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Forecast for education software delivery: mostly cloudy

IT professionals know that cloud solutions are easily scalable and often times more affordable than a traditional on-site deployment, which is why technology officers are increasingly giving the nod to budgets that include a line item for cloud software delivery platforms. Before final sign-off, however, administrators may find they need to address CIO concerns about security, scalability and return on technology investment.

In general, cloud technology is not a hard sell in the for-profit arena – most companies either currently deploy some form of cloud technology, or are actively exploring the cloud as a possible alternative to traditional, on-premise deployment. According to Gartner, enterprise spending on public cloud services is on the fast track, growing from $91 billion in 2011 to $109 billion in 2012, and nearly doubling to $207 billion by 2016. When it comes to the education industry, however, there are barriers to overcome when convincing district supervisors and higher ed technology officers that an investment in the cloud deserves a closer look. As local tax bases continue to erode and state governments are being asked to do more with less, the cost of even the most basic upgrades can cause heartburn in the finance department – after all, many campuses are used to making due with antiquated resources and makeshift fixes when it comes to technology, particularly in sluggish economic times.   

In spite of these challenges, there are increasing signs that the winds of change are blowing, as more education professionals lead the charge to infuse new technology into every aspect of the learning and administrative experience. Just ask Sean Langford, Chief Technical Officer of the Higher Education Business Unit at Perceptive Software. 

“I think we’ll see more and more universities and secondary schools using cloud technology,” says Langford. “It’s so compelling…the costs are much lower. There are economies of scale when you have multiple organizations sharing a single, centralized deployment of software.” The centralized nature of the solution means costs are reduced and the burden of maintenance is removed from local users; also, the staffing levels required to maintain and operate cloud solutions are not as high as with traditional deployment platforms, which translates to additional savings on campus. Institutions also like the fact that user adoption times are significantly reduced because there are no hardware concerns, and deployment across the enterprise is faster, flexible, and more nimble in the cloud.

Tackling Cloud Security Issues

Break room conversations surrounding cloud technology invariably turn to the subject of security. According to Langford, the security issue cuts both ways. “Some of our customers view the cloud as a more secure platform, because with this technology you tend to have very specific individuals and very specific practices set up around security – whereas when you deliver software in house or on premise at an enterprise or an organization, those security practices may or may not be as strictly followed.”

On the other hand, when centralized software resides on the Internet, security will always be a concern. Fueling the fear are stories, both published and anecdotal, about security breaches that cost organizations thousands of dollars and potentially expose customers to risk. Such stories keep IT administrators awake at night, while software engineers scramble during the day to design solutions that keep hackers and other online mischief-makers at bay.

According to Langford, “If you really peel back the onion on those stories, you find that it’s a bit less standardized when you look at security practices across a disparate group of organizations versus a set of cloud companies. I would even go as far as to say they are a bit more lopsidedly distributed to security concerns or incidents surrounding hosted self-software as opposed to professional-grade cloud-hosted software. Cloud companies have grown up with security being such a great concern that in many cases, it’s been extremely well-built and over-built as a core pillar to the business.”

Better Collaboration in the Cloud

One of the most exciting trends in cloud technology is the promise of better collaboration among students, departments, campuses and higher education institutions. “Collaboration in an extremely interesting facet that really makes the cloud compelling,” explains Langford. “As the software becomes centralized in these cloud deployments, and you have various communities using it, the software becomes an opportunity to open new kinds of channels, for better collaboration among these groups.”

Cooperative problem solving, or bringing key stakeholders together to address a specific problem or issue, has been a part of the Western academic tradition for literally thousands of years. Leveraging cloud technology to enhance the cooperative problem-solving process is a logical progression, as faculty and staff reach out to peer institutions around the world to exchange scholarly research and share administrative best practices. For students, cooperative problem solving takes the form of collaborative learning tasks such as survival exercise scenarios and analytical brain teasers. These drills are designed to encourage creative thinking and enhance team problem solving skills; in the cloud, a student’s physical location is no longer a barrier to positive learning outcomes. 

Living in the Cloud: Doing More With Less

As higher education institutions continue to explore ways to provide faster service to more students in the face of shrinking revenues, IT administrators will increasingly turn to technology as the fastest, most economical way to do more with less. For example, Nolij, a part of Perceptive Software, offers a document and content management system for higher education professionals called Nolij Web, as well as Nolij Transfer, a data transformation and loading solution.

Higher education professionals rely on solutions like these and others to automate manual tasks, remove workflow bottlenecks and close information gaps across campus. As the higher education industry become more comfortable with cloud technology, and as affordable software delivery platforms become even more reliable and secure, look for a cloud solution deployment at a college or university near you.