AWS Public Sector Blog

James Cook University personalizes its digital transformation

The Singapore campus of James Cook University is owned by James Cook University Australia, which is ranked in the top 2%* of universities in the world. James Cook University Australia established its Singapore campus in 2003 to internationalize its activities. It now offers a suite of university-level programs at the Singapore campus covering the areas of Business, Information Technology, Psychology, Education, Accounting, Arts, Aquaculture, Environmental Science, Games Design, Tourism, and Hospitality.

In 2003, the Singapore campus opened with around 300 students, two support staff, and basic IT infrastructure. Fast forward to 2018, and the university now serves more than 3,000 students. With the growth of the university, they realized that what worked for them in the past would not take them where they needed to be in the future.

To remain competitive and keep up with the needs of students, faculty, and staff, JCU looked to transform the university’s IT to leverage emerging educational technology. They turned to the AWS Cloud for accessibility, agility, global reach, reliability, and cost savings as they personalized their own digital transformation.

Innovate, Not Disrupt

JCU began their transformation journey with the cloud, but their goal was to innovate to improve life on campus, not disrupt it.

With changes ahead, they sought to prepare both strategically and operationally before moving the university to the cloud. JCU reviewed their existing services, support staff, costs, security and compliance requirements, along with business changes and an exit policy to make sure everyone felt comfortable with the move. They asked questions, including: Is the organization willing to change business processes? How is the cloud understood and supported by leadership? How can they fund this digital transformation?

Once they had the team on board, they began to test the capabilities of the cloud, starting small before they went all-in. After successfully creating their own branded URL shortener and then building their own media streaming services, they were ready to migrate mission-critical applications to the cloud and began using AWS for larger projects, such as student sign-up and collaboration.

Student Sign-Up in the Cloud

Before the start of each semester (March, June, and October), all active students must sign up for tutorial groups for their enrolled courses. In the past, the setup was hosted on premises and could not scale to handle the spike in traffic the website received during the sign-up period. To improve resiliency and elasticity, JCU migrated the setup to AWS as shown in the architecture diagram below.

By using services like Amazon EC2, Application Load Balancer, Amazon Cloudwatch, Amazon ElastiCache, Amazon RDS, and Amazon VPN, the setup delivered a secure architecture with a focus on high availability.

During peak registration time, the website was able to manage spikes in traffic and the team received positive feedback on the average time spent to enroll in subjects and the overall end-user experience.

 “We needed things like speed, security, and scalability. With AWS, we were able to provide students all of this in a consistent, reliable manner,” said Vijay Vikram Shreenivos, Senior Manager, Information and Communications Technology.

Collaborate in the Cloud

With the improved signup process a success, they also wanted to experiment with cloud technology to help improve collaboration within the classroom.

Previously, the university relied on four IT labs with 150 workstations. These workstations could not be scaled on-demand and required administration and maintenance overheads. The university chose Amazon WorkSpaces to increase its workstation capacity by a factor of two. This gave students and instructors secure and consistent access to teaching and learning software on their own devices from anywhere.

“Services have greatly improved and we can now guarantee quicker roll-out, consistent performance, and, at the same time, have the flexibility to access lab content from anywhere,” said Vijay. “By taking advantage of hourly billing, there was also better visibility of spend, as we paid only for what we used.”


Looking Ahead to the Future

By using both foundational AWS services for the core needs of the university and the innovative technology to improve life in and out of the classroom, JCU is looking to stay on the cutting-edge of technology with plans to implement Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and serverless technology.