In 2016, Loyola University Maryland took a holistic look at the organizational structure and operations of its IT department. Randall D. Gentzler, Loyola's vice president for finance and administration, had a suspicion that the IT organization wasn't performing as optimally as it should. He shared his thoughts with Loyola's president.
"'Something doesn't feel right,' I told him. We were finding it difficult to complete a large number of active projects and initiatives, with no established way to prioritize them based on their value," he says. There were also increasing complaints about underperforming technology and IT processes across the campus—not just from staff and administrators, but students as well. "We also started examining the evolving student experience and what they were looking for. Student demand was increasing and I didn't feel as if we were keeping pace."
Loyola conducted a 360-degree audit and efficiency analysis of the institution's IT organization and processes to determine whether resources were producing the right results. "We needed to take a look at our technology from a holistic perspective," says Gentzler.
The assessment came back with a number of clear suggestions and pointed analysis—including ways to reorganize operations and better focus the IT team on critical operations. But perhaps the most important of those recommendations was that Loyola move its IT infrastructure to the cloud. Migrating to the cloud would yield tremendous efficiencies, including outsourcing upgrades and patches, transitioning the responsibility of hiring and retaining skilled staff to a vendor, freeing up resources to support the lines of business, and realizing operational and capital expense savings. Knowing that a move to the cloud is a major undertaking, Loyola took this recommendation under serious consideration.
"As we began to think about the cloud, we knew that there were levels of risk," says Gentzler. "But we did our due diligence, we did a lot of research, and we had a lot of conversations—and we ultimately got to the point where we felt very comfortable with the cloud." Gentzler and Loyola's administration knew that cloud migration would change the way the IT department—and the entire university—operated, but that change would offer unparalleled opportunities for efficiency and cost savings. They were, in effect, thinking "big."
"We had an eye toward transformation," says Gentzler. Loyola recognized that migrating to the cloud would allow them to better serve its constituents, offer a superior educational experience, and, ultimately, save money. "We found that in order to gain savings, in some cases we had to invest first," says Gentzler.
Once Loyola committed to the cloud migration project, they began to communicate to the campus community that changes were coming. "We said that there was going to be some restructuring and re-organization—and one of the initiatives was to move to the cloud," says Gentzler. "I can't say enough about how important communication is—with the leadership, with the user community—to the success of a project like this. We went into this knowing that it was important for everyone to understand what the timeline was, what the risks were, and what was going to take place."
As part of those communication efforts, Loyola informed the campus community that moving to the cloud wasn't as simple as "throwing a switch" and walking away. Cloud migration just doesn't work like that. "We had to set the expectations, and prepare the campus community," he says. "Until you go through a full business cycle while running in the cloud, things will pop up. The key to migration is test, test, test."
Loyola moved to the Ellucian Managed Cloud. Concurrently, it restructured its IT department from a fully centralized organization structure to a shared services model with clear accountability lines and implemented a project rationalization process that focuses on the total cost of projects (hard and soft expenses), alignment with goals, funding status, and available resources.
The results? "This restructuring and moving to the cloud has had very positive financial outcomes and benefits," says Gentzler. Following the reorganization recommendations provided by the consulting firm, Loyola saved an estimated $678,000 net—capturing a savings of just over 6 percent (the original project goal called for a savings of at least 5 percent). And moving on-premise systems to the cloud for increased reliability, scalability, and new availability of physical space was an integral part of capturing those savings.
"We've freed up staff and capital—and that has had a profound impact on what we are doing. For example, we're no longer having to gauge the robustness of the system around times when we'd have a heavier volume of users, such as registration—we are no longer managing that. And we're no longer maintaining and replacing all of those servers in the equipment room, we identified an additional $500,000 in savings from that, and I think that number is going to continue to go up." says Gentzler.
What advice does Gentzler have for other institutions considering a move to the cloud? First, he emphasizes building a firm foundation with the service provider. "This project required a strong relationship with our business partner," he says. "There will be times when things won't go the way you want them to go, and you need to have that solid relationship to ensure success." Gentzler is quick to point out that projects like this are a partnership—and it's crucial to remain open and communicative. "You can't engage in finger-pointing," he says. "We're in this together."
Gentzler believes Ellucian's higher education and cloud expertise were key to the successful implementation of this project. "Their senior leadership was very much involved with this project," he says. "I had the opportunity to speak with Ellucian's president and CEO, and she shared her goals and vision for the company’s cloud strategy, and I came away that day thinking, 'Wow, we made the right choice.' The direction they're going in and their commitment to cloud strategy—and higher education in general—is pretty spectacular."