3 Factors Stopping Higher Education Institutions from Adopting the Cloud

3 Factors Stopping Higher Education Institutions from Adopting the Cloud

Moving to the cloud is certainly a trend that is taking over industries across the board, however, for executives in the higher education industry, there was some confusion and a natural risk adverse nature lurking when it came to decisions around adopting a campus cloud strategy.  In most institutions we put these decision makers into three categories:

  1. The Innovator – Adopting an all in Cloud Strategy
  2. The Sceptic – Getting there, but risk adverse, lack of knowledge and clear leadership
  3. The Chief Objection Officer – No-way, I need to control “Things and People”

Generally higher education institutions are all in on their cloud strategy, others continue to have a “toe-in-the-water” approach, while still others simply say not on my watch! The slowness in providing millennials cloud tools and resources in schools has pushed our educators into a world where employers have leapfrogged significantly ahead of them.

Apple, Microsoft, AWS and Google are all firmly in the cloud and while there are some growing pains, the first time you lose your device you quickly fall in love with the cloud. The confusion surrounding cloud computing, its possible risks, benefits, and features contributed to developing some anxiety and ambiguity amongst decision makers in the higher education industry, resulting in this delay in moving to the cloud. It meant that our leadership had to completely change their mindset from owning information technology “things” to focusing on services, data, security, retraining and reduction in staffing.

In this article, we’ll look at three factors behind higher education institutions delaying their move to the cloud (hosted solution or Private Cloud), and how those concerns have been addressed.

Data Security and Control

With the on-premises computing model giving institutions complete control and internal security regulation over data, decision makers were initially hesitant to adopt the cloud, because of the lack of absolute control and uncertainty regarding third party security procedures and mechanisms.  The guiding principle of everyone’s security strategy should be to always “assume a breach” and what can I do to minimize that risk? Recent developments in cloud security, and with all providers spending large portions of their resources on enhancing security in the cloud, the probability of a data breach for a cloud service provider is much lower than the likelihood of a data breach on-site.  However, when you flip that switch and go live, you need to be very sure that your apps and data are securely at rest and in transit. This can involve a completely different mind-set within your own organization.

Microsoft annually spends $1 Billion on security. Corporate IT security expenditures have topped $96 Billion in 2017 according to Michael Moores report on IT Pro Portal “2018 to see surge in enterprise security spending”. Microsoft Azure reported that cyber attacks 3-years ago averaged 20,000 a week and have now reached a fever pitch of over 700,000 according to Microsoft data.

I don’t think you can ever do enough or spend enough when it comes to the security of other people’s data. One security breech can take over 3-years for an organization to recover from.  The biggest fear however may not be your inhouse security equipment, policies, and procedures, but the scarcity of talent internally, as well as externally by managed security services and outsourcers.  New Cloud services are almost all providing cloud-based security solutions that monitor, collect, search, and analyze security data from a variety of sources, including firewalls and other partner solutions.

Cloud service providers store multiple copies of an enterprise’s data in numerous data centers spanning various countries and locations, providing data redundancy for disaster recovery and backup, along with deploying a number of firewalls, guaranteeing that information is secure.

Customization to Meet Unique Education Demands

Higher education institutions typically have unique needs and processes relative to each other, raising concerns about the ability of cloud computing solutions to be customized and meet the needs of individual institutions.

Responding to this dilemma, cloud service providers developed a general process based on the needs that most educational institution systems shared in common, resulting in a software as a solution (SaaS) model that is both cost-effective and efficient.

Although vendors do provide customization for SaaS solutions, customization of complex workflows and processes is limited and quite expensive!

Decision makers are responding by moving away form customization and instead streamlining their processes to align with the general requirements of an educational institution, rather than building systems based on ultra-specific needs and requirements.

It can be a management nightmare when it comes to “Groupthink” and designing by Committee, but in the educational realm its almost a forgone conclusion. Best to align the decision makers early and set their expectations. Disseminate the requests from the demands and see if you really need a solution that is 100% custom designed based on ideologies of the past.

The more you conform to the features of existing products developed for the use of many institutions, the faster development takes place in the real world.  Its also one heck of a lot cheaper and faster to deploy.

Financial Ties to Current On-Site Infrastructure

When computing first took the enterprise world by storm, companies made large sum investments in on-site IT equipment and data centers.

Taking into account the large investments that these organizations made at that time, it is quite difficult for decision makers to now justify a costly move to the cloud.

The top concern for educational institutions is the indecision of what to do with existing student information systems.

Further, reviewing significant trends by top educational technology association Educause Center For Analysis and Research, the top 10 IT issues in 2018 (Sponsored by DellEMC) were the following in the order they appear.

  1. Information Security
  2. Student Success
  3. Institution wide-IT Strategy
  4. Data-enabled Institutional Culture
  5. Student Centered Institution
  6. Higher Education Affordability
  7. IT Staffing and Organizational Models
  8. Data Management and Governance
  9. Digital Integrations
  10. Change Leadership

It would quickly appear that significant investment in cloud technology is top of mind for these leaders as they struggle with their top concerns, but clearly understand the cost to students and their organization can be out of reach for most.

Can these databases be shifted to the cloud seamlessly and securely and without creating complex technical problems, or are these systems not versatile enough to be moved to the cloud? Will you do this internally and will you consider a hosted service or decide to host it yourself?

In situations were existing student data systems are flexible, and their settings compatible with the cloud, decision makers should push for a shift to the cloud, as cloud computing solutions are less expensive compared to on-site infrastructure, since they do not require much IT support or expensive initial investments for licensing purposes. Consider a fully hosted service that is managed for you and by joining a “group” hosted environment you can save up to 90% of your server and labor costs. Many servers sit there with less then 2% utilization and with auto scaling in todays cloud leaders there is no more waiting for that capital expenditure to be signed off for that additional server requirement.

What You Should Consider Next

With most of the early concerns and questions marks pertaining to cloud adoption in higher education having been answered in the recent years, decision-makers should now feel confident in making the switch up to the cloud and embracing this change across their institutions.

For most higher education institutions, a comprehensive security and financial assessment of the planned shift from a hardware defined computing environment to a cloud based setup would support the decision to adopt the cloud.

If possible, institutions should also begin streamlining their current IT computing dependent processes, so that these processes can be seamlessly moved and integrated to the cloud.

Did your educational institution recently make the change towards adopting a cloud-based system? What concerns did you have prior to adoption and how has your cloud computing solution answered those concerns?

These are just some of the questions you should be asking yourself….

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