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Wits University: How AWS Cloud Training Helped Avoid COVID Disruptions

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Luis Monzon
Luis Monzon
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Johannesburg’s University of Witwatersrand says that in 2020 in response to South Africa’s strict lockdown measures, it managed to move its entire learning management system (LMS), Sakai, to the cloud in just two months leveraging Amazon Web Services (AWS). This allowed the University to quickly continue classes online.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, Wits managed to continue the ongoing semester and avoid any major interruptions due to COVID-19 restrictions through its rapid AWS cloud adoption.

The IT savvy university achieved this, it says, by deciding early on to adopt a “cloud-first approach” ICT strategy that would enable it to deliver operational and security improvements; allowing for continuous modernisation and thus improving student experience all the while SA was under lockdown.

A “Comprehensive” AWS Training Drive

After migrating several applications to AWS cloud, Wits decided to embark on a comprehensive training drive for the ICT team and other key stakeholders within the University to accelerate cloud adoption.

The first step was an analysis of its employees’ cloud skills. AWS performed a Learning Needs Analysis by engaging directly with participating employees selected by the University. After the employees completed an online survey, AWS reviewed the results and pinpointed areas of need within the organisation.

With the Wits teaching and Learning solutions (such as Sakai, Canvas & Big Blue Button) firmly rooted in the cloud, AWS Training programs enabled the institution to grow, scale, and innovate with increased agility.

“If you want to successfully migrate to the cloud, you need to understand if your organization has cloud knowledge gaps and if so, where they exist. Our collaboration with AWS allowed us to identify these gaps and create a tailored training plan that quickly upskilled a select portion of our staff, arming them with a foundational knowledge of cloud essentials”, said Wits’ CIO, Dr. Stanley Mpofu.

Dr. Mpofu says that he is confident that the education sector, along with all industries, need to recognise that cloud skills and the right cloud partner will provide the confidence to innovate faster, take more chances, and gather the momentum needed to transform our economy into one that is digitally led.

“When you understand how drastically the landscape has changed, you’ll understand the need for stakeholders and partners who can collaborate and help you amplify the power of technology,” he added.

Benefits of the Cloud

Dr Mpofu elaborates. Once cloud benefits are explained and the non-ICT stakeholders go through Cloud training, that fear of the unknown goes away very fast as users begin to appreciate the efficiencies that come with cloud such as high availability and access from anywhere at anytime on any device, as well as scalability, faster disaster recovery and reduced overall costs.

Wits’ Learning Needs Analysis revealed that out of the IT employees surveyed, almost 80% had never completed any form of AWS Training.

To address these skills gaps and cater to the university’s digital transformation ambitions, AWS created a targeted, cost-effective training and certification plan.

In collaboration with AWS, the Wits team built a data-driven training program using a mix of free, self-paced digital training and instructor-led training designed by AWS Experts. To date, more than 50 (Check with Gale) essential employees have joined the training program to gain the cloud skills needed to accelerate Wit’s migration and build future cloud innovations.

“We recognise that the growth of the AWS Cloud is contingent upon closing the global cloud skills gap. AWS Training and Certification provides a great path for organizations to upskill and reskill existing talent,” said Linda Siso, Head of Education Sector at AWS.

“But learning never stops, which is why it’s so important for organizations and cloud builders to adopt a culture of continuous learning. We are equipping cloud learners with the common language of the cloud and empowering them to innovate and build, which can lead to radical transformation,” Siso concludes.

Edited by Luis Monzon
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