Education IT and the Cloud: 5 Parachutes to Pack as You Jump Into the Cloud

A growing number of K-12 and Higher Ed IT teams are adopting cloud and SaaS applications like Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Office 365 Education. The reasons are as varied as the school, district, or university – but in every case, these adoptions represent significant change within the organization.

Some of the reasons that education IT is moving to the cloud are that the cloud:

  • Increases collaboration. Through cloud computing’s ease of cross-classroom, cross-department, and cross-institution collaboration, instructors, staff, and students can work together in new and creative ways. Since collaboration is a significant component of Common Core, there’s increased interest among K-12 districts in exploring ways to use SaaS and cloud.
  • Supports innovation. By using cloud-based applications and systems, it’s easier for Higher Ed to open their technology infrastructure to business and industry research partners, fostering collaboration towards innovation and research.
  • Helps resource management scale. Cloud computing can help K-12 and Higher Ed manage ever-growing resource demands. Cloud and SaaS vendors manage most aspects of the required infrastructure, an infrastructure that used to need management on-premises by the IT team. Those vendors’ infrastructure is at a scale that produces efficiencies for their customers, whose resources can be freed up for new IT projects.
  • Reduces on-premises infrastructure risk. Cloud vendors are multiply redundant, security-hardened, FERPA-ready, and provide robust security infrastructures that reduce the risk and the impact of hardware and infrastructure failure. On-premises systems can be similarly hardened, but require resources for infrastructure and risk management.

In short, the cloud offers education IT and the institutions they support powerful benefits. Whether your school is evaluating a move to the cloud, or has decided to move, there are five best practices every K-12 or Higher Ed IT team should be prepared to implement.

Before moving workloads and collaboration to the cloud, there are five “parachutes” every K-12 or Higher Ed IT team should pack.

  1. Plan and prepare to configure. Most cloud applications, such as Google Apps for Education or Office 365 Education, do not come configured for a school environment. These are business SaaS applications packaged for K-12 schools / districts, as well as Higher Ed colleges and universities. Therefore the default settings may not be at all what you need – so plan to review each setting within the admin console for its impact on students and staff, and if needed gather requirements before configuring.
  2. Roll out in stages. Change, even good change, can be stressful for every part of your organization, especially for end users. Start small, and plan to get feedback from your users before the next phase of implementation. One such scenario would be to migrate email first over a summer session or during a semester break, then get user input before rolling out additional functionality.
  3. Don’t neglect training. SaaS applications are, in general, intuitive. Despite that, new users and admins will certainly need training. But even experienced end users will need training to level the playing field for collaboration. Further, experienced admins may need training to enable the full power of the application for their users.
  4. Prepare for streaming releases. Your team won’t need to manage updates for SaaS applications like Office 365 for Education and Google Apps for Education – Microsoft and Google automatically provide those as part of their service. This does mean your team may need to monitor vendor schedules for new releases and updates, especially if these change an end user experience, or if you’ve integrated these SaaS applications with other applications or systems.
  5. Back it up. Two little-known facts about SaaS and cloud applications are that the largest source of data loss is from user error, and that SaaS vendors cannot protect you from errors caused by authorized users or admins. According to recent research commissioned by Spanning by EMC, organizations generally rely on SaaS vendors for backup and recovery, despite the prominence of data loss due to user error (70 percent in the US), for which SaaS providers are not typically responsible or equipped to help address.

Education IT’s journey to the cloud offers many benefits to students, staff, instructors and teachers – with planning and forethought, it can be safe and secure as well. To learn more, see “The Higher Ed SaaS Journey: Minimizing Risks, Maximizing Rewards,” and “Higher Ed and SaaS CRM Applications: At the Intersection of Innovation.”

About the Author: Lori Witzel