Founded in 1974, Deakin was the fourth university to be established in the Australian state of Victoria. The college kicked off its inaugural class at the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus in 1977, with just 2,445 students and 404 staff. Today, Deakin has grown to become the university of choice for an estimated 55,000 students and over 4,200 staff, with four campuses spread across Melbourne, Geelong, and Warrnambool. Aside from its rapidly growing physical footprint, the University is also known for its use of cutting-edge technologies while providing highly personalized experiences – be it in the cloud on its media-rich campus or via a combination of cloud and on-campus learning. Following the launch of its digitally charged LIVE the future: Agenda 2020, almost a quarter of its student population now chooses to study wholly online on the Deakin Cloud Campus.
Over the past four decades since Deakin’s founding, the university has rapidly evolved from a traditional brick-and-mortar higher education provider to one that is at the forefront of the digital age. Close to 25% of its local and international students now opt to access course materials exclusively online via the Deakin Cloud Campus. In 2014, Deakin became the first university in the world to harness IBM Watson to enhance the quality of the user experience, transforming the way students get advice and answers to questions. As the university continues to drive the digital frontier, the web has also increasingly become a key strategic channel to not only serve existing students, but to reach out to prospective candidates. Deakin quickly realized the importance of delivering a seamless experience across its websites anytime, anywhere, and across any device.
“While we’ve been named the university with the highest level of student satisfaction in Victoria six years in a row, we weren’t delivering the same premium experience internationally, both to existing and prospective students. In fact, access times overseas were ranging from poor to average,” says Craig Warren, Director, ICT Infrastructure Services, Deakin University. “As an education provider, your existing students are probably one of your best marketing opportunities, and we’re equally conscious that the web has become an integral aspect of engaging them. We knew we needed to engage a CDN service in order to provide optimum user experience both locally and globally.”
Deakin needed to meet three key requirements to support its digital agenda:
To achieve these goals, Deakin sought a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that could help drive its digital efforts forward. While the university had initially considered vendors that solely focused on caching on an ad-hoc basis, it eventually chose to go with a pure CDN player like Akamai for the comprehensive suite of services it offered.
“For a start, Akamai has a really good name in the marketplace. Given that we have a rather complex website, we needed a mature player in this space with a highly developed product and network. Not only was Akamai able to offer these capabilities, it also had the most points of presence across our priority markets globally,” says Warren. “But ultimately, the partnership with Akamai will help further our 2020 strategic agenda, whereby digitization features across every aspect of the plan.”
Delivering rich media experiences
As part of its digital transformation agenda, Deakin aims to empower students with easily accessible information by embedding engagement and innovation anywhere, at any time. To achieve this, the university introduced a series of initiatives in recent years, including DeakinSync in 2013, an online, one-stop hub with personalized tools and information, as well as IBM Watson in 2014, to bring machine learning and natural language processing to the masses. Moreover, Deakin will also soon launch the largest roll out of augmented reality technology within the Australian education sector.
As all of these web platforms sit on Deakin’s main site, the university needed to optimize its webpages such that feature-rich content can be delivered on the fly. It was critical for the team to ensure the dynamic nature of the site did not affect website performance and end-user experience.
“From our perspective, digital is going to have a big bang effect and really transform the education marketplace. Increasingly, we are already seeing the likes of alternative providers offering tremendous, dynamic content to the masses,” explains Warren. “We want to strike out as a leader in this space by effectively delivering media-rich webpages without compromising on user experience.”
Boosting site availability and speed globally
With the introduction of modern media-rich webpages also comes the risk of slower page load times, thereby affecting the overall web experience. For Deakin, a poor performing site directly correlates to poorer search-engine rankings, which in turn reduces the visibility of its web content to prospective students. The end result is that the web then becomes a less effective recruitment channel.
“With some 20,000 students expecting to access most of their course materials exclusively online, the Deakin Cloud Campus is clearly our biggest growth area,” says Warren. “However, aside from driving efficiencies in the cloud, we also recognize that students today demand instant gratification and flexibility in the way they access content – we’re not going to let them suffer from a lack innovation in the delivery of education.”
Following the deployment, web content is now delivered dramatically faster across Deakin’s official blog and main site. Using Akamai’s Web Performance solutions, Deakin improved page load times on its blog and website by 58% and 12% respectively, and the figure is “set to grow even more”, according to Warren.
Attracting more international students
As a global education provider, international web traffic now accounts for almost one-fifth (18%) of Deakin’s total site visits. In addition to that, more than one-third of its current Cloud Campus student population also accesses course materials from international locations. With an increasingly dynamic site affecting page load times locally, Deakin knew this could only mean that current and prospective students overseas were having an even worse web experience.
“For many years, we would get service requests from international students notifying us of the slow page load times they were experiencing, and I simply knew we weren’t doing enough to ensure a smooth online journey,” says Warren. “By establishing multiple local presences with Akamai, we were able to move our services closer to our priority markets, such as Southeast Asia, China, and India.
“Now, we can wholeheartedly tell our students that we are doing the best we possibly can to improve web performance and the overall campus experience for them. As a team, we believe this is one of the best ICT investments we’ve made to better service our international students, and we certainly believe it has already had a positive impact,” Warren concludes.
Established in 1974, Deakin was Victoria's fourth university and the first in regional Victoria. In 2014, Deakin celebrated its 40th anniversary. One of Australia’s leading universities, Deakin has been strengthened by a series of successful mergers with strong partners, each of whom has contributed significantly to its character and approach. Today, Deakin operates in a global, connected world with the digital economy influencing every aspect of the university’s activities. With four physical campuses across Melbourne, Geelong, and Warrnambool as well as an online Cloud Campus, Deakin has over 55,000 students currently enrolled and more than 4,200 staff.