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Author's profile photo Fred Isbell

MIT Makes a Solid Case for Moving to the Cloud

By Fred Isbell, senior director and head of Thought Leadership – Digital Business Services Marketing, SAP

Stories behind the adoption of technology and innovation are always interesting – and the transition to the cloud is no different. In an environment where there are only a small subset early adopters and an even smaller segment of innovators and pioneers, finding solid examples of organizations heading to the cloud can be tough to find.

When the time came to attend SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference this year, I was particularly excited about the opportunity of hearing customers discuss their cloud-based transformation. But the one that caught my attention is that of a highly respected university located around the corner from my office in Boston – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


Having lived in Boston for almost 30 years, I’ve become very fond of our many colleges and universities – and in the center of that community is MIT. As our first public sector customer, MIT has proven to be an excellent blueprint model for other educational institutions that are looking to achieve their own digital transformation.

MIT: The art of the possible

To support a user community of over 11,000 students, more than 12,000 employees, a faculty of over 1,000 professors, and approximately 800 contingent and adjunct faculty members, MIT has made significant investment in SAP solutions. A broad range of core applications have been implemented over the last 20 years – from finance and procurement to inventory management, learning management systems, and training as well as several generations of employee-facing portal applications integrated within an environment based on SAP solutions.

Throughout this time, many customizations were made. But after two decades of this approach, upgrades and migrations became increasingly complex and costly to support and maintain – despite the benefit of greater functionality. And just like anything else in life, there was a point where it became too much.

The new mandate: “We’re not going to build any more data centers!”

MIT’s vision was quite bold and pragmatic: Transitioning all SAP solution investments to the cloud to maximize its return on computing to favor research and education initiatives over administrative and support applications. However, cost, though important, wasn’t even a primary driver in this decision. Rather, it was the desire to optimize data center resources, utilize existing resources to address core requirements, and enlist outsourced and managed services.

Through the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud service, MIT was able to make this move successfully with an impressive governance model to lay the foundation for migrating to SAP S/4HANA and using data services, data warehousing, and enhanced reporting. With this approach, MIT stripped away unneeded complexity and freed up space to reduce its on-premise footprint and shift the capacity of an on-premise data center capacity to its research area. One additional benefit from this outsourced cloud strategy was the addition of two points of disaster recovery to further enhance uptime, which is an explicit requirement of digital transformation. 

Sherpas and a road map for the digital transformation journey

The secret to any successful journey is having a road map and guide available at all times – and for MIT, they came in the form of Digital Business Services team at SAP. Because the university wanted to replace critical Oracle applications with SAP HANA software, a rip-and-replace approach was used to migrate from on-premise solutions to SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud. This was only a technical migration – no additional functionality was added. 

Since complexity and customization are the enemy of total cost of ownership and bring a host of support issues, MIT made adjustments to custom code with the help of a custom development team from Digital Business Services. Together, they remediated custom code to reduce complexity and drive down support costs. 

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Plus, application of a framework enabled agile and accelerated project management (PM) as MIT and Digital Business Services leveraged Scrum methodologies. I was also impressed how they leveraged another element of the 3rd platform: SAP Jam social software platform to engage program team communications and collaboration. Likewise, automated testing was a fundamental component that paved the way for a smooth and successful cutover to solutions running on SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud and in the cloud.

Overall, the implementation was a great validation of MIT’s long-term vision of providing platform as a service. And like the great learning institution it is, the university learned some lessons along the way:

  • Early project planning is essential to preventing poor performance.
  • All resources must be managed, from engaging third parties early-on to the identification of core and extended teams.
  • It is critical to test all customizations and allow time to remediate any issues.
  • A structured plan for going live must not be overlooked if you want a smooth implementation.
  • Increased efficiency yield results, especially when you consider that a migration of 1.7 terabytes of data consumed only 0.95 terabytes in SAP HANA.

All in all, MIT’s story is indeed quite impressive – proving that even some of the best minds in the world are moving to the cloud.

Fred is the senior director and head of Thought Leadership for Digital Business Services Marketing at SAP.

Join Fred online:
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