Having launched his business from a garage in Geelong, Nick Stanley provides cloud solutions for schools and tertiary education providers around the world.

TechnologyEd caught up with Stanley to chat about cloud adoption in Australian schools.

Can you tell me a bit about Tribal Campus?

Tribal Campus is a cloud-based platform that originally started life as Sky Software, it was acquired by Tribal Group in 2014, and has brought with it, a cloud-based architecture and expertise in the delivery of quite significant cloud solutions into the education sector, both in Australia and more widely, globally.

What was your background, prior? 

I’d worked in the education sector for quite a while and I’d worked with a few different student record systems, a lot of it being more of your client-server type solutions. It was in the very early stages, sort of the infancy of cloud applications, and we just saw a sweet spot, we thought schools and education providers are going to want to be more customer focused. They’re going to want to provide real time access to their students and also their staff and they’re going to want more of the web-facing technology, so we just got on board very early on and built that platform out, and the proof has been pretty much in the pudding.

For schools, what are some of the benefits of operating in the cloud?

OK, so I’ll just make a clarification on that, because I don’t know if you know the word ‘cloudwashing’, but a lot of technology providers have this terminology where they’re ‘cloud-hosted’, and all they’re really doing is they’re adding the word ‘cloud’ to quite an old technology and then they say ‘we’re ‘cloud-enabled’’. It is a misuse actually, because one of the benefits of cloud is you build a platform that’s designed for the cloud … that’s a very important clarification because it’s a bit mischievous, what some are doing, in this space.  The real benefits, there are a lot with the cloud, to educational providers. And obviously, anytime/anywhere access is one of those. The tendency is cloud applications support mobility, so being able to access them, also anywhere/anytime on a mobile device. And [they’re] designed for the end user, so they’re generally self-service type solutions and are also inter-operable. So our view is that education providers are looking for more of a decoupled cloud architecture, where they can plug and play what makes sense to them and they’re the sorts of solutions that we’re trying to provide to our customers.

How receptive are Australian schools to cloud adoption?

Well, I think the education sector, across the board, had been a little bit behind some other sectors. I think that the education sector is risk averse and probably rightly so, because you’ve got pretty sensitive information, and once bitten, twice shy, that sort of thing. So whilst locally we are quite early adopters of tech, generally speaking, I don’t think that had been borne out quite as much in the education space. That said, we’re not behind the curve. I’ve just been in Singapore the week before last and they’re a step back, because they are very, very sensitive to the security aspects and getting their head around how they accommodate and cope with the security challenges. The reality is, in my personal opinion, and I think this is backed up by statistics as well, is that you would find that cloud-based solutions are generally more secure than on-premise solutions, because the capacity to access the back end’s actually download the database, those sort of things which are actually supported by on premise, aren’t supported by access in the cloud, it’s not quite the same. I actually found an interesting stat out the other day … I was looking at statistics on data security in the cloud and 59 per cent of employees actually take corporate intellectual property with them, when they go from one job to the next – 59 per cent! A lot of people probably do it unwittingly and unknowingly, but if you think about, all right so you’re using an on-premise solution, it’s installed on your laptop, that laptop’s yours, you leave the workplace, you’re taking that with you. So, the cloud doesn’t allow that to happen, you’re not taking it with you, it’s always secure. It’s an important consideration, definitely.

Can you talk us through some of the steps involved in transforming a typical system to exist in the cloud?

Well, firstly there’s a pretty fundamental ‘can you or can’t you?’ type of discussion. Most school-based systems are better to be written specifically for the cloud, than they are to be ported into the cloud. There’s two dimensions, there’s cloud computing and there’s cloud-hosting, some solutions are just fi ne to be cloud hosted, but what benefit are you really getting by cloud-hosting them? I don’t think that that’s really where the benefits are and that’s where the difference with native cloud comes in, if you really want to benefit from what the cloud can offer, then you’ve got to go with solutions that are designed for the cloud and written for the cloud, and that’s pretty fundamental. We’ve seen it, we’ve had our own technologies that we’ve built over time, and some were ported and some we built natively from the ground up, and you see the differences. Those that have been ported, they’re always compromised. So it’s a little bit like the SUV that you try to turn into a sports car. It was never designed to be a sports car, yeah you can give it a powerful engine and yeah, if it’s powerful enough it’ll probably go round a track fast, but it’s a bit of a handful.

Is cost something that would prohibit public schools from adopting a cloud-based system?   

No, I think it’s the opposite, it will be cheaper for them. In terms of total cost of ownership, and over the life cycle, the only thing to consider is change, and the obligation to change from one platform to another. But you’re going to have to adapt at some point, and generally you can recognise that over a few years, anyway.

If I’m a head of school and thinking about becoming cloud based, is there any advice you can offer?

 Well, I would say, engage a trusted advisor or a trusted partner fi rst and foremost. Because it’s horses for courses, so, there’s a logic around a man with a hammer, so a man with a hammer is always looking for a nail to hammer in. What we’d like to position ourselves as is a trusted advisor, because we’d like to help schools make decisions in an informed way without pre-supposing, ‘I want to get you to this end point because I’ve got that thing, I want to sell it to you’. We’re not like that because we’ve got a range of different solutions. Obviously we would like to partner with you on something, but we’ve got a range of things and really we are a much better technology vendor if we do truly partner with organisations for the long haul. So, I think it’s very important to get that trusted advisor point of view, and from someone who’s got a bit of experience across, not just regions but national, global perspective I think, is pretty important too.