Microsoft creates smart campus for NTU Singapore

  • February 22, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

Microsoft has created a cloud-enabled smart campus for Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, a research-intensive public university.

With a digital-first strategy and the adoption of technologies such as Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams Phone, NTU is set to accelerate innovation and thrive amid the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

As of this year, NTU has converted over 2600 fixed phone numbers to the Microsoft Teams Phone system. With the cloud-based phone system, calls become more collaborative, as NTU employees can make and receive calls on their business number from all their internet-enabled devices, while using the same tool they use to chat and host video meetings.

In addition to cost savings for the university, employees remain productive, as they can also seamlessly transfer their calls across multiple devices, including laptops, PCs, tablets and mobile phones.

The cloud-based phone system was adopted in 2019, when NTU rolled out Microsoft 365, which includes Microsoft Teams Phone, enabling hybrid learning and remote work. At the height of the pandemic in the first quarter of 2020, the transformation to Microsoft 365 enabled the university to shift within one week from more than 1000 in-person lessons weekly to online learning for 30,000 students.

“Innovation has always been core to the university’s DNA,” said Tan Aik Na, senior vice president at NTU Singapore. “This digital transformation in partnership with Microsoft marks a significant milestone in our commitment to embrace a culture of innovation, promote maximum efficiency, foster sustainability and improve the lives of our students and employees through empowered learning and living experiences.”

Technology plays a key role in powering the 200-hectare campus, which includes a living lab of digital experiments from running an autonomous electric bus to testing drones for Singapore’s airspace. This forms part of the university’s 2025 vision in equipping its smart campus with cloud-first technology and agile infrastructure. As the university adapted to respond, recover and reimagine its future during the pandemic, NTU partnered with Microsoft to create and sustain an environment that fosters flexibility and innovation on and off-campus.

“Fostering a culture of continuous learning in the education sector for our future is key as we keep pace with global changes that shape our education sector in Singapore,” said Lum Seow Khun, director of the public sector group at Microsoft Singapore. “Universities like NTU Singapore are stepping in the right direction as they accelerate their digital learning ambitions, embrace change, transform our education system and ensure the readiness of our future workforce.”

Before the onset of the pandemic, the institution marked its first step in cloud enablement, having embraced online collaboration and communications by adopting Microsoft 365. This foresight enabled NTU Singapore to adapt to changes brought on by the pandemic, and allowed the university to pursue uninterrupted learning and teaching experiences through virtual meetings and online lessons on Teams during the nationwide lockdown in April 2020.

The institution also recognised the importance of seamless collaboration between the faculty and students as they worked from the safety of their homes. Paving the path towards a future of education where agility is the norm, NTU’s deployment of Microsoft 365 strengthens the university’s future-readiness while creating student-centric learning environments.

“We previously deployed Microsoft 365 to enable productivity on an intelligent and secure cloud,” said Alvin Ong, chief information officer at NTU Singapore. “As it turned out, Microsoft 365 became indispensable during the Covid-19 circuit breaker season and now serves as the foundation for hybrid learning and teaching experiences that benefit both our faculty and our students.”

Teams Phone, Microsoft’s cloud-based phone system add-on for Microsoft 365, which links local landlines to Teams accounts, was another factor that enabled NTU to adapt quickly to remote teaching and learning experiences. Campus staff had the flexibility to take calls on their Teams-integrated mobile phones with the help of Teams Calling, a voice platform built on Microsoft Cloud, allowing them to make and receive phone calls from anywhere, including their desk and video phone, mobile phone, computer, or modern Teams displays.

By eliminating the need for existing physical phone infrastructure, NTU enjoyed cost savings in equipment, maintenance and international call costs from cross-border research centre projects and the provision of online exams and classes for stranded students overseas.

Aligned with NTU’s 2025 vision to harness the power of digital technology to enhance learning, teaching and research, IT managers also leveraged Teams and other integrated tools within the platform to create an asset-tracking system for IT asset reviews and pre-emptive checks to be conducted more efficiently. The university can now allocate resources towards higher-value tasks and innovation, accelerating the institution’s broader mission to be future-ready, agile and resilient.

With varying departments and different ways of working, NTU needed flexibility to meet diverse needs from campus staff to local and foreign students. To address this, the institution opted for Microsoft 365 and Teams Phone as it catered to two extreme types of users.

These include tech-savvy professors who can programme software and non-technical administrators who need simple tools, such as email and instant messaging. NTU also employed flight path planning, a friction-reducing strategy to help users embrace technology that could enhance their campus experiences.

Beyond Teams Phone and Microsoft 365, the university plans to roll out a cloud-based student management system built on Microsoft Azure, among other initiatives to leverage technologies such as chatbots and AI.

“With a partner like Microsoft, we are confident of achieving our ambitious agenda in our NTU Singapore 2025 vision,” said Ong.

With a successful user-empowered change management programme and cloud enablement roadmap in place, the digitally connected university says it is equipped to realise its 2025 vision to fuel innovation while shaping the future of education.