and anywhere, to ensure the work they are carrying out is based on current, accurate information that is at all other areas of the academy. A fully informed teacher is a confident teacher, and one that will almost certainly improve learners’ outcomes. The cloud is one facilitator of this.
Am I in a safe pair of hands?
Just like any other business, an academy must remain operational throughout any transition to the cloud. When considering tenders from software service providers, leaders should select a partner that can illustrate a clear and structured pathway of getting the academy and its staff from their existing system to the cloud. Challenge your service provider – ask them how they can ensure the absolute minimum of disruption and downtime, and how quickly they can get all teaching staff up and running and actively using the software. Essentially, can your service provider offer effective change management, which means you can get from A to B in the most risk-averse fashion?
Is my cloud service provider in it for the long-haul?
A transition to the cloud isn’t like historical, one-off software purchases. This platform demands a long-term commitment from the academy to remain functional. Therefore, an academy should expect the same from its service provider, ensuring proven durability over the long-haul. Once the project has been delivered, ask yourself if you will have ongoing support if things go wrong. Key questions to ask providers include: what are your service levels, what are the guarantees, and what is your longevity? Do they have long-term viability both as a company and a provider? In other words, will they be around in five or 10 years’ time? Can they confidently provide you with a long-term roadmap and vision, and what reassurances can they offer you that they will continue to support you?
All good cloud service providers should be able to respond to these questions with ease, and should most definitely form a part of the tender process for all academies.
Is my cloud service provider operating as a commercial entity?
A move to the cloud is a recurring cost which requires long term investment and commitment where operational continuity is critical. Therefore, it is vital for leaders to understand the commercial implications a purchase of this kind can have. Decision-makers must therefore think like a business. They must be robust in their appraisal process, and invest time and effort into the pre-tender work to ensure they know exactly what questions to ask to deliver the project their academy, staff and learners need to prosper.
Factors to consider include the financial status of the provider – whether they are backed by strong investors and have a credible pedigree in the sector. Find out their long-term vision for the product, and how many developers, project managers and professional servicers make up their team. In addition, understand whether they invest heavily in product development along with their reference ability. In other words, can they illustrate large-scale education deployments? Given these are often core systems that academies will rely on, factors such as operational continuity, covering issues such as disaster recovery for example, the long-term viability of those services must be taken into account.
Ultimately, just like any purchase, a move to the cloud should be considered with the same level of checks as any other significant investment within an academy.
An academy success story
Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), the UK’s largest multi academy trust, is taking advantage of the cloud with the help of IT software and services provider Advanced. As a large, nationwide trust, it is critical AET unites all of its localised systems to illustrate success at both an academy and trust level.
Using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) education solution, it is currently moving its 66 primary, special and secondary academies to a centralised IT infrastructure to unify its entire system. This is enabling AET to deliver a learner-centric solution to its academies, placing progress and attainment of the individual at the core of the cloud system, linking and using all key data, with a single view of the ‘learner’, to enable informed decision making and intervention. Furthermore, the solution is helping them achieve compliance with Ofsted’s regulatory requirements and reduce costs.
A cloud-driven academy needn’t be a distant pipedream. By partnering with a sector leader in the education market, the sky is the limit – ensuring learner-centricity is at the heart of everything it does while remaining agile enough to respond with speed and accuracy.
This article was first published exclusively on Academy Today.