Infrastructure review synthesis: Post 7, Enterprise applications

This post is the seventh in a series of ten posts that have been created to identify the best practice found in FE colleges by the Jisc infrastructure review service. An introduction to the infrastructure review synthesis project is provided in the first post in the series.

Enterprise applications

In the vast majority of colleges email and group calendaring is provided by Microsoft’s Office 365 service. In a minority of colleges email is provided using a Microsoft Exchange server on premises A small minority of colleges are using Google Gmail as part of the G Suite for education. Our research shows that other email services such as Novell Groupwise on-premises servers have been all but eliminated. However, our research also found that some organisations use Microsoft Office 365 alongside Google services, although fewer use the email services from Google when using both of the leading SaaS (software as a service) suites.

Email, calendaring, and related services are critical to the operations of all Jisc members: In the most mature organisations, we see IT teams deploying mailbox archiving to ensure that staff mailboxes can be retained, this technology enables FOI (freedom of information requests) to be met and facilitates general data retention.

In the most secure scenarios, we see IT teams making use of mail washing technology to reduce the chances of phishing emails, malware, poisoned links, or dangerous attachments being introduced into college systems. We also see effective use of compliance tools such as the Office 365 compliance centre being used to limit opportunities for personal data leakage or deliberate unauthorised data exfiltration. The most mature organisations couple technical measures with effective user training on managing cyber-security, data protection and other critical points.

MIS (management information systems) applications are primarily provided by a small number of companies (inclusive of OneAdvanced (Compass), Tribal’s EBS and Capita’s Unit-e). We have not seen any clear sub-sector or regional pattern in their use, nor can we identify a clear market leader.

A small minority of colleges are utilising MIS systems that have been developed in house. Where this is the case the development teams have built impressive levels of integration with other systems and have also built data warehouses or other high-level services that are used by multiple applications. We note that there is potentially an opportunity to consider how this specific sector expertise could be shared with other Jisc member organisations.

SaaS is now in widespread use in colleges to provide HR, finance, and other lines of business applications. Where colleges not already making use of SaaS for their core applications, most colleges are considering using this technology, this can be useful as it reduces the requirements for local hardware to provide services.

Very few colleges have local enterprise architecture services inclusive of a data warehouse. These services are only found in a very small number of colleges and are often a feature of colleges that utilise an internally developed MIS system and have access to a skilled internal software development team.

In most colleges student facing applications typically include a VLE (virtual learning environment), LMS (library management system) and e-portfolio systems, notably where colleges are providing apprenticeships. A minority of colleges offer students bespoke applications or portals that can be accessed from a variety of devices, inclusive of mobile devices. The maturity of online learning services varies greatly, as has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In most cases there are few if any dedicated e-learning staff, and where these posts do exist, they are rarely located in the IT team.

How Jisc can help:

  • The Jisc applications review service can help organisations to identify applications that may be end of life, or otherwise need to be replaced. It is also possible that a number of older applications can be replaced by a single application, this can bring improved integration a greater cost efficiency. The application review service can also assist IT teams to size their future infrastructure appropriately as a greater use of SaaS services is made.
  • The software procurement services provided by the Chest service are likely to bring about a substantial cost saving for Jisc member organisations.
  • Cloud professional services. Take advantage of our hands-on cloud capabilities, to solve a range of short-term and long-term challenges.
  • Our learning analytics service helps you put your data to work to tackle some of the big strategic challenges – and we will support you every step of the way. It is the world’s first national learning analytics service developed to address the key strategic goals of HE and FE organisations.

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