Staying On Premises Risks Institutional Agility, Responsiveness and Long-Term ViabilityNelson Vincent | Chief Information Officer, University of Cincinnati
The feasibility and value of the “build before buying” tendency of some higher education leaders has always been questioned, but as colleges and universities enter the cloud era it is becoming nearly impossible. Cloud-hosted systems and services are improving convenience and service across institutions while minimizing IT costs and complexity. In this interview, Nelson Vincent discusses some of the most significant advantages of moving to the cloud, weighs in on the build vs buy debate and sheds some light on how institutions might be impacted in the long term by sticking with systems and services hosted strictly on-premises.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are the most significant advantages a higher education institution can gain from moving major administrative functions to the cloud?
Nelson Vincent (NV): The promised gain is reduced IT complexity and cost. An administrative function in the public cloud combines computing resources in a shared pool and offers the potential to reduce costs associated with the on-premise, physical maintenance of network, server, storage, applications and services provisioned and released in the cloud with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. Promises also include improved accessibility (an increasingly important criteria), availability and efficiency.
Cloud computing allows students, faculty and staff to easily store, share, manage and access important information and systems online anytime, anywhere, from any device.
Evo: Is it possible to replicate the level of service and convenience available in the cloud through on-premises hosting?
NV: Possible, sure. But practical takes into account a number of factors. The ability to replicate the level of service and convenience in the cloud depends on size, scale and security. Smaller institutions will have a more difficult time competing with the scale of cloud providers; larger institutions may be able to compete with cloud providers now, but that will likely change in the future. Data security and privacy must be considered right along with service and convenience. CIOs and other IT leaders need to partner with enterprise risk functions to best advise the business of the best time and method to move to the cloud. Once your data is in the cloud, how do you get it back?
We are in the early phases of rolling out university-wide cloud storage, powered by Box. Students, faculty and staff securely store, share, manage and access files anywhere from any device. The university also recently implemented a cloud-based, online system for recruitment management, recruitment marketing and onboarding. This new system’s efficient workflow means fewer stops for review and approval, allowing for the faster posting of job opportunities and building of a candidate pool. These are examples of infrastructure and software as a service, respectively, where we could not replicate the level of service and convenience via on-premise.
Evo: What are some of the reasons why a university leader might resist or delay a movement to the cloud?
NV: Cloud providers are maturing their security to meet the regulatory needs of the research extensive university. At the University of Cincinnati, we are incrementally—and securely—building our way into the cloud. The decision to move to the cloud, however, is as much a finance conversation as it is a technical and security conversation.
University leaders know that at some point, the economics will flip, and cloud services will be more cost effective because the cost-leadership of on-premise offerings will not compete at the scale of cloud providers. At each refresh or upgrade, the university performs the due diligence to compare the benefits of cloud to the benefits of offering services on premises. The total cost of moving to the cloud includes funding infrastructure that is reliable, secure and up-to-date to meet business expectations.
Vendor relationships also play an increasingly more important part of the equation. If a cloud provider pushes out a change, we have to be aware of it to effectively manage it on the ground. Listening, validating and having agreement on outcomes (transparency, deliverables, timeline, cost-benefit and sustainment) are the keys to navigating effective change management across all areas of information technology.
Evo: How might reliance on on-premises hosting impact an institution in the long term?
NV: The simple reality is that sustained reliance on on-premises hosting will challenge the business to be agile and responsive while struggling to keep the lights on. In large enterprises this increases the risk because business units will simply work around IT if that is what is required to address business problems. The goal for IT is to be in front of these efforts since IT still bears the responsibility to ensure technologies are integrated and managed securely.
Just as maintaining a healthy infrastructure of water delivery and roads is essential to the functioning of cities and towns, maintaining a healthy infrastructure of information technology is essential to the functioning of universities. Deterioration in IT infrastructure can lead to deterioration in research, teaching and administration. While this is self-evident to IT professionals, it may not be as obvious to senior administrators who more commonly deal with other types of university infrastructure. Given the importance of information technology to all functions of the university, IT professionals must be strong advocates for appropriate life-cycle processes for IT infrastructure, especially for on-premise solutions.
The movement to the cloud has the potential to improve efficiency and cost effectiveness while freeing up more IT resources for discovery, innovation and custom development. As leaders, we have to strike the right balance between scale and local innovation allowing for different paces of technology adoption across organizations.
Evo: Do you foresee a future where all institutional functions are cloud-hosted, or one where some functions are on the cloud while others remain on-premises?
NV: At the large research-intensive universities we are a ways off before going all in. For now, it’s a gradual transition as the life cycle of build-maintain-upgrade-replace results in different types of infrastructure projects. The factors to be analyzed for each project are similar, but different types of projects require different levels of justification, with each type addressing capabilities, benefits, risks and costs in its own way. Cloud options are now part of that playbook.
We do however see a more immediate need for staffing for the foreseeable future. The ubiquitous nature of affordable, easy-to-use cloud-based apps has the potential to lead to an influx of these applications into the enterprise. IT needs to review all technology purchase decisions and develop specific vendor negotiation and purchasing skills. A technology broker provides buying advice and negotiating support to divisions across a company to make sure purchasing decisions are sound and that technology is compatible and compliant with existing systems.
As cloud usage increases, so does the number of business leaders purchasing their own applications and software packages. Unfortunately, these individual buyers often don’t consider integration and compatibility issues with existing enterprise systems, and that can mean major business headaches. A cloud integration specialist is dedicated to navigating these coordination and integration issues as well as managing and educating purchasers and users on compatibility and on working with vendors to ask the right questions. This requires candidates to have an understanding of both back-end systems and new, cloud-based technologies.
Author Perspective: Administrator