One of the cloud’s biggest assets has always been crisis preparedness—because when disaster strikes, you don’t have to worry about the viability of on-premise servers or the availability of on-site staff to ensure your data remains accessible and secure. I can assure you that this isn’t lost on those recovering from recent hurricanes on the Gulf Coast—or any organization that went remote at light speed due to COVID-19.
That said, there is another attribute of the cloud that emerged during the pandemic, and it may be even more compelling—because its value extends not just to you, but also those who depend on you.
Take my company Ellucian for example. With few physical data center assets to maintain when we made the shift to a fully-remote workforce, we were able to keep projects running on time, keep the call center operating, and stay in close contact with colleagues and partners without interruption. But even more important than all of that, we were able to focus more energy on our customers in a heightened moment of need because we didn’t have to move mountains to maintain our own technology solutions.
Simply put, we were able to get our own oxygen masks on quickly so we could help others do the same—and therein lies the true value of the cloud in a crisis: when you don’t have to expend all your energy just keeping the lights on, you are free to not just get on with the normal course of business, but to be there for customers in ways that go above and beyond.
In the higher education market we serve, that meant were able to make the quick pivots necessary to help institutions dive into remote learning; help institutions provide constant updates to their students, faculty, and staff; and help institutions implement best practices for business continuity.
- In one case, our team partnered with the customer to design and implement Wi-Fi hotspots in parking lots across their college campus. This was critical for students who did not have internet connections at home and could not access school services remotely. From running cables to mounting access points on the side of buildings, this effort provided students who had limited internet access with a convenient place to complete course work on campus.
- In another instance, we teamed up with the customer to turn on free VPN services for school administrators that suddenly had to work from home, but had no way to securely access internal systems, such as student records. The team was able to successfully implement remote access on all computing devices, resulting in improved business continuity and ensuring that school staff could continue to do their jobs.
- In yet another case, we worked with the customer to create an application that manages their school’s rapid testing of COVID at campus entry points, thus enabling students and employees to quickly and safely enter campus. We partnered with other schools in the creation of messaging program to proactively contact students, enabling some of those schools to achieve a 100% enrollment number for the current fall semester.
The big takeaway here is that, while we are always focused on achieving our financial goals, our business is really about helping our customers provide a seamless experience as they effectively educate the next generation of leaders.
Best of all, what was true for us was true for our customers as well. In our work with thousands of colleges and universities throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen that the institutions in the cloud are those that have performed the best and experienced the least disruption.
They’ve been able to devote more energy to faculty training for remote instruction. They’ve been able to scale student services to meet greater demand. And they had a head start in analyzing data from the spring that will help them perform even better in the fall – all because resources weren’t consumed by tactical technology problems.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that crisis is no time for business as usual – and that it’s not enough to just keep baseline services up and running when problems arise. When our customers need us most, we have to be able to innovate, grow, and evolve to meet the new challenges that inevitably arise.
It’s the cloud that frees us to do so.
By Chris Collins
Chris Collins is a Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Experience Officer at Ellucian, the world’s leading provider of software and technology services to higher education.