Using the cloud to deliver reliable IT services

What have been your biggest ed-tech challenges, and how have you overcome these?

Probably the single most significant challenge has been the lack of strong leadership within IT, coupled with the lack of executive support. Even though a central IT office existed, the lack of executive-level support and perhaps the misunderstanding of the core role of IT in the college environment created an environment for ongoing challenges.

Systems would go offline for days or even weeks, and the meager resources and undertrained staff were not be able to keep up with the burgeoning demands of the community. The staff worked incredibly hard but continued to be buffeted by ailing technology, lack of funding, and a philosophical disconnect about why technology was needed.

The effect of this cadre of problems was a deep mistrust and misunderstanding of IT by the community, leading to technology purchases that were not vetted by or discussed with IT, serving only to feed the loop of instability.

As technology became strategically more important, executive leadership began to lend financial and institutional support to the role of IT at the college. The result has been a dramatic increase in overall stability and more discussions regarding the strategic role of technology at Westmont.

This executive commitment led to the creation of our first CIO position three years ago. The CIO office now provides clear leadership and vision for technology on campus. IT is now appropriately funded, is represented at the executive table, and has worked to rebuild and enhance relationships across the campus community.

Today, we lead every major technology decision and are actively engaged in pursuing integrative opportunities and win-win-win scenarios across the campus.

What’s your best ed-tech advice to colleagues?

Succinctly put, the cloud is the future. Like all technologies, it has its strengths and weaknesses—but the cloud effectively changed the rules so much so that a small liberal arts college was able to build a compelling and strategic future for IT.

The role of a successful IT department is to deliver both 24-7 services and new user-centric services in support of a school’s larger mission. I view some (not all) of IT’s role as a utility service—like water or electricity.

We forget how much we depend on these everyday utilities until we flip a light switch or turn on a faucet and it doesn’t work. In much the same way, many in our community do not think about technology until the network slows, phones don’t work as expected, or a critical service become unavailable.

To address the everyday realities, we chose early on to use the cloud. We use Salesforce for college advancement; Meraki for cloud-controlled wireless service; Google Apps for eMail, contacts, and calendaring; and iTunesU for our lectures, chapels, and special events.

Moving these services to the cloud has enabled us to retire worn-out infrastructure and replace it with services. A service-oriented architecture is quickly becoming prevalent in the industry, and the more we are able to move into the cloud the more dynamic, versatile, accessible, connectable, and valuable our data and services become.

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