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Cloud / SaaS vs on-premise: are we really still having this conversation?

Worktribe explore the benefits of SaaS, and address some of the more common worries from educators

We believe that cloud-based SaaS solutions provide better value for money than on-premise solutions, and that on-premise solutions have myriad hidden costs that aren’t always apparent at first. However, from some of the conversations we’ve had in the last 12 months it seems that people in higher education need a little convincing…

Looking at UCISA’s Corporate Information Systems Survey (2018), it seems that only around one in three institutions who responded use a software as a service (SaaS) solution to manage their research, and this is even lower for curriculum management, at around 10%. If this is anything like an accurate picture of higher education as a whole, then it provides a surprising insight into the attitude towards cloud / SaaS adoption in higher education administration.

Cloud computing is a mature technology within most sectors, so we thought that most people already recognised the broad benefits of SaaS solutions over on-premise solutions. But obviously that doesn’t apply to everyone, especially in higher education. Some institutions are even choosing on-premise solutions based on competitive upfront costs and planning to “just absorb the additional costs later”. So what is behind this reluctance to embrace SaaS?

Looking at UCISA’s Corporate Information Systems Survey (2018), it seems that only around one in three institutions who responded use a software as a service (SaaS) solution to manage their research.

So what is holding some higher education institutions back?

“On-premise software is more secure.”

This seems to be the most common concern for IT decision makers (according to Cloudpro) who most likely feel that their data is less secure when using a SaaS solution, as data is stored on shared servers.

The simple answer is no, SaaS is just as secure – but in reality, it depends on the SaaS provider and how seriously they take the security of their client’s data. Most SaaS providers will make sure they stay well ahead of changes in local data protection, security and privacy legislation. They should also be able to demonstrate a multi-layer approach to security, and definitely be ISO27001 compliant.

Since the SaaS provider is responsible for disaster recovery, security, maintenance and upgrades, and compliance with security policies and legislation, institutions can free up valuable resources and direct them elsewhere.

“But… we’re scared.”

Well, nobody has actually said this to us, but there’s definitely an underlying feeling of fear which is completely normal. Working in new ways in the cloud is a big step for many institutions, and this kind of rapid change is often met with resistance, particularly among those who feel it is being imposed against their will. The fear is often that end-user adoption will be a very difficult and slow process, resulting in low uptake, or even resistance against changing the way things are done entirely.

If you pick the right software, your staff might actually find that it is “not hateful to use”. (Our new tagline thanks to Dr Marcus Badger (@climate_badger)).

In reality, having strong leadership and commitment from respected, senior figures and involving all stakeholders at the beginning of a project can ease the changes in without too much friction. Many institutions see the benefits of getting their worst critics – or best, depending on how you look at it – on board at the start, finding that these individuals often become the champions of the new software. How a project team engages with end-users during the implementation phase is so important – and if you want to know how it is done well, just have a chat with the University of Stirling’s Research Hub team, who did a stellar job last year. And if you pick the right software, your staff might actually find that it is “not hateful to use” (our new tagline thanks to Dr Marcus Badger (@climate_badger)).

And what are they missing out on?

Bottom line gains

Having your software on-premise under your full control sounds like a great idea, but actually an institution incurs a lot of hidden costs that aren’t included in the purchase: from physical servers to backups and data recovery, not to mention the amount of in-house resources to set all this up and maintain it. This makes it difficult to get an accurate view of the real costs each on-premise application. It’s like an iceberg – there’s often a lot more below the surface that might not at first be apparent. On the other hand, the costs of an SaaS application are highly visible – everything will be on the invoice.

The benefits of ‘thin client’ computing are well known too. By centralising the application logic in the server, users require very little software on their devices to access the application. SaaS systems tend to take this as far as practically possible, allowing users to access the software through their browser. This reduces both support and administration costs.

Many SaaS solutions also have intuitive interfaces that require little or no training for users, and you won’t lose out on productivity either, with high uptimes (often as high as 99.8%) contractually guaranteed by the vendor.

So in terms of cost efficiency, SaaS wins hands-down.

Getting live faster

For higher education institutions, it often takes years to procure and implement a new software solution, which can be frustrating for managers and administrators who are keen to realise the benefits of a new system.

Not only can many SaaS solutions be purchased through the G-Cloud framework (significantly speeding up the procurement process) but because there’s no need to setup the server and its software stack, SaaS solutions can be live in a matter of months.

Many SaaS solutions have intuitive interfaces that require little or no training for users, and you won’t lose out on productivity either, with high uptimes (often as high as 99.8%) contractually guaranteed by the vendor.

Easy upgrading and maintenance

Most SaaS products are continually being improved by the vendor and regular patches and upgrades are applied without any involvement with an institution’s IT department.

Of course your IT team will still want to test the upgrades, and that’s where a test environment comes in. Training and live environments can be upgraded once your team is content with their test results.

The option to scale up

Because performance monitoring and management is an integral part of SaaS provision, an institution has full control of their storage requirements, with additional storage made available on demand by the vendor.

…and software that is fit for the future

Many SaaS providers work closely with their user group to identify best practice and help inform product development. This ensures that the software meet the needs of all users now, and in the future. With on-premise, customised solutions, institutions can be at risk of falling behind.

If you’d like to chat to us about how our SaaS software can transform the way your institution manages research and curriculum, please get in touch.

This article was orginially published at https://www.worktribe.com/Saas/