Migration to the cloud as a mindset – In conversation with AWS

Amy Underdown - 11 July, 2022

Category : Blog

Migration to the cloud as a mindset – In conversation with AWS

As part of our partnership with Amazon Web Services, we interviewed Andrew Proctor, Executive Lead for Education, about how schools should be thinking about migration to the cloud. You can read a shorter version of this article in our joint whitepaper with Socitm.  – How has the move to the cloud looked across other parts

As part of our partnership with Amazon Web Services, we interviewed Andrew Proctor, Executive Lead for Education, about how schools should be thinking about migration to the cloud. You can read a shorter version of this article in our joint whitepaper with Socitm

migration to the cloud AWS

How has the move to the cloud looked across other parts of the public sector?

I think it’s taken a number of different shapes and forms across different sectors, but I also think it’s important to draw a distinction between those organisations and companies that are born in the cloud and those that are not. Cloud-borne companies can scale rapidly, because they already have a cloud way of thinking and doing. This is more the case for the private sector, where companies are often driven by the need for a competitive edge. 

Traditionally, I think the public sector has looked at digital transformation as a set of projects to implement new technologies, rather than an embedded cultural change. For those that have made the move to the cloud, they are able to see past technology as something that simply keeps the lights on. It has accelerated and de-risked innovation. 

What we’ve seen over the past two years is evolution and adaptation in the education sector, rather than true transformation and reinvention. An example would be moving lessons online. This is in no way to dismiss the incredible work that the public sector has had to do in a very short amount of time, but it demonstrates that they’ve been limited to almost reproducing what they’ve already been doing via different methods, rather than reinventing and improving them. 


What learnings could the education sector take to help propel its digital transformation forward? 

The adoption of a cloud mindset should be central to any plans for transformation – viewing cloud as something that can help your team focus on your end-users. 

When I was first at Staffordshire University, there were monthly management meetings. The different teams would come in and talk about patches to the infrastructure, uptime and availability. By moving to the cloud, one of the cultural things I was able to do was shift the focus of those meetings away from maintenance of the system and through to telling us what problems they’d solved, what new functionality and new services they’d designed and delivered to help staff and students. Ultimately, cloud was a springboard for a much more user-centric approach. 

I also think it’s important to know that you don’t need to boil the ocean and seek perfection. Public sector governance doesn’t often align with digital and agile ways of operating. There’s a tendency towards multi-year business plans where every detail must be nailed down. Teams need to accept that traditional governance and its rigidity may not always be conducive to the benefits of the cloud. 


What advice would you give to those unsure about how to go about moving to the cloud? 

Look at digital transformation as a way of being and doing – not the shift to a different piece of technology. You need to be user-obsessed and focused. My advice would therefore be to start by putting some of the cultural building blocks in place and thinking of the bigger picture. 

Don’t try to reproduce what you’ve already done but in the cloud. Of course, you can make cost efficiencies and savings by getting rid of a data centre. But the real advantage of cloud is the ability to be innovative and agile. 

I’d also say that you should look to the huge community of support that’s out there for help. You don’t have to do it all alone. Many organisations, sectors, and industries have reinvented themselves and are willing to offer a helping hand. Look to partners as well. 

migration to the coud

    To see other case studies like Andrew’s, click on the image above


What barriers have other sectors faced when approaching digital transformation and a move to the cloud?

Whatever the sector, organisations face some barriers, but many of these are actually just perceived barriers, particularly around security and skills. 

The security of the cloud is one such perceived barrier. There’s a trust and comfort to having something under physical lock and key in a data centre in your building. Cloud doesn’t remove locks and keys, it just does them in a better and different way. You still get 100% control over who has access to your data and applications. If you take Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, we have over one million monthly active customers, across every vertical, including policing and security services around the globe. So our infrastructure is designed around the most stringent of security requirements from around the world – and each customer benefits from that. If you’re a school, you’re benefiting from infrastructure that’s been designed for a much higher tier of security than you actually need. 

Another concern is around skills. Some organisations worry that they haven’t got the internal skills for digital transformation or cloud adoption. There’s also a natural concern within individuals that they don’t have the skills required. So there’s a fear about making sure transformation is sustainable, because it has the right people moving it along. These concerns have solutions. You can train and develop your internal team where appropriate, rely on partners and also look to grow teams where necessary. In such a fast-paced environment as is the world of IT, the ability to upskill is viewed as an exciting opportunity for internal teams. It’s a positive thing. 


How do other sectors make large-scale projects manageable?

The vast majority of projects that are deemed to be large-scale can and should be broken down into manageable chunks. It’s very difficult to produce this perfect, accurately timed and costed multi-year project plan sat at a desk in a room before you’re actually faced with reality. But we still seem wedded to doing that in the public sector. 

It’s much better to adopt, again, a sort of cloud mindset, by listening to what end-users need and want. And be prepared to change and adapt where needed.

It’s healthy to think big, but start small. This big idea that all schools will move to the cloud is absolutely right and proper, but the key is to start small, learn some lessons and demonstrate both success and value. Start by migrating those systems that aren’t complex to do so. 


How should the needs of end-users or customers be aligned and managed with a centralised project? 

In terms of practical advice, the establishment of some core tenets for the project is very important. What are the key things that are driving the initiative? A really rough idea of a tenet could be that you will always prioritise the security of people’s data, so when you come to some difficult or challenging decisions that you need to communicate to everyone, you can refer back to those tenets as well to make sure that you’re staying true to what was agreed upfront. This can help defuse some of the conflict and tension, because you’ve got that established guidance to refer back to. So setting, agreeing and communicating those key tenets to the broader school community can be very helpful.

And again, take digital ethos and approach. It could be moving a single school or a single application or service to the cloud. Take stock, learn some lessons and then progress from there and be prepared to adjust your plans accordingly.

Finally, I think it’s important to advocate for the fact that even though there may be some initial trade-offs, as we’ve discussed with the needs of users, going back to one of the core benefits of a cloud mindset is that ultimately you become much more customer-centric and you get much more time and resource to invest back into your end-users as well. Advocating that to the user community is really important. Naturally, there will be some friction and surprises, but just make sure you’ve got some resources ready to communicate to teams and keep them informed. 


Is there anything you’d like to add?

I would add that there is a lot in the public sector and education sector to celebrate. There is plenty of opportunity for them in terms of digital transformation, but I think they should take a sense of pride in just how important they’ve been, how important they will remain to be and what they have done during a challenging few years.

It’s been a very challenging environment for universities and schools. Lots of noise in the media and press, lots of pressure politically. But they have absolutely done everyone in the country proud in terms of the service that they provided. If you look at them being able to provide new mental health services at universities and schools and the adoption of those, I think we should all be proud of what the education sector has been able to achieve, and we should all advocate for the many opportunities that are still ahead of them.



More case studies in the cloud

A shorter version of this article appears in our whitepaper with Socitm, which also features interviews with Hampshire County Council and Herts for Learning about how and why they are offering schools in their area the choice of a cloud MIS. Click here for your free copy of the whitepaper.

soctim move to the cloud

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