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Cumulonimble: Finding the Flexibility to do More on Campus

The EvoLLLution | Cumulonimble: Finding the Flexibility to do More on Campus
Cloud technologies can help institutions adapt to the demands of today’s key institutional stakeholders within the budgetary constraints of today’s postsecondary environment, but a successful transition requires buy in from institutional IT staff.

Top 10 IT Issues, 2015: Inflection Point” is an excellent report from EDUCAUSE capturing the issues facing higher ed. While every one of us who is responsible for technology support at our institutions can (in one way or the other) relate to these issues, the specific ways and the order in which these are important to us will be extremely different.

Our 2012 strategic plan (a new plan is currently in the works) states, “Whereas supporting the core academic mission of the college is of primary importance to us, we are equally committed to providing the best service to the administrative offices and supporting core technical infrastructure. The fast pace at which technologies are evolving, the varying rates at which different constituents adopt them and our own desire to be supportive of such variance with limited resources is a daunting challenge.” The challenge for us is to try to reduce the divergence between rapidly growing expectations and essentially flat resources.

I strongly believe that moving to the cloud is an essential aspect of supporting our strategy for several reasons. “The cloud” that I will refer to below is a gross generalization and I trust that the reader will be able to infer what I mean. In my opinion, the term “cloud” may have been hastily chosen to convey the notion of “somewhere out there.” One could argue that clouds are transient, soft, easily “melt” into water, and when they consolidate, they become extremely dangerous, and then ask, “You want us to move to that?” I look at the “cloud” very differently in that it seems to be on a much firmer ground than our own infrastructures!

Cloud solutions, when carefully chosen, can address user expectations that are hard to meet otherwise and help us redeploy our current resources to meet ever-increasing demands. For example, they generally tend to keep up with the advances in hardware and keep them refreshed at a healthier rate than we can afford. If it is software, they tend to be far ahead of us in supporting mobile devices and newer standards.

Though in reality moving to the cloud reduces the cost of operating certain services in-house, this message is misinterpreted easily. As CIOs, we are responsible for clearly articulating the reality that there are so many critical projects that could benefit the institution that are not getting the attention they deserve and that we will now have an opportunity to redeploy our resources to implement them.

First and foremost, as CIOs, we all should be as fully informed as possible about exploring the idea of moving to the cloud. There are many risks involved and the CIO should evaluate their own risk tolerance first and think about the campus community’s readiness for such a huge change. Obviously, there are key moments for every change, which makes choosing appropriate timing critical. Putting on the “institutional hat” in making such decisions is far more important than personal beliefs in certain technologies or being driven by a group of individuals at the institution.

Having a very strong governance committee consisting of key members of the community who are willing to invest their time is extremely important. In this day and age, when everyone is busy, it is extremely hard to have such a functioning committee, but this is essential. If your strategy to move to the cloud is sound, then you can rely on this group to be your advocate. There is nothing better than having the members of such a committee talking about the benefits of a move to the cloud with the senior administration rather than you having this conversation as the CIO.

IT staff in higher ed are extremely dedicated and hardworking people, and many have devoted a significant part of their professional life to working in our institutions. They are key partners in whatever you do and bringing them along—gaining their buy-in—is another aspect of moving to the cloud.

Sometimes this can be extremely challenging. Many feel that their life’s work is being marginalized and their “baby is being taken away.” Developing an appropriate communication strategy that highlights the fact that change is constant also applies to us internally and outlines how moving to the cloud opens up several new professional opportunities is critically important. Many staff have longstanding relationships with the campus community, and their viewpoints will be heard. This makes building their trust and increasing their comfort level important. It will also be the case that there will be some individuals who simply will not agree with the decision and thinking about the best approaches to handling them is equally important.

Cloud providers are getting better at offering policy assurances, but I remember the pain and suffering that we had to go through in revising policies during the early days of migration to Google Apps for Education. As painful a process as it is, we have to go through the legal process to consult with our general counsels or attorneys who review the contracts and push hard on the cloud providers to revise the contracts and agreements as needed.

We have been successful in moving to the cloud and continue to look for opportunities as they arise. We have been fortunate to have excellent governance committees and after some initial difficulties, our staff are generally on board with our plans. Each move to the cloud provides us a lesson or two to learn so we can do better the next time around. However, we now have an organization of individuals who are supporting the faculty, students and staff in learning to use the technologies efficiently in teaching, learning and research as well as improving business processes, rather than worrying too much about a lot of technical infrastructure.

Endnote: This headline was suggested by Veronica Brandstratder, Deputy CIO of Wellesley College, and obviously an English major!

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