The University of Leicester looks to the cloud as they aim to enable better decision making.

University of Leicester works alongside Simpson Associates to implement Azure SQL Data Warehouse and the Microsoft Analytics Suite.

Whether it is the public, private or hybrid, the cloud is a reality increasingly embraced in higher education. Gartner tells us that, when asked, Higher Education CIOs say that they hold BI/Analytics as their clear No. 1 business differentiator for achieving their future technology missions.

The University of Leicester’s existing legacy management information system was no longer delivering their requirements. When the decision was taken to replace the system, it was understandable that the institution looked towards the cloud.

However, before proceeding, the university needed to quantify the benefits and understand the challenges and risks that come with the cloud.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner for Data Platform and Analytics, Simpson Associates were introduced to Michael Dunmore, Deputy Director IT Services at University of Leicester (UoL) and undertook a five-day exercise to determine how a cloud solution would fit into the University.

“We were introduced to Simpson Associates via our Microsoft Account Manager as an expert in the field of Management Information. They helped us to understand the benefits of implementing a cloud based solution and also worked with us to undertake a costing exercise in order to understand how an Azure based solution would compare to a new on-premise solution.”

Liz Bailey, Director of IT, UOL.

Azure SQL Data Warehouse gives businesses access to an elastic, petabyte-scale, data warehouse-as-a-service offering that can scale according to their needs. With it, organisations like the University of Leicester can ensure that they only pay for what they need and when they need it. This is done by billing for storage and compute as distinct line items, avoiding any wastage due to variability in the latter.

“When we assessed a cloud solution vs an on-premise solution, what really stood out to us was the ability to pause and resume Azure SQL Data Warehouse, which is really a cost-effective way to run queries… Additionally Azure offered the ability to scale up our systems when we need to do analytics on all the data we are collecting, and then scale down, thus optimising on cost without compromising performance.”

Michael Dunmore, Deputy Director IT Services, UOL.

Sprint & Agile approach to implementation

Impressed by Azure following the costing exercise, Michael made the decision to migrate onto the cloud. Simpson Associates who “offered great insight and value” during the costing exercise were chosen to help implement the solution.

To see the benefits quickly in key areas, University of Leicester chose an Agile approach to implementation – giving multiple opportunities for stakeholder and team engagement – before, during, and after each Sprint.

The Agile approach provided a unique opportunity for the stakeholders to be involved throughout the project, from iteration planning to regular review sessions. By using fixed schedule Sprints of 1-2 weeks, new features are being delivered quickly and frequently, with a high level of predictability.

Moving Forward with the Microsoft Cloud

The University has only recently started its journey to Microsoft Azure, but it is already starting to see the benefits. Siloed data which was once inaccessible is now being used to produce reports with the help of Power BI. Appetite for data is gradually building as more people are made aware of the possibilities, and this is only expected to grow as University of Leicester and Simpson Associates continue to work to implement an Azure solution.

Simpsons Associates in HE

Simpson Associates are a software and services consultancy who have been delivering value to institutions for over 10 years. We currently work with over 20 Universities covering data management, standardisation, management reporting, dashboarding and predictive analytics through to student and financial planning and reporting.