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Melbourne Business School

Melbourne Business School chalks up transformation success with cloud

Melbourne Business School has been helping to transform Australia’s business landscape to make it more competitive, more efficient and more sustainable for over 60 years. When it comes to its own transformation it is on the same trajectory.

Over the years Melbourne Business School’s (MBS) on premise information systems had expanded over time. In order to infuse agility and be able to respond rapidly to changing needs and expectations from academics and students, MBS needed to rethink its approach.

Transforming into a cloud first enterprise would allow MBS to rein in costs – but at the same time unleash innovation, enhance the educational experience, improve the security of its systems – and embrace a more data driven culture.

To seize full advantage of the digital transformation it planned, MBS needed more than a “lift and shift” approach, where existing applications, processes and workflows are transferred to the cloud as a job lot. Darren Morris, MBS’s chief information officer wanted MBS instead to take a “move and improve” approach.

“We’re not just picking up and putting stuff into the cloud we’re saying, “Well, what’s difficult about the way we work today?” and when we move to the cloud, “What can we improve on so that we don’t have those same challenges in the future?”

“So, I think we’ve really looked at why we need to make the change and try and make sure that what we build in the future is more sustainable in the long term, more adaptable and improves our ability to deliver the change to the business over time,” he says.

Over the years the on premises computing infrastructure had expanded and many applications were tightly coupled. It made innovation tricky – a change to one system would impact another and massive amounts of testing were required to ensure the system would remain stable after any change, no matter how trivial.

As a result, optimising a workflow or changing a process was far more complex than it should be. For an organisation bent on far more dynamic and data driven innovation the status quo wasn’t sustainable.

At the same time the relatively rigid on-premise information systems that had evolved made it harder for MBS to keep pace with changing regulatory requirements and expectations regarding issues such as information privacy and systems security.

To support MBS’s transformation and his “move and improve” agenda Morris and his team of 15 IT professionals have embraced Microsoft’s three clouds in a move which affords them access to a trusted environment, elasticity, as well as a growing array of cloud tools to streamline both systems management and ongoing innovation.

MBS is deploying Microsoft 365, with all the efficiencies and employee flexibility that comes from Office 365 as well as enhanced security. Dynamics 365 will underpin the entire student lifecycle and drive enhanced user experiences.

Underpinning everything is Microsoft Azure which helps MBS modernise its entire data estate and drive a data driven and analytics infused culture.

Darren Morris, MBS’s chief information officer
Darren Morris, MBS’s chief information officer

Move and improve

MBS’s transformation adventure began three years ago when it first crafted the cloud-based strategy that over time would see more and more applications transferred from the on premises data centre to the cloud. Initially the focus was on File Storage, SharePoint and Dynamics.

Given the agenda to “move and improve” MBS has had to carefully sequence the transformation, but by the end of 2019 it expects to be ready to cutover to Dynamics 365 which will be one of the last major foundational elements of the cloud transformation.

And for MBS it really is a foundation not a finish line. Morris notes that once the transition to Azure is completed MBS will be well placed to look at emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to see how those could be deployed in the future, and to continuously improve and enhance services and experience.

One of the immediate advantages that comes from deploying Microsoft 365 is the enterprise transparency and enhanced security that it affords.

Pete Russell, Infrastructure Manager explains; “We are using the reporting features, particularly around Azure Identity Protection. Security is another of our driving factors for the shift to cloud firstly to protect clients but also reputation with data breaches being brought to media attention. Our aim is to prevent and detect compromised accounts as early as possible. Microsoft’s tools available under Office 365 under A5 provides this capability.

“We are currently moving towards MDM via Intune to build the platform to fully exploit Azure Rights Management. This is part of a coordinated strategy to protect information at all locations.”

Paul Beaumont, Applications Manager explains that Dynamics maintains the connection between MBS and student from their first enquiry, through their studies, and once they become an alumnus. In preparation for the migration to Dynamics 365 at the end of the year, MBS is installing a microservices layer which sits between the current on premises Dynamics instance and Microsoft Azure to effectively loosen the currently tight coupling between Dynamics and MBS’s bespoke systems which should make the move to the cloud easier and less risky.

MBS will also leverage cloud to streamline the way it manages student use of its systems. MBS student accounts are handled through the University of Melbourne. Student access to MBS systems has now been enhanced, using Azure Active Directory integration streamline log on and provide access to MBS’s Wi-Fi or cloud-based applications.

Melbourne Business school staff & students

Responsive and resilient

The move to Azure is also enhancing the responsiveness and resilience of MBS’s public facing websites. MBS uses Sitecore to manage those websites and has now transitioned that into Azure. According to Beaumont this has allowed MBS to essentially create a Sitecore as a service solution; “We built that as a full dev ops delivery pipeline so that we’ve got our redundancy and we get all the benefits of being in the cloud. But we’ve also implemented the dev ops strategies of continuous integration and delivery, to give us the resilience that we need. It’s our most significant public facing presence in terms of our website and it’s where news and events and how we present ourselves to the world. We need that to be up all the time, if possible.

“We get really good service levels on Azure. I think we’re on the three nines for the way we’ve built it, which is pretty handy. And we know we can rebuild it from script, should we need to. So, we’ve got the disaster recovery handled whereas in our previous scenario, we probably would’ve been in a disaster, out for days potentially. And now our worst-case scenarios are in the hours mark.”

The cloud first transformation is also percolating through to MBS’s data warehouses that were first built about five years ago on SQL Server 2012. The move to Azure will allow MBS to consolidate four separate data warehouses into a single modern data estate that can then be managed and accessed using tools such as Data Factory and Logic Apps with live data capture to ensure the data collection is as accurate and timely as possible.

The School’s total data footprint is 60 TB. If it grew by say 30TB it would need to purchase a new 100TB SAN. In Azure the consume as you go model means MBS only pays for what it needs.

Pete Russell adds; “One of the core activities of the Business School is to teach – we’re leaders in teaching analytics to students, and data science in big business, in Fortune 500 businesses, and we’ve got a global presence in that space.

“There’s a bit of a push by the School to become better at it ourselves. And to do that, we have to have the right tooling, and that’s part of the driver for also going to the data warehouse in the cloud as well. We’re also using other products like SAS and Databricks. We’ve got a lot of activity in that analytics space.”

For example, as part of its Master of Analytics course MBS has been making use of Databricks in Azure.

MBS’s journey to the cloud is already well progressed. Email is in the cloud as is HR, finance and the learning management system and the School has seen an improvement in availability and accessibility.

The migration to Exchange reduced maintenance by 30 per cent for three staff over a year. The recent deployment of Multi Factor Authentication was also greatly facilitated by the cloud migration.

According to Russell; “It would be absolute utopian for us to be 100 per cent cloud and decommission Active Directory and all that kind of gear. But the reality of that is that we still have services that are going to depend on some on-prem systems. So, our estimate at the moment is something like – I think we have about 180 VMs, including dev and test and we’re hoping to get that down around about under 10.

“We realise some of those services are still evolving, and that’s going to change over the next six or 12 months, but less than 10 VMs on-prem,” which will be hosted on a small single internal system.

For Morris and the MBS team it points to a whole new era focussed on delivering value to the business, as well as being able to respond rapidly to changing market conditions and user expectations.