The cloud can transform your ability to use data - But you need some ground rules

The cloud can transform your ability to use data - But you need some ground rules

By Henry DeVries on Tuesday, March 28, 2017


In the previous blog in this series, I noted that most institutions have a wealth of data, but aren’t using it to its full potential.

There are a number of barriers to the effective use of data, which range from technical to operational to strategic. Data lives in silos or is stale, incomplete, or unreliable. Access to data and reports is only available through IT or IR, causing bottlenecks. Faculty and staff lack tools to integrate and share information.

Whether it’s these or other barriers that need to be removed, institutions should be looking to the cloud. Cloud computing allows you to consolidate data from all sources, across all communication channels, and manipulate, analyze, and share it on an unprecedented scale. Many industries are moving analytics to the cloud and offering users a whole new way to access and utilize data in their day-to-day decision making. And higher education is headed down this path as well.

But migrating to the cloud is not like flipping a switch. There is a lot of groundwork to lay, even after you’ve made the decision to migrate. (If you’re still in the decision making process, check out this blog by my colleague Jeffrey Ralyea.)

Doing business in the cloud requires far more than a technical shift. Success demands a cultural shift at every level of the institution. Different workflows, different security and identity measures, different roles and responsibilities. Empowering constituents to use data is exciting, but you need some ground rules.

There are two steps to making this happen: (1) Ask the right questions of the right people up front; (2) Turn the answers into a solid governance plan.

What are the right questions?

#1: How will this impact privacy and security?

While you’ll undoubtedly have people who worry that moving data off site makes it less secure, this is not necessarily the case. A reputable vendor like Amazon Web Services, for example, offers world-class security and disaster recovery that would be hard for any institution to match. That being said, the buck still stops with you when it comes to securing the data entrusted to the institution by various constituents, as well as the intellectual property generated by faculty.

So it’s imperative that you ask and answer, “Who is managing what?,” “What is the process for backup and recovery?,” “How are data and privacy protected when information is shared across campus systems or with third parties?,” and “How do we manage access rights and govern content appropriately?”

#2: How will this impact cost and resource allocation?

Many institutions consider cloud hosting as a way to reduce costly hardware maintenance and refresh. However, cloud is often more about cost shifting than cost savings. It’s worth considering cost savings (or cost avoidance) from the reduction in risk and disruption that usually accompanies cloud hosting. This white paper provides an in-depth look at How to Value the Cloud.

Ultimately, the question to ask is: “How do we ensure that moving to the cloud improves the efficiency and effectiveness of our IT services campus wide?”

IT infrastructure is a critical component of institutional growth and success. As management and cost models change, the question of reallocating resources will arise, and it’s important to be deliberate in your answer. Governing IT resources is a strategic discussion—one that should involve top institutional leaders as well as IT staff.

#3: How will this impact human resources?

Following on the cost-related questions are issues of staffing and professional development. Migrating to the cloud impacts IT staff at every level.

IT leadership is freed to focus more on strategic priorities—to be a true business partner within the institution. And how and where they should focus their time is something institutional leaders should determine proactively and strategically.

Other IT staff, such as system and database administrators, may require education, retraining, or other professional development opportunities. But, as you create new cost/benefit models, consider the positive impact these employees will have on your instituton’s other key initiatives.

How do we create a governance plan that answers these questions?

I begin the governance conversation from the moment I engage with an institution that is considering a move to the cloud. We discuss the questions above, as well as the need to engage the right stakeholders to develop answers and build consensus. By the time a decision is made to migrate to the cloud, we have already hit the ground running on integrating cloud governance into the institution’s larger IT Governance Plan.

Whether it’s cloud or another IT system, a governance plan is about fostering partnerships among a wide range of stakeholders to ensure the effective use of technology campus wide.

Typically, Ellucian encourages three levels of IT governance:

  1. An institution-wide strategy council that addresses the big picture questions, including general IT leadership, strategic planning, and policy management.
  2. IT standing committees that pay attention to ongoing technology management and governance for individual projects.
  3. An IT Task Force, composed primarily of IT staff (centralized and decentralized), who focus on specific technology issues that arise.

At every level, we encourage institutions to document: what decisions need to be made, who will make them, the process by which they’ll get made, and how decisions will be communicated institution wide.

In the next blog in this series, I will discuss the cultural shifts required when implementing any new technology, such as a cloud-based analytics, as well as best practices in change management.

If there are other important questions your institution is discussing related to cloud analytics or data governance, please leave a Comment.

Catch up on the series:

How students expect institutions to use their data
We have big data. It’s time for big insights.

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About the Author

Henry DeVries

Dr. Henry DeVries

Management Consultant at Ellucian

Henry DeVries serves as management consultant, principal, and leads the business intelligence services in Ellucian’s management consulting group. Dr. DeVries has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a faculty member, researcher, and administrator.