Four Lancashire based further education colleges; Accrington & Rossendale, Hopwood Hall, Morecambe & Lancaster and Nelson & Colne have come together as the ‘Lancashire Colleges Shared Services Partnership’ to create a shared virtual environment between colleges via the creation of a private cloud.
The project has so far saved the colleges £90,000 collectively by sharing hardware, rolling out cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 to its users with help from Salford Software and by sharing an IT operations director across two of the four colleges.
“We received Association Of Colleges funding of around £120,000 and decided that we could do more with it collaboratively, than separately,” explains Ric Kelly, IT operations director, Accrington & Rossendale and Hopwood Hall.
“The hardest and most challenging part was putting competition to one side for the good of all four colleges and trusting each other. We’ve achieved that – and now we each have clear roles – hosting the helpdesks and backing up data.
“If the unthinkable happened and one college decided to pull out, we will still be able to function independently – data is replicated across the four colleges - but it’s clear we work better as a consortium. It’s how everyone should be working in my opinion – you can share the pain, share the resources and share best practices.
“As a consortium, we can leverage a better price from suppliers too. Salford Software understood what we were trying to achieve, where some suppliers still wanted to treat us as four separate customer deployments, Salford just got it straight away – it’s a mind shift. The team has helped us to achieve what we set ou out to do, they understand the challenges in the FE sector. With Salford Software’s help we’re planning on seamlessly rolling out Microsoft Office 365 to over 5000 students.
“We’ll be giving our students the resources that we couldn’t have provided economically prior to the implementation – more storage capacity in the cloud and the ability to access their data from anywhere and on mobile devices. Losing their work on pen drives that go astray is a thing of the past – that excuse won’t wash anymore!”
Paul Beaumont, chief executive, Salford Software said: “Increasingly we are seeing financial challenges in public sector organisations and the Lancashire consortium’s ability to work together to share services is an example to all. It’s a lesson in how to do more with the resources you have to best effect. We understand the shift in our market place and were only too happy to bring cloud computing to all four colleges under one implementation.”