CIO roundtable: The cloud and higher ed’s future
Whether they’ve made the move or not yet, CIOs are talking cloud.
- Cloud migration presents different hurdles for every institution
- Data security and ownership are not sacrificed in the cloud
- The cloud frees up IT resources for more strategic work
The cloud represents a unique opportunity.
Sharon Blanton, chief information officer and vice president, Hawaii Pacific University: Cloud’s definitely a very important part for us. It’s key to our vision for the future. I think it doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore for institutions to build big data centers. Why should I have my own big data center when my next-door neighbour has one, and the neighbour down the street? It would be so much more efficient to have all of this in the cloud.
Bob Wisler, director of information technology, Northwood University: Where I think the cloud’s going to make a difference at our institution is freeing up the people resources. And so, when I can put something in the cloud and free up two full-time employees to then do something that helps the university change their processes, that’s when it’s going to make a difference.
Crossing the hurdles to realise the benefits
Louise Finn, CIO / associate vice president technology services, Loyola University Maryland: There’s been the promise of the cloud, and it’s going to help us reduce cost, and it’s going to help us streamline operations and become a much more agile organisation. And there are just a lot of hurdles to cross before you can really realise those benefits. We know that there’s a tradeoff, that if you move things out you’ve still got to maintain the application itself. So, if you’re heavily customised like we are as a 30-year customer, we can’t move out to a baseline application. We’ve got to carry all those customisations with us and continue to maintain them.
Bill Thirsk, chief information officer, Marist College: Higher ed runs on reputation. And one chink in that armour is going to set you back for years. It’s going to affect the whole class, there’s going to be press releases, a data breach for students is—they feel it's life threatening. We’re also governed by very strict privacy laws. So, putting data out in the cloud is a very onerous chore for us. And we have to make sure that it’s done correctly. That’s why we like the point solutions, where we can go out and get a special expertise from a cloud provider to provide us back on our main campus data systems.
Ensuring data security as a first priority
Sharon Blanton: In IT we tend to like our gear close to us. We like to be able to touch it and feel it and see the blinking lights. So, I think it’s taking quite a while in the IT profession to get comfortable with having that outside of our walls as we look at data and security of our data. There still are a lot of concerns about how that student information is being kept secure. So, you have to be very careful as you move towards the cloud to make sure that you’re developing those contracts very carefully. You have to be absolutely diligent about the service-level agreements and also the security-level agreements.
Bob Wisler: Security is obviously a challenge because there’s not enough resources to fight the bad guys. I have a full-time security person and it still is not enough. And it never will be enough. And so, you do the best you can with the tools that you can afford. You look at the cloud for some solutions. You look at, again, your peers to see what they’re doing for best practices. It’s really getting ready to prepare for when that bad thing happens.
The challenge of securely managing integrations
Bill Thirsk: So, I think the challenge in the future for the CIO is the integration and security challenge, and to make sure you’re getting value from those system in a safe way.
Peter Kehler, chief information officer, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) Polytechnic: Although the information and the data might be stored somewhere else, we as an institution are still 100 percent responsible to the student for that data. So, we do not have the luxury of abdicating our responsibility to a provider. We are held accountable internally in our province and to the students and the staff that we have. So that’s where the real issue is, is how do you make sure that you can satisfy that requirement and still have something hosted outside? I think there’s great opportunity for moving things to the cloud. The concern is always with the different integrations and how do you manage those pieces back and forth? You have to decide how do you manage the different clouds and what are the different issues going back and forth? So, there’s a lot of things to think about, and there’s a lot of moving parts.
Freeing up IT resources by leveraging Ellucian’s expertise in the cloud
Cheryl Heath, vice president and chief financial officer, Northern Wyoming Community College District: We do have some systems that are in the cloud now—our hiring system, for example, is a hosted solution. Our LMS is a hosted solution at this point in time. I would love to get to the point where Colleague is hosted. And that’s something we’ve looked at. We’re facing a lot of turnover in IT in our state. Unemployment is very low. And those jobs are hard to fill, high demands, just hard to keep up with the skills that you need to be a CIO or a technical director in a college IT department. So, I think leveraging Ellucian’s expertise in the cloud is something that we’re definitely considering.
Louise Finn: We know that we can’t cut a lot of our staff in the process as we move out to a service like that because we are heavily customised. And there’s just a lot of custom code. So, I’d have to maintain staff to support that. But things like patching and the underlying infrastructure—having that managed for us I think is very appealing.
Choosing the best partner to protect your reputation
Bill Thirsk: There’s not a lot of commercial providers that service higher education explicitly. We also have our own personality. Every school is different. And we’re going to select those systems that best leverage our personality out into the marketplace for the purpose of building our reputation.