AWS Public Sector Blog

University of Keele begins digital transformation using AWS

With Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud-based solutions, Keele University in England is now able to meet students’ and prospective students’ admissions needs virtually. Prospective students from around the globe can now tour campus remotely, and students going through the confirmation and Clearing process (a period where UK universities accept students and fill remaining seats in their incoming class if a student has not matched with their preferred institution) have a more streamlined, efficient experience.

To kick-start the university-wide digital transformation, the team decided to start with an immediate need: the admissions process.

Responding quickly to changing needs with Clearing day

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Keele University’s traditional delivery of confirmation and Clearing was strained. To implement changes quickly, the university turned to AWS. Dan Perry, chief information officer at Keele University, says, “We needed to find a better way to deliver, and we had to change the culture of how we were going to do Clearing in the future. We saw AWS as a step-change to how we approach admissions, from inquiries to Clearing.”

The traditional telephony system Keele University used required staff to be onsite. But with the need for remote access amid the lockdown orders, the team turned to Amazon Connect. Alex Goffe, head of operations and infrastructure at Keele University, is leading the university’s migration to the cloud. Goffe says, “We needed a solution that could handle the surge—Clearing day is one of our highest volume contact days—and staff needed to be able to access the system from home.”

The networks team quickly built and trained staff on the new system. On the day they rolled out the solution, Goffe says: “We delivered a virtually faultless telephone experience for prospective students to contact the university.” On the backend, the staff was able to gather insights not previously possible. “We had about 50 operators, and they were able to report back statistics about how many callers were in queue and how long they had each been waiting. Seeing statistics about call demand by course type, who they were trying to contact, all of that was new to us and really valuable information,” Goffe adds.

Clearing day is high-stakes for universities across the UK. “So much happens on this one day. Nothing can go wrong because millions of pounds of income is on the line. This was a major commitment for Keele University, and Amazon Connect worked flawlessly,” Perry says.

While COVID-19 was the impetus for Keele to implement Amazon Connect, Perry says it has now changed the way the university thinks about delivering for students contacting the institution. “We’re now exploring how to integrate chat functionality. For 2021, we would like to make the call flow even more intelligent and continually improve the students’ experience while also getting more information to evolve.”

Ahead of Clearing day, the team also wanted to build more resilience into their website. “Our main servers were all on premises at the university. So, if the internet went down, everything went down, meaning students couldn’t access our main website. We needed to make sure our site was resilient ahead of our highest trafficked day,” Goffe says.

To do this, the team turned to compute services from AWS and Amazon Route 53 for domain name system (DNS). Building a more resilient website was key to achieving their virtual admissions goal. “Admissions day is a big marketing tool for us, and we need the experience to be top-notch for students who may have never been to Keele’s campus. Using AWS, we were able to deliver. Students could access our virtual tours from anywhere in the world, and the cost was near negligible for us,” Goffe explains. The virtual tour is a curated experience of prerecorded videos and content. “This was a huge change for us. Beyond the pandemic, this virtual tour will be a core foundational part of what we do in the future for prospective students,” Perry notes.

Beyond admissions day: OneKeele plan outlines broad digital transformation plans

The team has been working on a plan called OneKeele, which will help provide the cultural shift and technical foundation to prepare the entire university to digitally evolve over the next few years. “This is a massive transformation effort. We want to create an easy-on ramp. We’ve proven we can do this with our website, DNS, call center, and virtual orientation day. We are able to move at the speed that’s right for us—one service at a time. That’s a huge win for a smaller university,” Perry says.

The team is now working on delivering applications remotely to students using Amazon AppStream 2.0, which helps bridge the divide for students that are physically off campus. With AppStream 2.0, they are now able to access resources that were previously only accessible through the on-campus IT lab. This opened the door for more conversations with the university’s researchers. “Research is really at the heart of what a university does. We’re now having conversations with our professors and researchers about how AWS can help them,” Perry adds. Shifting the mindset of researchers and staff will help the team explore even more ways to streamline workflows at Keele, reduce costs, and improve efficiency.

Read more higher education stories from universities around the world, including the University of York, the University of Manchester, the American University of Bahrain, and the University of Nottingham.