"You can resist an invading army but you cannot resist an idea whose time has come", Victor Hugo once famously remarked. Cloud computing, or software delivered as a service (SaaS) is one such idea with time on its side.
For years, decision makers in higher education in India and around the world have struggled with embracing technology for improved learning. The challenges they have faced are not peculiar.Technology for organization-wide use – enterprise technology as it is commonly known – has always been expensive and complex to buy and deploy. Stories of delayed or failed IT deployments at many of the world’s largest organizations with technology budgets running into billions of dollars are a legion.
News reports accompanying such disasters often point to the common culprits – the implementation was too slow and missed deadlines, the customization proved very difficult or expensive, upgrades were expensive, or the added hardware costs were too high. There is of course no count of how many IT projects got aborted or even never got considered, because buying and deploying enterprise software called for a huge upfront investments. After all, how many colleges in India or anywhere around the world have had big IT budgets to spare?
Now SaaS turns this entire IT paradigm completely on its head. When a pre-configured and pre-optimized enterprise software is made accessible via a browser over the Internet, the first casualty is implementation time, leading to a significantly reduced time to benefit. This happens because the set-up and installation efforts are minimal for an academic institute – there is no hardware to deploy, run, manage or optimize. In fact, the configuration is non-technical and entirely done via the browser. A secondary benefit is significantly reduced need for involvement by trained IT professionals.
For institutes in India and around the world, low budgets have historically been among the biggest barriers to IT adoption. Many such institutes are finding succor in SaaS.They can finally embrace cutting-edge technology without straining their limited budgets because there is no enterprise grade hardware purchase required and because all billing is subscription or usage-based.
The phrase ‘cutting-edge technology’ assumes particular significance in the case of SaaS –vendors upgrade software remotely and continually and push it to all customers via the Internet. In turn, the customers are assured that they are always running the latest software version available – without needing to ‘invest’ in any version upgrade. What it also means is that risk of obsolescence is eliminated.
There are other financial benefits of using SaaS. Compared to a traditional software deployment, the maintenance costs for a SaaS deployment is nominal, if not zero. Choosing SaaS also often means easy and quick integration with other existing software.
Then there are a host of operational benefits involved. Adding more users or scaling the software to more classrooms or campuses is a cinch with SaaS- the software is running inside a data center managed directly by the vendor and all it needs is a quick call to the vendor. As an example, a college can scale its SaaS solution from 50 students to 5,000 in a matter of hours – unimaginable in the conventional IT scenario.
SaaS solutions are inherently stable because the model allows for continual testing. If even one educational customer or user finds a bug in the platform, a patch can be rolled out to all users and everybody benefits right away. New feature additions are also seamless.
Breach of security has been a major hindrance in adoption of any IT-based solution by the education fraternity and most of them are primarily concerned with data security. SaaS based solutions come with enhanced security. Customer content is protected by state-of-the-art technology, including permission-based publishing and encrypted access, as well as “always on” physical security at data centers, internet and server firewall data protection, and malware and anti-virus protection.
Finally, SaaS works so much better for students because it enables applications to be available anytime, anywhere, from any type of laptop, smart phone, tablet, or other web-enabled device.Want to use your application at home, school, or coffee shop? You can, with SaaS.
As the above points illustrate, the case for SaaS in the academia is so strong that institutes ought to make it their default platform of choice. Because of its broad advantages compared to any other method of software delivery, my team at Impartus chose to build our video learning platform on the SaaS model. And frankly, it was an easy choice to make.For I believe, SaaS has the potential to revolutionize the pace of technology adoption in the education sector.
The phenomenon is going to be more starkly visible for universities and institutes in resource-constrained countries like India. It also couldn’t have come at a better time, given how urgently India needs to equip its young people with skills suitable for competing in a global digital economy.