London South Bank University (LSBU) has announced it is making a £14.8 million investment in IBM's Exceptional Student Experience, which CIO David Swayne says is a crucial part of the institution's digital transformation.
The partnership involves a mix of analytics, mobile, social and security tools built on IBM's cloud infrastructure to monitor the academic progress of individual students.
Swayne, who started his role as CIO in August 2012, said that he was brought in to the organisation "to uplift ICT so we could deliver a better service to students, and in particular to uplift our use of technology in learning and teaching".
"And in November I took a business case to our board of governors, which was eventually signed on February 14," Swayne said.
"The business case was written by myself and the head of financial planning, and had a good fit with the university strategy.
"We'll be going to a single tenancy environment. Technology is there and the enabler, catering for the people who need the services, rather than the IT lot."
Pro Vice Chancellor at LSBU Phil Cardew was excited by the deal. He said: "The key benefit of this change programme is that it will enable LSBU to identify students who require support to complete their studies, and underpin our platform to enable repeatable, predictable, reliable and scalable technology-enabled learning for our students at best value-for-money."
CIO Swayne said the implementation of the partnership involved three separate projects. The first was moving from LSBU's own infrastructure to the IBM cloud. Swayne said that preparatory work had already started, which should be completed by the end of the calendar year.
The second project is changing LSBU's identity management software to use IBM tools, with the plan to have the next set of students on board when they begin studying in the autumn, with the third project one of access management, with single sign-on capabilities driven by IBM access management tools.
"The main benefits will be with new capabilities around social and collaboration tools, while the IBM analytics tools will enable us to access and analyse the data we have around student engagement and what facilities students are using."
IBM's Exceptional Student Experience service sits in the SoftLayer platform, the cloud platform IBM purchased last year for $2 billion. IBM has subsequently invested a further $1.2 billion into this global infrastructure, building 15 new data centres to take its total around the globe for cloud services to 40.
Swayne said that while the partnership with IBM was convenient with the technology company's offices just metres up the road from LSBU behind the National Theatre, the university's services will sit in a Chessington, Surrey data centre with a second housed in Amsterdam.
Aside from the new IBM deal, Swayne said that network bandwidth and bring-your-own-device was one of the biggest challenges for the university at the moment.
"We have students walking in with multiple devices connecting to our network," Swayne said. "We're really beefing up our network to handle the 30,000 connected devices.
"The number of devices has exploded in the last few years, but the ways the devices are used has changed also, while people are also looking at content in a lecture at the same point it's being delivered."