Using a Service-Centric Cloud Strategy to Maximize Enterprise IT Value
Higher education institutions are under increasing pressure to demonstrate value at the same time that they are enduring continued resource constraints. Costs continue to rise, along with the demand to assess and improve the outcome of higher education. And nearly 80% of the average institution’s IT budget goes simply to keeping the institution running, leaving little room for innovation and change. How can IT leaders focus their enterprise IT efforts in a way that helps their institutions navigate through this difficult time?
IT leaders need to consider the services they provide in a different light in order to contain rising costs and find space for innovation and growth. A focus on service delivery and cloud technologies can allow IT leaders to align their efforts with institutional strategy and maximize the value of enterprise IT services.
The evolution and maturation of cloud technologies has brought enterprise IT into a transitional stage. A 2015 EDUCAUSE study found that CIOs expect a significant shift in focus in the next five years, away from managing primarily infrastructure and technical resources and towards the management of vendors, services, and outsourced contracts. This implies that the increased availability and acceptance of cloud technologies and services is creating the opportunity to redefine the way we focus enterprise IT work.
This shift in thinking opens the door for new approaches that may make our institutions more efficient while also increasing the value of enterprise IT services. IT leaders should focus on why they provide a particular service, on the value that it provides to the institution, and they should make decisions regarding the service from that point of view. Looking at a service’s value from the customer perspective – whether student, faculty, staff, community, alumni, etc. — promotes decision making driven by a desire to increase that value, rather than driven by technology-centric concerns like age of equipment or software. With this change in thinking, technology considerations become secondary to the value that the service provides to the organization. Increasing the service’s value becomes the goal. When the driver moves away from the technology, alternative service delivery options become more viable. If the cloud can deliver the service better, cheaper, with more agility or scalability, then an institutional strategy that supports cloud services becomes an obvious choice.
To guide their institutions through these changes, IT leaders should develop a service-centric enterprise strategy that seeks to increase efficiency and effectiveness while also clearly connecting enterprise IT services to the institutional mission. With a focus on services rather than technologies, IT leaders can use the connection to institutional mission to design and deliver services that better support institutional goals and drive institutional strategy. While efficiency and effectiveness are important considerations, a deeper connection to the mission should be a core consideration.
Thinking about the work of IT in terms of services helps enable a careful consideration of cloud technologies. As an IT department starts to think of its work in terms of services, it becomes easier to think of alternative ways of delivering those services. And at the same time that IT leaders are moving into a more service-centric future, cloud technologies and services are becoming widely available and adopted. The cloud may offer more reliability, flexibility, and agility than an on-premises solution, important factors to consider when trying to maximize enterprise IT value.
Resources will probably need to shift as this service-centric, cloud-focused evolution occurs. More staff with skills in vendor management and negotiation will be needed. Staff with expertise in business process management may be necessary as institutions move to standardize and redesign business processes. Enterprise architecture and data integration skills may become more important as needs increase for integrating cloud and on-premises data. Budgets and funding may need to shift as well, as cloud services may require regular, subscription-like payments instead of the one-time funding that new hardware and software require.
While this shift in resources may not reduce costs in the short term, a cloud strategy offers other immediate benefits that create efficiencies and open doors for a broader future, allowing institutions to improve their service offerings. The capacity, resilience, agility, speed, and scalability associated with cloud technologies offer a level of service that most institutions are not able to provide on their own. Use of cloud services may also increase opportunities for innovation by offering better linkages to emerging technologies.
In addition to allowing efficiencies and opening doors, the cloud offers a pathway for IT to change its relationship with the rest of the campus and to move into a role of greater partnership. IT has always functioned best when it is deeply engaged with the rest of the institution, but a move to a service-oriented, cloud-focused environment creates an even stronger imperative for IT professionals to align their work with areas all across the institution. IT staff will need to better understand their end users’ priorities and goals so they can shape services that help their users achieve those goals.
Part of the work of developing partnerships across institutional boundaries involves communicating the value of IT services in a way that institutional leaders can clearly understand. Using data that allows IT leaders to compare the services they provide to similar services at other institutions is one way to engage campus leaders in a service conversation. In 2016 EDUCAUSE is piloting a new benchmarking service to help IT leaders communicate the value of information technology to non-IT leaders. The new benchmarking service will provide institution-specific information in the areas of analytics, e-learning, IT governance, IT risk management, information security, research computing, student success technologies, and the culture of innovation. In addition to allowing institutions to benchmark their services against others, the new service can help institutions measure their capability to deliver new services as well as understand the maturity of their service delivery in multiple dimensions. Institutions can also get a broad measure of their innovation maturity, along with recommendations for ways to develop and maintain a culture of innovation.
As IT leaders begin to think about IT in terms of services instead of technologies, the connection of the service to the institutional mission and strategy should come into better focus, enabling decision making based on that direct connection between the service and the institutional strategy. To support the continuing evolution and success of higher education institutions, IT leaders should focus on making them as efficient as possible and on using enterprise services to drive institutional strategy and value. A service-centric strategy that includes cloud technologies will help move the institution through this transition time.
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 Data from the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service (CDS), 2014.
 D. Christopher Brooks, The Changing Face of IT Service Delivery in Higher Education. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, August 2015. Available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar.
 Cloud Strategy for Higher Education: Building a Common Solution. Research bulletin. Louisville, CO: ECAR, November 5, 2014. Available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar.
 See more information at the EDUCAUSE Benchmarking Service Beta hub.
Author Perspective: Analyst