The cloud’s vital role in business continuity
A Q&A with Waukesha County Technical College’s Chief Security Officer and CIO
- Cloud technology has been key to Waukesha’s business continuity in 2020
- Benefits like availability and scalability have been especially beneficial
- IT staff have been able to redirect their efforts to mission-critical improvements
As higher education has pivoted quickly to remote work and learning this year, the promise of cloud technology has been tested in unexpected ways. For institutions already in the cloud, SaaS and other cloud services have largely delivered, providing stability and availability at a critical juncture.
Waukesha County Technical College, which moved its ERP to the cloud in 2018, is among those institutions that were able to adapt to the sudden remote shift of students and employees. Without a heavy maintenance or security burden to overwhelm its IT staff, the college has been able to focus on helping individuals and departments ramp up to meet their varying challenges.
Rodney Nobles, Waukesha County Technical College’s chief security officer and CIO, spoke with Ellucian’s CIO Lee Congdon.
Lee Congdon: How have cloud services supported business continuity at your institution?
Rodney Nobles: With the cloud, we don’t have all the expensive equipment for our data centers to take care of. Being in the cloud and having [Ellucian] Managed Services do that has taken a lot of pressure off our team, so now we can focus on providing continuity to the departments and other units of the college.
Lee: What have you experienced in terms of scalability? As workloads have shifted and changed, what impact did that have on your cloud solutions?
Rodney: For our call solutions, the impact is that we're more agile now than ever. When we have big registrations, we can scale up, then we can scale back down. We're doing the same thing with our virtual environment, with our laptops and desktops: we can scale all that up and down now. With our applications also now in the cloud, we can scale how many of those are needed at any time during the day. It's wonderful—it's fast and really agile for us now, and it makes us a better IT department.
Lee: In the cloud, information security is different—it's not the same as having people in a building, or having servers in a data center. What's your experience with that?
Rodney: I’m not having to deal with that as much and I'm loving it. I've had my own virtual security team watching over our servers and our building. I also have a third-party team that's helping us with security enhancements. I don't have a big security crew, so I have to have someone bring that expertise. The third party has given us great flexibility, and we’re not having to deal with watching logs all day.
Lee: What messages are you delivering to your institution’s senior leadership in terms of current status and the preparation and investments required to get here?
Rodney: My message for them is we are more secure than we ever were before, we are more agile now, and we're probably saving some money as well.
What they really want to know is that our infrastructure is robust, our systems are robust, and that we're able to implement many of the things that other business units and departments need, and at a pretty fast pace. That's what the cloud and SaaS applications can do for you.
Lee: In terms of telling the financial and business story to leadership, how did you go about that?
Rodney: First they asked about security, saying, “That's what's keeping me up at night.” I explained that my staff members don't have security certifications or degrees, and that since we're all putting out fires and doing other kinds of work, we don't have the time to do the security work that is needed to make sure we are safe. And I explained how many security people were needed, how much they cost, what we would have needed to do to keep our data centers going, and new equipment. And we've got to keep upgrading, we've got to keep patching—and it takes a lot of staff to do that. Plus, when we were on on-premise, our programmers were also doing our own upgrades.
I added up all that time and money and said, "If we continue on this path, this is how much it's going to cost over a five-year period. If we go with a cloud solution, this is what is going to cost over a five-year period." And they saw the savings in that—but it was not just the money. With all the phishing and scamming and hacking that's going on, the security piece was the strongest.
Lee: How did you get your team ready to move to the cloud, both from a business continuity standpoint and more broadly as well?
Rodney: That took a lot of doing. It's a cultural shift—more so for my staff than the entire organization. The staff worried that it was going to take jobs and work away. And so I had to constantly communicate to them that no, it is taking some of the work that we typically do, but that work—although it’s important for IT, and it's important for an institution to have a robust infrastructure and make sure that things are backed up and work—it's more important that we keep our eye on the goal. And we're a college, so our goal is to graduate students. So I need my staff and myself to look at what we need to do. How can we, technology-wise, transform the organization into divisions and departments, look at their processes of what they do, and say, “How can we make this better for them to help the students?”
After a couple of months, the staff looks at networking differently. Networking is not just patching cables and going to the data center. Now we look at what can we do to provide better service to the college that we haven't done before. That's the whole digital transformation piece: people, process, and then technology. We’ve been seeing what people are doing and how they’re doing it—then we can provide the technology to help them evolve as well.
To hear the rest of the conversation and the follow-up Q&A, you can access the webinar recording here.