Why More Universities Don't Put Major Administrative Systems in the Cloud

A combination of factors leaves IT leaders hesitant to switch up their plans for enterprise resource and student information systems.

by / January 18, 2016 0

Just 12 percent of 417 IT leaders say they're putting their enterprise resource systems in the cloud, and less than a fifth expect to run finance and student information systems in the cloud by 2020, according to a 2015 Campus Computing Project survey. 

These low numbers reveal a hesitance in higher ed to move key back-office systems to cloud services — and with good reason in some cases. 

Enterprise resource and student information systems require a lot of complex work when universities decide to switch systems, so IT leaders take a long time to change these major technology platforms. Unless their system is falling apart, they'll usually stick with what they have.

"Changing from a local implementation to something that's in the cloud or even remote is a fundamental change and approach, and I think higher ed is a slower adopter of these things," said Steven D. Zink, vice chancellor for information technology at the Nevada System of Higher Education.

The Nevada System of Higher Education was long overdue for new financial and human resource systems. When an opportunity came up to adopt a cloud-first platform, Zink helped bring together a cross-functional team to rethink their business processes and make the new system more efficient and effective than the current one. By the end of the year, the Nevada institutions plan to finish the implementation.  

Michael L. Mathews, CIO of Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, said that along with universities that have been slow to change, the creators of these systems have been slow to make technology that works well in the cloud. He added that major legacy providers in this space including PeopleSoft, Ellucian and Jenzabar have technology platforms that were built before cloud computing started taking off. 

"When they tried to move them to the cloud, the performance was so poor not because of the cloud, but because of the technology," said Mathews.

It's going to take time for legacy providers to catch up with cloud computing, according to Ken Ingle, CIO at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina. Likewise, he argued that while cloud-first upstarts may be ahead when it comes to functional technology platforms in the cloud, they're not as mature as legacy providers in other areas.

"I think probably part of the reason that the growth has been rather small is just because I don't think the solution providers are quite there yet," said Ingle.

North Carolina is considering a change in enterprise resource planning system providers at the state level. Ingle, who is part of the advisory group for the community college system, shared his personal metric for evaluating whether to put systems in the cloud. He figures out what performance he needs, what the system should be able to accomplish and what provides the best service at the best cost. When those economics work out, cloud computing is viable.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.