Looking to The Cloud: The Oracle Student Cloud Aims to Provide the Comprehensive Tool Set
Colleges and universities will soon need to face a number of critical questions. When will we move our major administrative systems to the cloud? Can we pull disparate third-party systems that address things like reporting, student success tools, descriptive analytics, and student recruiting together into one student service eco-system? Can we provide a system that can be managed effectively without the complex configuration, maintenance, and manual processing that exists in many of the current systems that were designed in the 1990s? Can institutions move to such a system with reasonable cost and with less total cost of ownership over the next five to ten years?
Campus leaders need to take a hard look at their current software inventory and institutional needs to determine if there is an ERP suite that can address these questions while addressing data security concerns, minimizing the footprint of the current data center, and lessening the challenge of finding highly skilled and expensive staff. The key to higher education IT in the future will be providing a robust and scalable set of tools and services that meets current and future demand while reducing operating costs.
The Oracle Student Cloud has been in development for several years. The new Student Cloud system will perform all of the transactional processes included in the older on-premises system (admissions, registration, financial aid, billing and degree audit) and integrate fully with the Oracle Human Capital Management and Financials System. Oracle’s goal is to provide a robust tool set that addresses the complete student life cycle from prospect to alumni/donor. They also plan to add functionality that is now found in many third-party solutions like customer relationship management (recruitment), student advisement, and analytics—and provides a customer experience that is closer to shopping than registering for class. Most recently, Oracle has announced that the Oracle Student Cloud will incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning to anticipate student needs for information and provide alternatives that are timely and appropriate.
The Oracle Student Cloud is still a work in progress. The Oracle Student Cloud Student Engagement, Student Recruiting and Student Support modules are currently available. The Student Management, Financial Aid and Advancement modules are still under construction (April 2017). A first release of the Student Management module focusing on continuing education/workforce development programs at an institution was announced at EDUCAUSE 2017. Gary Allen, Director of Global Product Strategy at Oracle, reports that “we will continue to build on that core foundation, with up to four releases per year, targeting more traditional models and more complex requirements and structures the next 18-24 months. Financial Aid will be a separate, optional module and will provide a global model, supporting not only U.S. regulatory requirements but scholarships, loans, and other student financing programs on a more global basis.” It is likely that early adopters will be running cloud modules and on-premises software simultaneously for some time. Higher education CIOs are slow to adopt the Oracle Student Cloud and other cloud ERP solutions as they have concerns about when the full suite will be available and how the underlying cloud technology will service the needs of students in a live, highly stressed environment. They are also concerned about the migration process, which has historically been long, painful and expensive. That said, Jack Suess, VP/CIO at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, is cautiously optimistic citing that once the cloud offerings get moving, the innovation cycle will be shorter with vendor-managed software. Suess contends that cloud offerings will reduce the time and expense of upgrades, and introduce enhancements faster than the campus-hosted product. He is also encouraging ERP vendors to develop common Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to make third-party integration easier.
There are certainly other players in the student cloud space. WorkDay, Ellucian Banner (SaaS), Campus Management, and Unit4 are all rushing to be the leader, or at least provide a strong alternative to the Oracle Student Cloud. It is thought that Oracle has a significant advantage if they can make it attractive for their current higher education customers to move to the cloud from their on-premises product. Cost and a manageable migration path will be key. Oracle also has a chance to pick up many Banner customers who already use the Oracle Database product. Banner does provide a managed platform with their hosted SaaS offering, but this is not a true cloud product. Their long-term strategy is uncertain.
The Oracle Student Cloud is a leader in the higher education ERP space even before it is released. There is no clear winner or front runner just yet. That said, Oracle has the resources, ancillary products, and customer base win the race. Their time to delivery and early successes will be critical.
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