Saturday 2 May 2015

Building blocks for the Serverless School.

A serverless school is likely to built around a core service provider such as Microsoft Office365 or Google G Suite for Education, or even a combination of the two.

However the range of services demanded by even the smallest school requires multiple SaaS offerings to be brought together in order to provide a complete solution. This includes both the software to support the curriculum and the basic facilities you need to operate a modern school.

These could include the school information system (SIS/MIS), a finance system, a learning management platform, content filtering and classroom management, digital signage control, catering systems, print management, mobile device management and telephony.

These SaaS services are the 'building blocks' of a serverless school.

Up until a few years ago it would have been difficult to deliver these essential elements using SaaS alone but the rapid migration of established utilities into the cloud, matched with a number of innovative new start-ups means that schools not only have the option of SaaS but a wealth of choice and competition in some areas.

This is clearly seen with respect to school SIS systems, a business area previous dominated by a few large players which is now being challenged by multiple SaaS providers. A similar movement can be seen in the LME/VLE space which is now almost exclusively SaaS based.

SaaS changes the dynamic between the consumer and provider.

No longer is the consumer tied into long term contracts with expensive software maintenance options. The SaaS provider is measured solely on the quality of the service and if they don't meet expectations the consumer has the option to migrate.

For this reason SaaS offers almost continuous improvement since providers must remain responsive to customer demands to remain competitive. Updates are more frequent and new features are immediately available.

Software suppliers can't fall back on the old "you need to upgrade your hardware"  or “it’s in the next release” excuses.

The customer base moves forward on the same software version and providers are no longer hampered by an expanding matrix of versions/OS platforms which inevitably slows down the release cycle to a single major update a year.

There are some negatives. The data integration between SaaS providers is still problematic and the customer has the responsibility of understanding how the schools data is protected and how it can be recovered, but generally the situation is far superior to the old model of local server based applications which is best summed up as "install and forget".

There is one aspect of SaaS which is often overlooked when it comes to education, namely that it provides a level playing field for all schools regardless of size and location.

A SaaS service accessed by the largest university in a metropolitan area will contain the same core set of services available to a small primary school in a rural village.

The fixed capacity of on-site servers no longer creates a barrier to advanced services.

That's a big change and worth the price of the ticket alone.

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