Holmesglen TAFE adapts ICT plan amid 'massive' budget cuts in Victoria

Hitachi Data Systems is helping Holmesglen review storage and other costs.

State budget cuts and reduced numbers of international students have forced the Holmesglen TAFE to recalibrate ICT practices, according to Holmesglen manager technology services, Paul Abschinski.

“We’ve got significantly less money to do more in terms of digital storage," he said.

Holmesglen, a TAFE with 50,000 students and three campuses in Victoria, is currently writing a five-year ICT strategic plan with technology partner Hitachi Data Systems, Abschinski told Computerworld Australia at a strategy session between the companies in Sydney this week. The new plan, expected to be finished in November, follows a previous five-year plan developed with Hitachi. “We need to have a strategy that is quite adaptable to change,” he said.

Holmesglen’s storage requirements are on the rise due to a growing data load from online courses and blended learning, Abschinski said. Those are an “absolute must for any education provider in Australia or globally now,” he said. It requires great network connectivity and a “massive amount of storage” to handle all the multimedia files, he said.

However, the TAFE is simultaneously trying to weather a “massive budget cut” to education in Victoria, Abschinski said. “It’s of a magnitude such that a lot of the smaller, original Victorian institutes are potentially folding or being merged.” Those institutes are funded nearly 100 per cent by the Victorian government. Holmesglen is somewhat protected because it receives money from the Commonwealth and other sources in addition to the Victorian government. However, the cuts in the state still represent a “massive hit,” he said.

The budget cuts stem from Victoria becoming the first state in Australia to introduce to education to a “contestable market,” allowing private organisations to compete with publicly funded ones like Holmesglen. “What it effectively meant was there was a bloom in private providers [and] they cherry picked all the high-profit, low-overhead courses ... and offered them at heavily discounted rates,” Abschinski said. As a result, the state government has pulled funding from the education sector, he said.

In addition, Holmesglen took a heavy blow from the “collapse of the international student market,” Abschinski said. The international student market used to represent nearly a third of the Holmesglen business, he said. It’s now less than half that, he said.

Bashing of Indian students in Victoria “sullied our reputation overseas and particularly in India,” a key market, he said. In addition, the rise in value of the Australian dollar made it more cost-prohibitive for international students to come to Australia, he said. International student numbers also dropped as a result of the federal government's tightening student visa requirements.

Hitachi is helping to assess Holmeglen’s costs, said Hitachi commercial sales director for Australia and New Zealand, Anthony Clarke. “What we’ve done through our storage economics capability is try to help Holmesglen understand what they’ve got, where they need to go and look at the way of putting the most cost-effective environment in place."

Abschinski said, “Total cost of ownership is very important," He reported meeting with Hitachi chief economist, David Merrill, to review storage costs. “It’s not just a matter of buying some expensive kit; it’s all the operating costs, maintenance costs, licensing costs and environmental costs.”

Holmesglen currently has “the Rolls-Royce of data storage solutions at the moment, and we’ve had a tendency to simply provision Rolls-Royce for every business information we’ve had,” Abschinski said. The school now is trying to better assess the value of each piece of data and “provision storage for it more appropriately,” he said.

Reclassifying data is a key component of reducing storage costs, Clarke said. Many businesses keep information on tier-one storage that doesn’t need to be there, he said. “It’s a fairly legacy view in this industry that everything sits on tier one, and there’s huge costs in that.” For Holmesglen, Hitachi has “come up with some cost savings in excess of 27 to 28 per cent by recalibrating some of the environment alone,” said Hitachi manager public sector, Marc Fiala.

Meanwhile, Holmesglen is looking to resell IT services as an additional source of income, Abschinski said. “We’ve got quite a robust network and data centre infrastructure such that we would look to set up shared services where it’s appropriate.” The plan is in the “early stages,” and the TAFE has had “quite a few discussions” with interested parties, he said.

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