What CIOs Think About Cloud Computing

Cloud computing adoption doesn't quite match up with all the talk.

by / October 21, 2013 0
While university CIOs are picking off the low-hanging fruit of cloud computing, the majority of them are not ready to put their enterprise resource planning systems in the cloud. Shutterstock.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. – While CIOs say that cloud computing is inevitable, most of them are not moving major enterprise systems to the cloud in the next five years.

More than 60 percent of CIOs agreed that cloud computing is a viable strategy for campus ERP applications and will play an important role in their campus IT strategy, according to the 2013 Campus Computing Survey of CIOs, CTOs and other IT leaders from 451 higher education institutions. But only a 10th of survey respondents plan to deploy cloud-based development, financial, or student information systems by fall 2018. And 7 percent of respondents have either moved or are planning to move their enterprise resource systems to the cloud.

Cloud computing is moving so slowly in this area partly because key ERP system providers haven't really brought cloud services to higher education, said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project. Plus, some CIOs don't want to give up control over their data and want to keep it on campus.

"It's a costly process and kind of a cultural process for higher ed to say, 'We can do this,'" Green said.

The survey talks about three different types of clouds, classified by the nature of the barriers to their use in higher education: low, middle and high. Low-hanging clouds include email and calendar services, which higher education has largely adopted since Google and Microsoft brought their services to them.

But the other two clouds are farther out of reach. Middle clouds contain customer relationship management and learning management systems, while high clouds include enterprise resource planning systems and high-performance computing.

The University of Northern Iowa picked the low-hanging fruit of email and calendars to move to the cloud, said Jason Vetter, an instructional designer and technology coordinator at the university who listened to a session on the Campus Computing Survey at EDUCAUSE on Thursday, Oct. 17.

"It's the middle- and the high-hanging fruit in the survey that's spot on, and it's where we are looking at going and trying to go," Vetter said.

Some CIOs Are Pulling Ahead in the Cloud Game

A CIO panel at EDUCAUSE appeared to be farther ahead of other universities when it came to cloud computing. Six of the seven CIOs agreed that their campuses had a cloud-based culture. Baz Abouelenein from Kansas City Kansas Community College said he is a strong proponent of cloud computing.

Instead of taking up his staff's time with nitty-gritty hardware and software work, he signed an agreement with Blackboard to host the campus learning management system in the cloud.

Some IT employees fear that they will lose their job as more key services move to the cloud, said Michael Krigsman, the panel's moderator and CEO of Asuret. For example, database administrators may not be as critical in a cloud-based culture.

But that's not necessarily true, other CIOs said. Keith Hacke from Saint Louis University has moved 30 to 40 staff members from operational to more strategic positions as new cloud systems come on board, and he has not lost any of them. Two or three staff members at Seton Hill University did choose to move on after the transition to cloud, Phil Komarny said. Now he has made plans to help former server administrators become developers who can speak the programming language Python and other languages that he says everyone should speak.

Instead of maintaining hardware and actual applications, universities will have to support integration between different sources and become more of a service brokerage, said T.J. Rains from Cardinal Stritch University.

CIO Joanna Young of the University of New Hampshire said the cloud has spurred on what she calls "bring your own IT."

"The cloud really has enabled the consumerization of IT," Young said. "And while that represents huge oportunities, it also presents a challenge for IT in that people can go out and get their own storage."

Instead of running private clouds at the campus level, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has taken on that responsibility and currently owns 3,300 miles of fiber. If the institutions need more bandwidth, CIO Curtis A. Carver Jr. sees the need before they ask and increases their bandwidth for academic computing without charging them extra fees.

The learning management system is centrally hosted as software as a service and runs from the cloud. The virtual library system is also in the cloud. He likes to move "crown jewel" systems like these to the cloud.

"If there's truly no difference, let's drive it to the cloud or run it on our cloud if we want a different level of accountability with that," Carver said.

But after the panel, he said that while he would move a lot of systems to the cloud, he would not move tightly coupled systems that have different providers. For example, his HR and finance systems have two different providers that already blame each other when something goes wrong. If he were to move those to the cloud, he would get blamed as a CIO for any problems.

Of the seven colleges represented by their CIO on the panel, only St. Edward's University did not have a cloud-based culture. That's not because they're philosophically opposed to it, however. In fact, CIO David Waldron said it's really inevitable and is one of the ways that will allow the university to increase its organizational capacity.

But as an organization, the university cannot support everything that could benefit the university with the resources it has. And at the moment, the university has been preoccupied with other things including construction projects and an upgrade to its ERP system.

After the panel discussion, audience member and CIO Andile Swartbooi from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa said that if you're not able to lower the cost of providing services by moving to the cloud, it would be a tough sell.

"The idea that they're promoting that says, 'Sell the concept, but don't talk about cost' is going to be very difficult for me," Swartbooi said. "How do you sell that if you don't have a cost savings attached to that?"

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.