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Author's profile photo James Krouse

Advice for Higher Ed Institutions Transitioning to the Cloud: Take a Surgical Approach

By Malcolm Woodfield, Global Vice President & Industry Head, SAP Higher Education & Research

Imagine having a 360-degree view of students from cradle to grave. Envision the opportunities for recruitment, student engagement, retention, and alumni relations that that kind of visibility could present. 


With the increasing pace of technology innovation in the cloud, this sort of visionary future is probably not very far away. But in the meantime, colleges and universities need a more pragmatic approach to integrating the cloud into their IT system landscape. Full migration to the cloud would certainly cause intense
organizational upheaval
– in terms of both data management and user adoption. Of course, there’s also the formidable financial investment that it would


The good news is that a “rip and replace” approach isn’t necessary to receive the benefits of cloud solutions. Rather, institutions would be better served by what I like to call a “surgical approach.” Think of it this way: If the cartilage in your knee went bad, would you get a leg transplant or would you seek treatment options to repair and replace the cartilage?


Using a surgical approach to cloud adoption, colleges and universities can address specific problems quickly, without creating a lot of additional – and unnecessary – work. Further, a surgical approach positions institutions to successfully integrate the cloud gradually, over time.


Back-office cloud technology can have a big payoff for higher ed


Let’s admit one thing: Colleges and universities would rather focus on capital expenditures, such as academic buildings, labs, and housing, rather than on back-office IT solutions.


Plus, many organizations already have end-to-end student engagement and information systems in place. Naturally they want to think twice – more than twice – before reinvesting that money.


However, institutions can see a big bang for their buck using the cloud to automate repetitive tasks that don’t contribute to the institutional mission. These kinds of solutions can yield significant savings in terms of reduced infrastructure, IT hardware, and maintenance issues that arise from housing data on premises.


Using a surgical approach to cloud migration also creates an opportunity to upgrade the user experience to something more current.  For example, some non-confidential human resources operations can be automated in the cloud. If employees are able to check their remaining vacation days on their own – without having to ask HR staffers – that frees up those staffers to handle other tasks. Processing expenses is another area that can be run on a cloud-based self-service model.


Procurement is an area where institutions may be willing to move entirely to the cloud. Individuals are already accustomed to conducting financial transactions in the cloud for personal business, using PayPal or online banking, for example. Institutions are following suit.


Using killer apps without sacrificing security


As the business-side of universities increasingly views students as customers, improving student engagement through the latest “killer apps” can be a key factor. Consider that today’s students are already accustomed to conducting their lives in the cloud. They expect the cloud’s flexibility from colleges and universities as well, with real-time access to grades, schedule changes, and other information.


However, when apps interact with personal data – financial information (of students or their parents), personnel information, or healthcare information – the cloud introduces security concerns.

Most higher education institutions prefer to know where their data is rather than storing sensitive information in the cloud. To that end, institutions can use their student data systems as a platform and install cloud applications on top to fill gaps and supplement the user experience.


Student engagement becomes co-creation


Going forward, it’s likely that students will evolve from consumers of their educations to co-creators of their learning experiences. Millennials have grown up with social media. Platforms like Facebook aren’t passive experiences – users are contributing to the content.


Education is moving in this direction as well, driven by technology. The passive education model is being phased out. It’s a natural progression for students to move into a role of having a real stake in many aspects of university life – what courses and programs are offered, how they’re run, and what the university looks like in a physical sense.


Remember, a total limb replacement isn’t necessary when it comes to IT. Higher education institutions that take a surgical approach to cloud adoption now will be better prepared to be up and running in the future as technology speeds forward.

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