Cloudy over the pond…

I attended a meeting of vendor representatives and CIOs from a number of US universities to discuss cloud computing. After a couple of presentations to set the scene, we broke up into smaller groups to talk about the barriers to moving services out into the cloud.

A number of the tables focused on the technical issues – integrating remote services with those still being run in the institution and managing security. Our table concluded that the issues were not technical at all but more cultural. We began by asking why we were even having the conversation – what was the purpose of moving services out? Was it to save money or to improve services? Or because the institution’s president had read about it somewhere? All of which led us to conclude that there are leadership issues – the senior management in institutions need to understand what cloud computing is and what the risks are.

We also concluded that IT departments in institutions did not possess the skills required to operate in an environment where a number of services were being delivered from outside the institution. This is not just a matter of giving the members of staff vendor and contract management skills as there is a need for those staff to maintain some involvement in the operations that are being outsourced in order to enable them to effectively manage a contract.

So a couple of things for Educause to think about. There is a need to get CIOs, Chief Executives and Finance Officers together to talk about both the potential and the risks of cloud computing and to develop a common understanding of what can be achieved within their institutional aims. There is a need to develop CIOs and their staff to be able to manage outsourced services. And there is a need to share best practice and sample agreements and contracts. All of which are lessons we could apply in the UK.

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