Oct 21 2019

EDUCAUSE 2019: Tips for a Cloud Implementation in Higher Education

For universities that are switching to the cloud, higher education IT leaders at EDUCAUSE want to share what they’ve learned from their own transition.

Whatever your reason to explore a jump from on-premises to a cloud environment, peer advice is always helpful in making the transition a successful one. Higher education IT leaders talked about their experience during an Oracle-sponsored cloud panel at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference in Chicago.

Each spoke to their reasons for moving to the cloud. For Borre Ulrichsen, CIO at Gonzaga University, the university’s administrative software platform required a major upgrade. “We really had to upgrade more resources and were not looking at making major investments in our on-prem data center,” Ulrichsen said. “The result was a shift from on-prem to an on-demand license strategy.”

Peter Murray, CIO and vice president for IT at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, said their university recognized that the newest releases of some of their tools were not compatible with their existing platform. “We decided to pursue a new financial system; we wanted something completely transformative and state-of-the-art.” 

In researching options, Murray says they saw an opportunity to move to the cloud.

“The cost to maintain on-prem was getting very expensive and time-consuming,” said Cheri Polenske, assistant vice president of enterprise services at the University of Nebraska

Polenske’s student information system was the impetus for researching cloud, as enrollment was creeping up and the cost of additional licenses was becoming a factor, in addition to hardware that was reaching end of life.

“We were looking for a way to control costs,” she said.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how universities can map out student success on campus.

What IT Leaders Should Look for When Switching to the Cloud

IT leaders’ biggest piece of advice from their collective experience is to pay attention to all aspects of change management when transitioning to the cloud. This includes:

  • Cost/benefit analysis: Murray strongly recommended a review of a cloud transition to be able to realize potential benefits. “Do a thorough, comprehensive ROI. We took about four months to go through this exercise, and we found we were going to save 34 percent over 10 years versus on-prem.”
  • Communication: Transparency was key, Polenske said. “We had open dialogue between IT staff and teams to make sure we were heading in the right direction.”
  • Leadership buy-in: “We started with senior leaders,” said Murray, who described building what he called a change network comprised of an advisory group and change champions. “You have to make sure everyone on the project team is going to move forward in lockstep.”
  • Education: Some reluctance to make a move to the cloud may come from within the IT department. Panelists found they were struggling with the change in IT because of how job descriptions would shift for new people coming in. It became important to educate staff about the opportunity for training and skill development with a move to the cloud.

Each panelist described unexpected benefits from the transitions, including a more transparent window into the actual costs around managing data, the ability to introduce the IT team to the most up-to-date technologies, and a culture shift across campus toward a more collaborative campus community.

“[The transition] really is a community effort,” said Borre. “Previously, we would do a lot of work in IT, and then spring it on everyone. Now, we schedule testing, we bring in partners on campus earlier, and they know when changes are coming. That cultural change, beyond traditional IT, activated our community to build a model of more collaboration.”

See more of our EDUCAUSE coverage here.

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