Cloud Offerings Enable Higher Ed to Refocus on Core CompetenciesMike Scheuermann | Associate Vice President of Instructional Technology and Support (Retired), Drexel University
Even the most tech-savvy institutions in the higher education landscape are not in the IT business; they are, of course, in the research and/or the education business. Trying to concomitantly fund and build out a central, expert IT shop can only serve to diminish effectiveness in both areas.
Moving to cloud services on a grand and comprehensive scale will enable higher education institutions to stick to their knitting while letting others worry about the plumbing. The argument for considering outsourcing all of IT is fortified today by the exponential increase in legislated and required focus on data privacy, data protection, encryption and overall information security. The responsibility to protect end-users—students, customers, patients and clients, in essence constituents and stakeholders of every stripe—continues to escalate the burden on every IT shop everywhere.
This should compel those of us in higher education to rethink our IT paradigm, and soon. Researchers, faculty and professional staff having long-established practices of maintaining their own or department/project-based servers and data bases, to cite just a few elements, only serves to exacerbate the problem we face. Given the above considerations (and with more emerging seemingly continuously) these practices are risk-laden at best and illegal at worst.
Moving to the cloud may, in fact, be the best way that higher ed institutions can herd the cats and rid themselves of all of those “shadow systems” while markedly decreasing the risk that these siloed systems currently represent to entire colleges and universities.
Turning to the positive side, getting rid of the heavy iron that central IT divisions purchase, maintain, upgrade and constantly replace represents tremendous savings. Additional and substantive savings result when our IT shops can shed the increasingly costly experts required to fashion, support and orchestrate that perpetual purchase-to-replacement cycle. In many instances we cannot even keep these highly technical experts in our organizations because it is becoming harder and harder to provide market-competitive salaries for them.
Data security, and all that it represents, is challenging and detailed business—it requires knowledge, expertise and credentials that are increasingly rare and specialized (read: very expensive). Moreover, they have nothing to do with our core competency in the teaching and learning space. Higher ed simply cannot afford to keep paying higher and higher salaries to attract these experts, let alone develop and retain them. Whether moving to a public cloud, a private one, or some sort of hybrid, the expertise that comes with cloud-based services is cutting-edge. That is their set of core competencies, and they cover all of these areas. In moving to the cloud, we in higher ed would be able to return to our own core competencies, focusing on and funding our research endeavors as well as our teaching and learning initiatives.
Some specific benefits of higher ed institutions moving to cloud-based affordances could include:
- Increased reliability and availability of systems
- Increased levels of processing power
- Consistent system performance at peak-usage times and marked savings at diminished-usage times
- Data protection across the board
- Real-time back-ups (and back-ups of the back-ups)
- Built-in and broad-based data encryption logic
- Continuous, fully tested, seamless software upgrades
- Elimination of maintenance windows for patches, bug fixes or upgrade installations.
Cost avoidance elements include:
- Security for machine and servers rooms
- Alert systems (for notifying IT when systems are down, etc.)
- Fail-over data centers
- Disaster recovery
- Multi-faceted vendor relationship management considerations
This is, of course, a listing of just a few of the top ones. There are many more, and certainly some institution-specific ones.
Of prime concern right now should be understanding and appreciating that the longer our institutions take to make their move to the cloud the longer we remain at risk and the costlier it will be to change our IT strategy, downstream. The longer we delay the more we will be forcing ourselves to earmark our scarce resources for the IT area at ever-increasing levels. Frankly, we would be doing so unnecessarily. Certainly, a move to the cloud is not inexpensive, but, a purposeful return to our core competencies in higher education, facilitated by a definitive paradigm shift in this crucial area, will benefit everyone.
Author Perspective: Administrator