By Marcia A. Daniel, Chief Client Officer, Ferrilli
Earlier this month, I read a news item that is increasingly common as cloud software becomes more prevalent in higher education. It detailed planned cuts to the IT team at a major institution in my home state. While the financial stresses of the pandemic were cited as a primary motivator, administrators also pointed to the more “cost-effective model” of becoming a “cloud-first organization.”
Those administrators are indeed correct that the cloud is more efficient; but I would argue that they are mistaken as to the reasons why.
Higher education institutions save money in the cloud in numerous ways. Data center maintenance goes away. Software is no longer customized or developed from the ground up. The risks associated with data security and disaster recovery decrease significantly. Perhaps most important, the costs associated with innovation and continued expansion of technology infrastructure are diminished as well.
One might think that these savings come about through big reductions in staff; but the reality is that they only materialize if there is a team in place that can bring them to fruition – because the cloud doesn’t eliminate IT jobs; it changes them – in two critically important ways.
The first is technical in nature, because for every position that goes away in the areas of data storage, compute cycle management, or software development, a new need arises. Institutions require engineers with knowledge enough to run the entire IT stack. They need architects capable of configuring applications and operating systems in ways that maximize their utility. And they need IT security professionals who understand the new environment and the risks that still exist.
As such, cloud migration is not a time to reduce FTE; it’s an opportunity to leverage cost savings across the IT infrastructure to reinvest in people and get them trained up in other areas. More often than not, those people thrive in the new paradigm and exponentially increase the probability of a successful migration.
The second way higher education IT jobs change in the cloud is strategic. At a time when technology touches nearly every facet of higher education, nearly every department needs a partner that can help identify tools that enhance efficiencies and enrich the student experience. When IT staff no longer have to spend most of their time just “keeping the lights on” with maintenance, patches, and fixes, they are finally free to be those partners and drive innovation across the campus.
They can take the time needed to truly understand the challenges faced by the enrollment officers, advisors, registrars, and countless other roles. They can help identify solutions that map to the enterprise architecture the institution is seeking to implement. And they can then help assess the myriad vendors in that space to ensure selection of a partner that is the right fit.
As stated above, a big part of the reason that institutions move to the cloud is the ability to onboard new solutions with greater speed and less cost. So, why would they diminish their capacity for smart innovation at the very moment it becomes easier to implement than ever before?
Innovation has always been the purpose and guiding principle of higher education IT – and it’s come a long way since the first computers came to campus in late 1960s.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, institutions were pulling cable through buildings to get them wired for the digital revolution. In the late 1990s and early 2000s we were debating BYOD and whether to allow instructors to teach using streaming video. Today, the cloud has ushered in yet another era – and just like those that came before, it will need smart people with strong expertise to ensure that institutions reap the benefits of all that technology has to offer.
Higher education itself is built on the premise that technology creates more jobs than it kills. To ensure the maximum return on their investments in the cloud, higher education institutions can’t forget that this theory holds just as true in their own IT stacks as it does everywhere else.