Melbourne Business School (MBS) programs are regularly ranked among the best in the world, with alumni including the CEOs and chairpersons of Qantas, Telstra, Australia Post and the AFL.
A pioneer in business education – it offered the country’s first MBA and executive education programs – its pursuit of innovation continues to this day. In keeping with this ethos and to meet the growing expectations of academics and students, around three years ago, MBS crafted a strategy which would see most applications transferred from its on premises datacentre to the cloud.
The agenda is now well underway, with the last “foundational element” of the transformation – a cut over to Microsoft Dynamics 365 – expected to be completed by the end of the year.
More than just a lift and shift, the approach has been to “move and improve” explains MBS chief information officer Darren Morris.
“You can take it as was and do the easiest migration possible, a lift and shift. Or say how are we going to go into this next place, and organise ourselves better?” he told CIO Australia.
“We've really looked at why we need to make the change and try and make sure that what we build in the future is more sustainable in the long term, more adaptable and improves our ability to deliver the change to the business over time,” he added.
Move and improve
Over many years, the school’s on premises computing infrastructure had expanded, to support a growing number of tightly coupled applications.
“The way the systems had been built had been very much point to point,” Morris said.
As a result, introducing changes to one system would impact those around it, meaning “massive amounts” of testing was required to ensure stability, no matter how trivial the change. Optimising a workflow or changing a process was far more complex than it should be. There were other downsides, Morris said.
“The more bespoke we were, the more we’d built unique to our own environment, the more hooked we were to particular providers,” he said.
To support the move and improve the plan, Morris and his team of 15 IT professionals have adopted Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, and Microsoft Azure. Email is already in the cloud as is HR, finance and the learning management systems. File storage and Sharepoint migrations are underway, and a Dynamics migration is planned in coming months.
As part of the strategy, MBS’s four separate data warehouses – first built about five years ago on SQL Server 2012 – are being moved to Azure.
Sitecore – used to manage the school’s public facing websites – is also being transitioned to Azure.
“We built that as a full dev ops delivery pipeline so that we've got our redundancy and we get all the benefits of being in the cloud. But we've also implemented the dev ops strategies of continuous integration and delivery, to give us the resilience that we need,” said MBS’ applications manager Paul Beaumont.
“It's our most significant public facing presence in terms of our website and it's where news and events and how we present ourselves to the world. And we know we can rebuild it from script, should we need to. So, we've got the disaster recovery handled, whereas in our previous scenario, we probably would've been in a disaster, out for days potentially. Now our worst-case scenarios are in the hours mark,” he said.
A microservices layer is now being installed between the current on premises Dynamics instance and Microsoft Azure in preparation for the migration to Dynamics 365.
Infrastructure manager Pete Russell said the team is already benefiting from the enhanced security of Microsoft 365, particularly the reporting features around Azure Identity Protection.
“Security is another of our driving factors for the shift to cloud, firstly to protect clients but also reputation with data breaches being brought to media attention. Our aim is to prevent and detect compromised accounts as early as possible. Microsoft’s tools available under Office 365 under A5 provides this capability,” he said.
“We are currently moving towards MDM via Intune to build the platform to fully exploit Azure Rights Management. This is part of a coordinated strategy to protect information at all locations,” Russell added.
Some items will remain on premise, Russell explained.
“It would be absolute utopian for us to be 100 per cent cloud and decommission Active Directory and all that kind of gear. But the reality of that is that we still have services that are going to depend on some on-prem systems,” he said.
Foundations to go forward
Running a cloud-first organisation comes with its own challenges, Morris said. One is how to deal with the flurry of added functionality and innovation coming from major cloud providers like Microsoft.
“The difficulty for us is in choosing which activity to do first. Because we’re a small-to-medium-sized IT shop, we’ve only got limited bandwidth and capacity at any given time. We can bring in third parties but that too requires an overhead. It’s deciding what to do first, and trying to match that with the delivery expectation of the organisation,” Morris said.
There’s also the new consumption models involved.
“Understanding how the economics of it work is equally as important,” Morris added.
But the move is enabling a “whole new era” for the IT team, now with the ability to deliver value to MBS, respond rapidly to user expectations, and drive a “data driven and analytics infused culture”.
The cloud effort, once complete, will be just the beginning, Morris said.
“There’s some bedrock you have to lay down first around the way you manage data, identity and security, and the way you deliver management systems. It’s off the basis of that you can really go forward,” he said.