Software As a Service (SaaS) in Higher Education: Achieving Operational and Financial Benefits

While higher education has made monumental strides in the way that programs are delivered and student data is managed, many colleges continue to be plagued by challenges when it comes to hardware and software.Challenges include expensive up-front costs, ongoing maintenance costs, IT complexity, minimal ability to adapt to changing opportunities, and little to no integration across the organization.

Plus, colleges have invested in hardware and software that might either go unused due to smaller than anticipated loads or be used only sporadically. On the other hand, they are not set up to support unexpected larger than anticipated loads, putting colleges between a rock and a hard place.

The solution to these aches and pains: Cloud Computing, and specifically, Software as a Service. Cloud Computing uses shared hardware resources, software, and data storage that provide information to devices on demand. The “Cloud” has created a virtual infrastructure that enables business applications as a service. Also known as Software as a Service (SaaS), these applications present tremendous upside potential for higher education.

What is SaaS?

SaaS is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over the Internet or in the “Cloud.” These applications are licensed to customers for use in the “Cloud” as a service on demand, and customers pay only for what they use.

There is a significant difference between the hosting of traditional applications and true SaaS applications. The hosting of traditional software applications simply changes who manages the IT behind the delivery of the application. Hosting providers typically support more hardware and software versions and are not able to quickly increase capacity as user demand grows.

To take advantage of new data center technologies, the application must be truly architected for SaaS delivery. Hosting does not address the fundamental limitations of traditional enterprise applications or the old economic and high-cost model that is inherent.

Because SaaS delivers a single version of the software, vendors can quickly develop and roll out new functionality without worrying about supporting multiple “flavors” of their product. Vendors can produce and support their software at lower costs, which are then passed on to customers, creating greater value than traditional models.

What Does SaaS Mean for Colleges?

With SaaS,colleges don’t incur the expense and hassle of purchasing, installing and storing their own hardware and software. Because the application is delivered to the enterprise as a service securely over the Internet, schools also don’t have to maintain the application. Better yet, colleges are always automatically on the latest version, which reduces costly and disruptive upgrade projects. Higher education institutions also can realize staffing efficiencies because they can move the focus away from software maintenance and upkeep to instead focusing on strategic decisions to improve the overall college student experience.

The primary benefits of a SaaS model come in the form of both technology cost savings and greater efficiencies in the areas of hardware, software, maintenance and staffing. But it doesn’t end there – SaaS drives numerous other operational and financial benefits as well.

SaaS can improve a college’s institutional effectiveness and its student support because it delivers high availability, and enables a school to better manage growth and address new markets quickly and easily. Additionally, SaaS combined with open APIs presents an opportunity for colleges to integrate broadly with other important education and business applications, as well as easily integrate their own internally developed applications.

Adopting a comprehensive SaaS solution can not only save time, but colleges can also expect to see greater financial benefits. SaaS allows colleges to reduce their IT spend, redirect savings toward business improvements, and strengthen their financial viability. A SaaS solution often results in a quicker launch and simplifies on-going support, delivering faster time-to-value and increasing ROI. These lower costs and immediate impact ultimately drive bottom line improvements within the school.

Is Your College Ready for SaaS?
Because SaaS allows schools to support more students without adding staff or infrastructure, a number of colleges are choosing to go this route. As colleges weigh their options in transitioning to a SaaS model, they should think about the following questions:

  • Do we have representation from all key departments across campus in the decision making process?
  • What information are we currently storing on our servers that can be managed in a SaaS environment?
  • When evaluating a SaaS vendor, how scalable is their model?
  • What kind of uptime does the SaaS vendor deliver from a reliability standpoint?
  • What is our implementation time line, and is all information backed up so that we can stay competitive during the transition process?

Adopting a SaaS model as the architectural standard across a college or university can not only help the school overcome hardware and software challenges, it can put them on the path to achieving greater operational and financial results.

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