UCN – University College moves operations to the cloud for a revolutionary transformation

Faced with setbacks and declining user satisfaction, University College of Northern Denmark decided on the radical solution of moving its entire data center to the cloud. The IT department developed a sourcing strategy around four main components: SaaS, NaaS, datacenter migration, and shutting down all 200+ on-premise servers, and Print as a Service. One year on, the result has optimized operations in the form of reliable, stable, secure IT services, and business transformation. The school is now looking to the future to realize the full benefits of going digital.

In summer 2014 René Storgaard Madsen took over as CIO at University College of Northern Denmark and was immediately faced with a problem. IT services were bogged down with onerous operational processes, resulting in decreasing satisfaction among students and staff, especially in terms of service quality and uptime. The school’s on-premises data center was not coping with its workload, putting the IT department permanently in emergency mode, unable to focus on business development. Madsen saw two possible solutions: 1: make a serious step up in the internal operations, 2: look to the market for assistance.

A bold, new move

“Acknowledging that as a small operation we probably wouldn’t be successful in doing it internally, we partnered with a consulting firm to create a sourcing strategy,” says Madsen. After a six-month assessment, Madsen and his team decided on a radical solution. They would shut down the onsite data center. To facilitate this wholesale shift to the cloud, they developed a sourcing strategy comprising four main components:

  1. Software as a Service: “It’s a bargain for educational institutions to go with the Office 365 platform,” says Madsen, “so all future solutions would be based on this platform.”
  2. Network as a Service: Back office and core network and administrative operations would be outsourced. “This is a tricky area to maintain, and it’s difficult to have high quality and user satisfaction,” explains Madsen, so it was a natural to leave it to external providers.
  3. Shut down the internal data center: “Homegrown solutions have now been replaced by cloud solutions and infrastructure as a service.”
  4. Print as a Service: Twelve of the original 200+ servers have been moved to print, library, and other vertical functions.

“University College of Northern Denmark is one of the first in the world to move the entire data center to the cloud,” says Martin Lundsgaard, CEO of Microsoft partner Timengo. “It’s a bold new move.”

Data center moved to cloud

University College of Northern Denmark brought Azure experts Timengo on board to facilitate the move to a fully cloud-enabled environment — beginning with assessing if the venture was even feasible. In late 2016 the project was started in earnest with migration planning and workload testing. However, from planning to execution, most of the complications were logistical, with no major issues from an IT perspective, according to Lundsgaard.

In all, of the 200+ onsite servers, 90 have been retired, 40 transformed to O365 and adjacent solutions, 65 moved to Azure, and 12 dedicated to print, library, and other vertical functions.

Evergreen software

With the shift to SaaS, Microsoft partner Axpoint was a first mover in creating a private document management system based on Office 365. The development took only three to four months and was a smooth process. Migration was another matter. “We had to move around 450,000 documents and 180,000 cases to the cloud,” explains Steen Westergaard, CEO and Founder of Axpoint. “This was a business critical application, and it took a long time, around five to six months.”

The benefits of moving to SaaS, however, have made the effort more than worthwhile. In addition to increased stability and the ability for users to access it anytime, anywhere, the software is also evergreen. This has eliminated the need for expensive and time-consuming updates every year or two. All users now benefit from improved service flexibility, quality, and agility. The move to the cloud will also enable easier compliance with forthcoming GDPR regulation.

Users happy with stable services

Ten years’ of annual student and staff satisfaction surveys gives Madsen “clear knowledge of the temperature among the students,” and thanks to this digital transformation, the temperature is now running high, with students particularly happy to have reliable Wi-Fi. The move for staff has been a little rockier. While they’re happy to have stable services, for some the learning curve of the new applications has been steep, an aspect Madsen acknowledges wasn’t foreseen. “We weren’t quite prepared for the impact of this vast change.”

Surprising financial benefit

There’s also been one more pleasant surprise. “When we took this plan to top management for approval, we emphasized that this was not a money-saving journey,” says Madsen. “On the contrary, I estimated there would probably be increasing expenses for three years. This was about quality assurance and user satisfaction.”

One year along, however, not only have the goals of greatly increased user satisfaction and consistent service quality been achieved, but “it seems we have a positive business case already. When we forecast the IT expenditures, they’re now dropping below the previous level, which is quite extraordinary.”

From survival mode to business development

This bold move has created a brave new world for the IT department and the school as a whole. Now that they’re no longer constantly putting out fires, the remaining members of the IT team, which has been reduced by half, are able to turn their attention to business development. “We’ve gone from core technician to technician plus analytics plus brokers,” says Madsen. “More spreadsheet, less configuration!”

For the students, now that they can rely on stable services, they are willing and keen to seek new ways to do things and experiment. The challenge for the school, notes Madsen, is to respond to and foster this desire to do more with digital.

“Now it’s a matter of learning how to enable these fantastic features.”

“We have a positive business case already. When we forecast the IT expenditures, they’re now dropping below the previous level, which is quite extraordinary”.

René Storgaard Madsen, CIO, University College of Northern Denmark

Products & Services
Azure Cloud Services
Office 365
Skype for Business Online
Organization size
50 – 999 employees