Editorial Pick 2015: Biggest cloud challenge? It’s not the technology

As universities migrate enterprise applications to the cloud, change management—not technical challenges—is proving to be the biggest hurdle of all.

cloud-computing-challenges[Editor’s Note: Our editorial picks include stories the editors believe either highlighted an important issue in 2015 and/or signaled the beginning of an escalating trend or issue for 2016.]

Go ahead and call it: 2015 is the year when higher education finally accepted that the cloud offers advantages its institutions simply can’t match. Gone is the suspicion that the cloud is a Wild West of drive-by FERPA violations and nonexistent security; gone is the fear that schools will lose ownership of their data.

Today, schools are focused on the upside of cloud deployments for everything from LMSs to SISs—and that upside can be truly significant. But even as earlier fears about the cloud have subsided, new challenges have arisen. These challenges tend to be more organizational than technical, but they are nevertheless forcing complete rethinks in campus IT departments nationwide, and causing major upheaval along the way.

“The challenge that we’re hearing from all of our campuses is change management,” said Shel Waggener, senior vice president of Internet2, a nonprofit consortium of higher ed institutions, companies, and education networks focused on advanced networking technologies. “Even those institutions that were early cloud adopters are really struggling with the pace of change management and the impact it’s having across areas that haven’t had to change for a very long time.”

Ignoring these looming changes is not really an option, however, since few IT university shops can afford to pass up what the cloud has to offer: Cost savings, better performance and uptime, increased flexibility, and tighter security are all quantifiable benefits offered by cloud deployments that are handled properly.

” I don’t want to make too blanket a statement, but we just know the cloud works,” said Ted Dodds, CIO and vice president for information technologies at Cornell University. “The value is almost unequivocally there and it’s just a matter of how you harvest that value. That doesn’t mean everything fits in the cloud, but when we contemplate a new service or business process, we look to the cloud first for a solution.”

Reorganizing IT

But migrating enterprise IT services to the cloud—and managing them there—is far from a fire-and-forget operation. It requires different skill sets, different knowledge, and a different approach. Helping IT staffers—as well as those in departments ranging from legal to finance—manage this transition may have as much impact on the success of an organization’s migration to the cloud as the technological underpinnings themselves.

“The technology side of things is really not the issue,” said Dodds. “The impact on campus is much more around how you handle changing from an approach where you build or buy your own solutions—and run them—to basically brokering services provided by others.”

(Next page: Changing the mindset)