With our mobile apps running on AWS, we’re helping people overcome the challenges of developing new skills and abilities after they’ve gone into employment.

 

Lee Chye Seng Director of Learning Systems and Applications, SUSS
  • About SUSS

    SUSS is one of six national universities in Singapore. It runs 70 study programs covering a wide variety of subjects including areas such as business analytics, visual communication, and logistics. Its campus is located at Clementi, Singapore.

  • AWS Services Used

  • Benefits Realized

    • Improves student experience by making access to app-based course materials 70 percent faster
    • Ensures that mobile apps are highly available
    • Reduces IT infrastructure costs by 50 percent

     

It’s unlikely you’ll have all the skills you need at the start of your career to last your working life, particularly now that technology is playing an ever-bigger role across all sectors of the economy. Yet, for those of us who will need to acquire new skills at some point, help is at hand. Governments around the world have already identified the seismic changes taking place in workplaces and are making it possible for people to learn new skills to open up new career opportunities.

Singapore ranks high among countries worldwide for education and its strong focus on lifelong learning among its citizens through its six national universities.

Among the national universities promoting lifelong learning is the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). The university runs 70 study programs, covering a wide range of subjects including early-childhood education, gerontology, business analytics, visual communication, marketing, and logistics. It currently has about 15,000 students, the majority of whom are already employed. “Many of our students are juggling work and family commitments,” says Lee Chye Seng, director of Learning Systems and Applications at SUSS. “Sometimes—because of these commitments—it’s both difficult and challenging for them to pursue further studies on a part-time basis.”

To help these students, SUSS looked to develop its e-learning services so that students would be able to participate in study programs remotely. Comments Lee, “We planned to deliver our e-learning services largely through mobile apps, as smartphones and tablets are so widespread in Singapore today.”

In an age of technological innovation in learning, SUSS saw the strategic importance to rely heavily on technology to make learning accessible, empowering, and effective.

To successfully deliver its mobile apps, SUSS needed an infrastructure that was reliable and gave students fast access to study guides, digitized learning materials, and lecture recordings. At first, SUSS developed the infrastructure on premises, but this led to several challenges. Lee says, “Our small IT systems team was tied up in maintaining and securing the infrastructure, and had inadequate capacity to support our developers and end users. Also, performance wasn’t great. Students could sometimes wait up to 10 seconds to be able to access course-related files or videos.”

SUSS looked to run its mobile apps on the cloud. The university chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2012 because it was already an established leader in the cloud computing space and could take advantage of the managed services in AWS to oversee the maintenance and security of the cloud infrastructure supporting the mobile apps and other in-house developed e-learning applications. The scalability of the AWS Cloud also meant SUSS could drive application development and no longer have to worry about data storage or compute capacity. Furthermore, the pay-as-you-go AWS model would allow SUSS to pay only for the IT resources it needed.

SUSS built an AWS Cloud infrastructure to run its applications internally. It relies on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances to serve the applications and Elastic Load Balancing to distribute traffic across those instances to optimize performance. App content— which includes study guides, past exam papers, and chunked lesson recordings—is held securely in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). It also uses Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) to keep a record of application users, their student registrations and course enrollments. SUSS regularly sends out notifications to mobile app users via Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) and Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES).

Looking to the future, SUSS is likely to add Amazon Redshift—a data warehouse for business intelligence applications—to its use of AWS services. Lee explains, “We’ve accumulated 250 GB of data over the past three years from student usage of our core Learning Management System [LMS]. Our goal is to analyze that data to learn more about how students are using our LMS and various e-learning tools. We can use that information to develop services that meet their needs.”

Through its e-learning services and mobile apps, SUSS is making it easier for learners with diverse backgrounds and learning needs. Indeed, because people realize that they can study while juggling work and family commitments, the university’s study programs are full. Lee says, “With our applications running on AWS, we’re helping people overcome the challenges of developing new skills and abilities after they’ve gone into employment.”

Full-time students are also benefiting from online access to course-related materials. If they miss a lecture, for example, they can catch up by viewing an online recording. “Both full-time and part-time students are embracing online learning at SUSS, gaining the flexibility for anywhere, anytime studying,” Lee comments.

Compared with the previous on-premises infrastructure, the AWS infrastructure supports SUSS’s mobile apps more effectively. The cloud solution is significantly more reliable, delivering 99.999 percent availability, so students have a seamless and robust online system that they can rely on. In addition, the responsiveness of the apps has improved significantly. “Students are no longer waiting as long as 10 seconds to access course materials through their apps,” says Lee. “Since we moved to AWS, that time has come down to a maximum of 3 seconds.” Since moving to the cloud, SUSS has been able to optimize its lean resources to effectively launch several new applications and major releases, while driving down infrastructure costs. Lee calculates that the university has saved 50 percent in terms of infrastructure costs by switching from on premises to the cloud. “The savings we make through AWS around infrastructure and personnel are plowed back into applications development,” says Lee. “This is why we believe that running our applications from the cloud is good news for the university and for our students.”