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Cloud takes on tradition at Stellenbosch U

The university’s transition to Oracle Fusion came with an ancient challenge, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

In a dynamic world, where technology evolves at a rapid pace, institutions of higher education tend to be the slowest to adapt. Deeply ingrained attitudes, processes, and habits add up to deeply traditional structures.

How, then, does a university change any of these elements to meet the challenge of keeping up with the demands of the modern era? That was a key question facing Stellenbosch University (SU) as it began the process of updating its creaking old enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

“We had a very highly customised, old system, customised over 35 years,” says Dr Denisha Jairam-Owthar, the university’s chief director of information technology. “That is a massive amount of time where people were used to a specific system and how they customised it to do what they needed to do.”

The answer was the cloud.

Like any large corporation, SU had to undergo a digital transformation. At the heart of the process was the implementation of the Oracle Fusion Cloud Financial ERP system. This marked a monumental shift from a decades-old system to a cutting-edge cloud-based solution. It revolutionised not only the technology used, but also the entire approach to work.

It is expected to help SU improve its financial reporting and compliance, automate tasks and reduce costs, and make better decisions with data-driven insights.

Says Jairam-Owthar: “Prior to the Oracle Cloud, the challenge was not solely technological but involved addressing the deeply ingrained habits of staff accustomed to a well-defined system. This transition required SU to embrace change on both technological and cultural fronts. Universities are by nature very traditional territory.”

SU operates on a sprawling campus with 10 faculties and over 30,000 students in multiple locations. A critical aspect of the transition was building trust in the cloud’s capabilities to handle such scenarios. As a result, Oracle’s standing as an IT provider to higher education played a pivotal role in SU’s choice of partner.

“The trust aspect – governance and security – are your two major elements of the cloud that you want to make sure is as safe as it can be.”

Jairam-Owthar says the assurance that a reputable global software organisation like Oracle stands behind the cloud solution helped mitigate concerns and fostered a more seamless transition.

Embracing cloud technology also opens doors to advanced capabilities like artificial intelligence (AI). Oracle’s cloud resources provide avenues for the integration of AI and machine learning, which themselves will have a significant impact on operations.

“The generative AI element will automatically form part of the competency centres,” she says. This integration will extend to areas such as student analytics, providing insights into student success and enabling active interventions.

The transition, however, has not been without its challenges.

Jairam-Owthar acknowledges that hurdles were encountered during implementation and the subsequent training phase. However, she emphasises the importance of partnerships and collaboration with all stakeholders, including Oracle and the finance team. Such a collaborative approach ensured that decisions were made collectively, fostering a sense of partnership.

She says that the cloud has brought many benefits to the university, such as improved efficiency, accuracy, security and compliance. Oracle Fusion Cloud Financials has enabled the university to access real-time data and analytics, which are essential for informed decision-making and strategic planning.

It has also given the university a competitive edge in attracting and retaining students and staff, as well as in collaborating with other institutions and stakeholders.

“It’s really a massive change. The new Oracle Cloud system is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that is scalable, reliable, and secure. It will help us to improve our financial performance, reduce our costs, and make better decisions.

“That means the new system will help SU to become more efficient, agile, and compliant, and help it better serve students and staff.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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